Clean-up On Aisle 5

by Paul Rule

Imagine that on your next trip to the supermarket all organization of goods has been lost.  Everything is in piles on the floor with no particular order.  Fresh bananas are next to canned peach halves, while sliced peaches are over on the other side of the store next to laundry detergent.

Now imagine that you’re in the food business, and your canned chili is stacked between cat food and toothpaste.  Take one more mental leap and imagine that you’re in the business of producing original Web series, and your webisodes are trying to grab shoppers in a marketplace as disorganized as our imaginary supermarket from Hades.

That last wrinkle wasn’t too hard to imagine because that’s pretty much the way things are.  And you thought trying to promote audience growth for a new cable network in a 500-plus channel universe was a tough job.  At least with cable and satellite there is a functioning program guide.  The search and guide options for the Web are useful mostly to people who already know what they’re looking for.

It’s the chicken-and-egg challenge that the major cable nets suffered in their early days.  Without promotion you can’t get an audience.  Without a significant audience you can’t get advertisers.  Without advertisers’ bucks, you can’t afford to promote.  And the venture capital folks aren’t exactly salivating to give your risky venture lots of backing.

I keep seeing reports of clever Web series that launch with great audience levels for their initial episodes, followed by sharp audience drop-offs.  Without promotion and some sort of reasonable program guide/gatekeeper function, the audience that stumbled across the first episodes or came by word-of-mouth soon drifts away to the next attractive pile of merchandise on the supermarket floor.

There is tremendous creative potential for original entertainment material produced for the Web.  The laurels will go to whoever can organize and promote this jumble of content riches and make it a business.

Paul Rule is President of Marquest Media Research.

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