Web drama funding (part 1)

For most of the 20th century the funding model for media such as movies, TV, press, publishing, computer games and so on, was straight forward (if not easy to achieve.) Most TV, for example, was fully funded by broadcasters who sold advertising to a greater value than the costs of making the programmes. Flop movies were underwritten by the massive returns from ticket sales of blockbusters. News papers sold advertising and had a cover price.

We're not here to discuss the future prospects of these 20th century (or earlier) media forms as their business models are undermined by the information revolution and the sudden abundance of free media. Instead we're looking at funding models for an emergent form of drama as it arrives in this unstable and evolving media market. The full range of funding models are demonstrated by the series found on the Vonviral site.

1. Self funded - end in itself
2. Self funded - raising profile
3. Self funded - corporate research
4. Commissioned - broadcaster funded
5. Commissioned - ad / sponsor funded
6. Fully funded by single sponsor
7. Future sales funded
8. Pay per view
9. Sale of physical object
10. Crowd Funded

I have to admit that I'm as interested in the funding models as I am in the aesthetics and narrative qualities of web drama. If you think I've missed any funding methods or if I have misrepresented anyone's motives or practice - please do correct.

Let's looks at the different possibilities in more detail:

1 & 2 Self funded - end in itself or raising profile
The boundaries between the pure urge to create and the need to have something on the showreel are obviously blurry. Some of my favourite webisodes are home-made and the product of an irrepressible urge to make a drama with whatever is to hand. Zombapocalypse is a zero-budget home made zombie series, not original or particularly well made, but admirably fun. Daylight Intruder is the work of a NY artist, the Sucklord, who, as far as I can gather, makes similarly retro sci-fi artworks often in the form of toys. Daylight Intruder, along with all the other Original Villains videos, is as much a series of artworks as it is web drama. Acting Up, made by Manchester based actors and media workers in 2006 is really a calling card for BBC3 commissioning editors.

3 Self funded - corporate research
The Secret World of Sam King was made by Universal Music Group and distributed by Bebo as an exploration of the possibilities for a media giant to create new value out of it's core business of music production and publishing. The music business is, as we all know, in economic crisis and has been sluggish at thinking it's way out of it's funk. This is an admirable attempt to explore the ad/sponsor funded web media market. It was made by Globe Productions (who went on to make Britannia High, an impressively 360, if somewhat bland Fame-like TV series) and demonstrated how they could offer the value of Universal's roster of music and artists to sponsors and advertisers. Although often cheesy, and not as funny as it should be, it has some cameo appearances from reasonably large music stars. Big name sponsors were secured. Was it a success? Bebo wasn't gagging for a second series and a conventional TV series like Britannia High, with a conventional budget was naturally far more lucrative.

4. Broadcaster funded
State broadcasters are able to explore the possibilities of web drama without the pressure of satisfying sponsors. Examples are BBC series like Wannabes or Signs of Life and Sveriges Television's alternate reality TV series, The Truth About Marika. See the notes on E20 for more details.

5. Commissioned - ad / sponsor funded
LonelyGirl15 is the breakthrough web drama of the broadband age in that it was the first web drama to be widely discussed on TV and in the press. This was engineered through an "Is she real or is she fake," Blair Witch type campaign. The makers also pioneered product integration into the drama, famously creating Dr Spencer Gilman, a scientist working for Neutrogena. They surveyed their audience via forums in advance as they were worried that product integration would alienate their audience. The majority of those that responded said it was OK. This respectful approach to the audience exemplifies the instinctive webbyness of the makers. The follow on series, Kate Modern and many other series such as Room Mates found the demands of sponsors harder to subtly integrate.

I will look at the harsh realities of product integration in a future blog post.

6. Fully funded by single sponsor
The examples above were funded by multiple sponsors brought together by a single sales team in a single channel such as Bebo or MySpace. There are other series that are fully funded by a single sponsor such as Where Are The Joneses? or The All For Nots.

Other examples are in fact advertisments that take the form of a drama such and are created by ad agencies, for example My Sister Freaks Out, the truly terrible Tassimo comedy series Who Hired Bob? or Kirill, made to promote the launch of Silverlight, Microsofts answer to Flash.

7. Future sales funded
Beyond the Rave was funded by Hammer Films and released online with the plan of recouping the money through later DVD sales. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was Josh Whedon's way of passing the writer's strike and was self-funded. Given his massive status and following it is possible he even made his money back.

8. Pay per view
Journey is distributed online and each half hour episode costs $1.99. Cathy's Book, originally a hardback book which contained various bits of paper, which extended the narrative beyond the written text, is now an iPhone application, the first narrative app. I've come across.

9. Sale of physical object
This was the model piloted with magic-tree, although in that case the boxes were given away. In a similar vein to Cathy's Book, Personal Effects Dark Art is a novel that also contains objects including a credit card and artworks and has elements of the narrative hidden online across 12 websites.

10. Crowd Funded
See notes for The Guild.

This blog was moved in January 2016 from it's original location on vonviral.ning.com where it had received 49 views.

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Rik Lander makes interactive and participatory narratives. Website

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