The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl; that’s not an insult, it’s actually the title of a web series that is steadily growing in popularity. Series’ creator, Issa Rae, is just one of many using the freedom of the internet to produce television for audiences online. Web series are gaining more attention, legitimizing this rising art form and making it commercially viable.
The web series concept has been around since the late 1990s, when online publishers Bullseye Art produced its first webisode in 1995. The show disappeared as quickly as it appeared as the internet was still too young to nurture the idea of a show that was for online audiences only. People had yet to find a way to support such an entity and the production company eventually went defunct.
Flash forward a few years; the internet is no longer a foreign concept and the rise of sites like YouTube makes it possible for anyone with a camera to get their 15 minutes of fame. Shows created for the internet, like the notorious LonelyGirl15 series and others, gained attention and a solid fan base. Yet these self-produced entries clearly lacked the quality of commercially produced TV shows.
However, stars wanting to have their own fun without the boundaries of corporate sponsors got in on the internet game, too. Celebrity backed sites like Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die and Neil Patrick Harris’ Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along became hits. The combination of celebrity star power and high production value helped turn their videos viral, showing Hollywood that there was plenty of untapped potential on the internet.
From there, the number of web series has steadily grown, with big names and no names alike producing content for their targeted audience: millenials. Webisodes are short and pithy, ranging anywhere from 5 minutes to 15; just long enough to entertain their attention deficit audience before they get bored and move on to the next thing. This tech-savvy generation is also constantly connected, thus they are able to watch these videos on their laptops, tablets, phones; the show goes where the audience goes and not the other way around. In 2012, Google made over $36 billion from advertising revenue, a large portion of it coming from ads attached to YouTube videos. With numbers like that, Hollywood could see the commercial worth of these ventures.
As the production value of web series’ continues to climb, it is no doubt that corporations will slowly shift their focus from producing content for their network to producing it for their websites. Yahoo has already developed Yahoo Screen, a portion of the site dedicated to in-house produced web series. Other stars also have series in the works, including Bryan Singer’s upcoming sci-fi adventure H+ and Tom Hanks’ Electric City.
When the first episode of Rae’s series premiered on YouTube in 2011, she produced it on a shoestring budget with the help of a few friends. Thanks to word of mouth, selfless self-promotion and an adoring fan base, Rae was able to raise over $50,000 from a Kickstarter campaign, showing that anyone with a good idea can make it in the internet age. Now The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is in its second season, Rae’s show is featured on IAmOther.com, the new video-driven website founded by influential hit-maker Pharrell that represents the next generation of entertainment. Although Rae is still an unfamiliar face to many, like others who are looking to make television worth watching, she is proof that the internet provides a space with infinite possibilities.
The revolution will not be televised; instead you can find it online.