Can Simon Fuller’s Web Series Work?
Yesterday, Hulu and Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment announced If I Can Dream, a web only series documenting five people: three actors, a model and singer, as they try to achieve stardom.
The series will premiere exclusively on Hulu and IfICanDream.com, and will feature product integration from Pepsi and Ford.
While it still isn’t clear exactly what it will look like, how long it will be, what the commercial pods/integration will be like (Paidcontent.org says it will be standard banner/pre-roll ads, and each episode will be about 30 minutes long), we can still ask whether this idea is as truly groundbreaking as Fuller seems to think.
Judging from the preview clips (I am posting one below), the series looks utterly typical. Five white people, all of them ridiculously attractive, some of whom seem to live in apartments or houses that makes my New York City apartment look like their unfurnished broom closet.
It is The Real World, but with wannabe stars that might (MIGHT) be slightly less grating. At least they have real goals and dreams, and don’t aspire to move to New Jersey and marry a guido (Google Jersey Shore MTV).
But here’s the rub. Fuller might think the series is groundbreaking, but he is late to the party. Take a look at Sanctuary. It started as a web series, supported by some advertising and viewer donations (!!) and now it is a hit on Syfy.
I concede that a major production outfit teaming up with a major video portal is interesting, and that bypassing the network model probably means a higher percentage of ad revenue goes to him, but I still think this is very much an old media play.
In fact, I would not be surprised if episodes of If I Can Dream end up on a traditional network at some point, assuming it becomes a hit on Hulu. Which brings me to my main point: If I Can Dream strikes me as a traditional TV reject, and going straight to the web might be a way to salvage the idea.
If Fox came calling, and said they wanted to turn it into a weekly series for its second season, I think Fuller and co. would jump at the opportunity (UPDATE: I need to get around more, Fuller hopes to sell it to networks). Because while new media is exciting, and revenue is shifting towards it (far too slowly), Hollywood is still all about the money. Right now, and probably for the next couple of years, the real money will still be on traditional TV.
It is easy to make a profit with original web content, it is hard to make a lot of it.
That is why so many original web shows are jumping to traditional television, starting with Sanctuary, but continuing with programs like Children’s Hospital and Workaholics.
Maybe someday the web will be able to fully support an original program, and generate a similar amount of revenue as a current TV show does. That day isn’t today.
So will Fuller’s bet work? My guess is yes. The series looks cheap to make and there are already integrated sponsors. Hulu is also a great distribution partner (though still far behind YouTube).
Will it generate the millions of viewers or the following that Fuller’s American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance do every week? Hell no.
But that doesn’t mean If I Can Dream doesn’t have a future… Fuller might just have to set his sights a little lower.
Check out the preview for If I Can Dream below.