I’ve longed to see the actual statistics on viewership for Hulu and Netflix’s original content efforts, so I was exceedingly interested to see Deadline’s first roundup of how many people are watching the YouTube channels the company stood up with programming seed money. The numbers are revealing.
Geek and Sundry, the Felicia Day-branded channel meant to build off the success of her web show The Guild, has attracted a proportionally huge amount of media coverage and buzz. But it was only the 16th-most watched channel on the site last week, netting 728,453 views (it was 13th previously). The most-watched channel, Sourcefed, which quickly wraps up viral news stories, was number one for the second week running with 5,607,921 views, a number that would have any actual network other than NBC feeling chest pains. The numbers drop off quickly after that: the channel with the number two slot has 3.8 million views, and only the top 11 channels netted over a million clicks on the play button. These are sobering numbers for folks who’d like to see network and cable television get outcompeted by the web. And they’re a cautionary tale for those who’d like to see their favorite shows, like Community, slip the yoke of a conventional production company and be supported by viewers: it’s a reminder that the core audience for any given show who would follow it off their televisions, much less support it with their dollars is not actually equivalent to its Nielsen rating.
Perhaps these numbers will improve. I continue to think that bundling web series together makes a lot of sense so people can find a number of things they might like at once, and so shows like The Guild, Husbands, or The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl with comparatively large followings can be used to launch new efforts. This is a medium is barely in its infancy, it’s really still in gestation, and the vast majority of consumers haven’t even thought about seeking out new original programming online much less figured out where to find what they like.
But I still think this illustrates a point I made in On The Media this weekend. I really think the networks would be smart to start using web television as a farm system. A season of web television usually adds up to about the length of a pilot. If a motivated web audience finds a show and proves willing to keep coming back for the bits and the pieces of a pilot over a period of time, that might be a good indicator that a core audience exists for a show that a network can build on, rewarding legacy viewers with higher production values, and putting a promising concept in front of an audience that didn’t even know it was out there to hunt for. If the networks were smart, they’d be excited about the idea of all these people shooting test pilots for them for free and developing audiences for them before they have to spend a penny of their advertising budgets, even if they don’t care about good ideas. And as much as I like the idea of the networks having more competition, it’s not time to give up on conquering from within either.