As television networks have struggled with their ratings this winter, online content distributors have heated up. House of Cards has succeeded in making Netflix look buzzy, at least for a cycle — even if the show isn’t a candidate for the pantheon, it was a demonstration that a distributor could put up the money to make something that looked attractive on a big screen or a computer monitor, and to attract strong acting talent to a project. Amazon is investing in a range of shows it’ll test for audiences before greenlighting a few of the products for longer seasons. YouTube, which has been investing in content channels, had one of its mini-networks, WIGS, enter into a partnership with Fox. And now the network’s discovered an even more intriguing content partner, Reddit, which has just launched its first series:
Reddit general manager Erik Martin tells The Hollywood Reporter that the series, which is funded by YouTube, marks an experiment to encourage the site’s users to create web video rather than a larger foray by the company to get into original web programming. “For us, it’s more about encouraging the Reddit community and bigger community of producers, filmmakers and animators out there to create content, video, web series, shows … based on Reddit content,” Martin says. The “Explain Like I’m Five” subreddit, which the company says gets an estimated 4 million page-views monthly, was chosen because its discussion concept seemed fit for a video series.
What makes Reddit fascinating as a potential developer and tester of content is very different from other outlets who are getting into this business. Amazon and Netflix are both content distributors with an advantage over television networks, which have to set one schedule for all viewers. Amazon and Netflix viewers can program their own sequences of content, and Amazon and Netflix use sophisticated content ratings algorithms to help those viewers find content they might like based on what they’ve consumed before.
Reddit lacks that algorithm, but it has communities that are extremely good at tearing apart content and analyzing ideas. Most of the time, they do that for content that members bring in from the outside, though things like Ask Me Anything sessions are organically generated for Reddit in particular. Those communities could be repurposed as test audiences on a large scale — and a test audience that’s attracted to that content in particular, rather than picked by networks to see how content will appeal to a large range of viewers. It’s an enormously valuable resource, a chance to float a series, get both broad reactions and particular notes (if you’re willing to pick through the comments), and then go back and revise content either to continue distributing on Reddit and YouTube platforms, or to sell up the ladder to Netflix or Amazon. Netflix and Amazon are alternative distribution channels. Something like Reddit could give them a truly alternative development system.