Television ratings are way down, eyes are shifting addictively every few minutes to their owners’ mobile devices, people no longer have the patience for a long, passive experience, and so what’s a broadcast-craving brand to do? Well, if you’re Microsoft and Sprint, you expand your advertising from the tube to the ’tubes, recognizing that people still love the classic TV-sitcom format, but want their entertainment to exist in other media. Since you realize the media dictates the mindset and the level of tolerance individuals have, and thus the format needs to adjust in both length and content, you begin to sponsor a high-quality short-form episodic Web series in pretty much the same way you always have on television, but to a much larger, much more loyal audience base. With each episode “airing” less than 10 minutes, the pre-roll video ads drop proportionately down to 10-second spots; an amount of time that is entirely capable of conveying a branded message before annoyance regarding the “interruption” can wash over the viewer.
For the past three years I’ve wanted to write about a fantastically funny, targeted show written by and starring someone who had modest success as an actress (minor roles in a few movies mixed with guest spots on House, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Monk, etc.) but was largely crushed by the Hollywood machine; however, I had to wait until it proved itself. Felicia Day’s The Guild is now by all definitions and measures a bona fide success with over 65 million views of its first 3 ½ seasons; major sponsorship in the form of the Microsoft family (Xbox, Zune, Bing, MSN, and the flagship brand itself) and now the telecom giant, Sprint; strong sales of DVDs; recurring “big name” guest stars like Wil Wheaton; major online awards including Best YouTube series and Streamys for Best Series, Best Writing, Best Director, Best Ensemble, Best Actress, Best Actor, Audience Choice Award; offshoots comic book series; #1 ranked most-downloaded music videos (featuring the cast and characters); and perhaps most importantly, a fan following in the millions who happily spread the word to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen.
Compare sixty-five million views of this show featuring nerdish personalities we can all relate to playing an online game and attempting to interact with the greater world (aka “out of game”) to the four highest-rated shows in the US this summer. According to Neilsen they received these averages: America’s Got Talent (10.6 million viewers), NCIS (5.8 million), Two and a Half Men (5.5 million), and The Big Bang Theory (5.4 million). Of course, beyond the numbers the fact another nerd-friendly show made the number four spot points to a growing trend that has helped The Guild realize its success and that is, all of this instant access to the Internet obsession is turning most people into those who can relate to computer geeks. Not only can they appreciate the characters, the plot, and the humor, but they are much more comfortable doing so in bite-size morsels in an environment where they can respond in the form of a text comment, video response, YouTube “like,” sharing automatically with Facebook friends, fan site, fanfiction piece, or any number of creative and sincere tributes.
This show and its tremendous response prove that quality is quality. Clever writing, natural acting, comedic timing, good photography, clear sound, and an innate understanding of the audience will result in a successful project that can be the perfect vehicle for getting a message out in a way that is appreciated and valued rather than looked on as an irritation. Microsoft has premiered new episodes over its Xbox and Zune marketplaces, MSN Video and is developing a new generation of grateful audiences thanks to its sponsorship of something they appreciate and value so much. Something they had to donate to themselves in order to keep alive the first season, in fact.
If more companies understood how to make themselves less “big” online and got down to the size of the individuals they are attempting to attract, they would be much more successful at having these “conversations” everyone keeps going on about. And if giant Microsoft can do it, why can’t you?