The web series is changing the game. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu can say they came to their realizations that making original content available directly on the web was one made of their own corporate decisioning skills, but truth be told, none of them was out here putting out exclusive, web-native content before the likes of those that are true pioneers of web television. Of course, we could go as far back as the late 90s to find some of the first marketable content made for the web–but if we’re looking for those who truly influenced today’s current video landscape, these four people were the true game changers when it comes to web television.
She’s an obvious one, right? I actually just watched an hour-long-plus video of her chatting at Google about her web series in 2011. That was post the debut of Season 1 of “Awkward Black Girl,” and way before Netflix hit us in the face with “House of Cards.” Rae was one of the first people in the video industry to make serial content on YouTube something that could be thought of as more than just a couple of silly videos that no one took seriously. She built up an audience, developed a programming strategy, started cross-promoting and was among the first to successfully do a fundraising campaign for a dramedy web series. Now Rae has turned that first season of “Awkward Black Girl” into multiple seasons of an internet hit, a production company, a pilot with HBO, and most notably, a movement for more diversity in film and television that is slowly, but surely, starting to creep into the mainstream.
Wong has been at the forefront of internet television since the late 2000’s, but it was his company’s, RocketJump, launch of Video Game High School that made everyone across the interwebs finally began to see his directorial and creative talent with video. VGHS has been one of the most-watched and most-celebrated web series ever, as it has helped his company garner over 7 million YouTube subscribers, over 1.2 billion total views and 13 million views for his very first episode. Wong and his show recently partook in a recent marketing push with YouTube in which the most recent season of VGHS was promoted and brought to mainstream attention. Wong has written extensively about the success and penetration of his web series, establishing himself as one of the thought leaders in premium web content. We don’t know what’s necessarily next for Wong, but we know he’s up for big things and is continuing to make great content that his fan base loves.
You probably don’t know the name, but Flinders was one of the most influential, and controversial, people in history of YouTube and online video series. Mesh was one of the creators for lonelygirl15, which told the story of an adolescent female with all kinds of crazy going on in her life. The show was written so well (and possibly marketed so fraudulently) that everyone watching it thought it was a weekly diary series that was actually about a real person’s life. But it was a year after its origination in 2006 that the show was outed as being fictional, leading to tons of criticism and disappointment in the show’s lack of authenticity. Nevertheless, Flinders writing ability had the entire country riveted for a year, establishing the ability to draw large audiences to YouTube for content that went beyond cats. Sure, it was a sham in many ways, but call it what you will, he wrote something and put it on display and people came to watch it. There would be many more after him that took on the internet with that same strategy that didn’t do nearly as well–making him both a pioneer and unparalleled in many ways.
Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier
I know I’m going back to the well, yet again, but these two truly are game changers when it comes to what we think of web series and web-native, episodic content. It was back in 2011 that Dennis and Numa started putting out content under the label that would eventually become today’s Black&Sexy.TV. Netflix was still paying pennies on the dollar to license movie and television content at this time, and Amazon and Hulu’s thoughts of original content weren’t even in the conception stages yet. These two had a vision to put out content, straight to the web, for a very specific audience and it worked. They found their audience. They found a niche. They found a way to do business on the internet.
Of course, that’s not to say it was all profits and peaches to begin with. Their series struggled to make a return early on as they depended mightily on the ad-supported nature of YouTube. But it wasn’t long before they started selling individual episodes as their audience got hooked on their series, and with those experiments, they realized that there were enough people out there willing to pay for the type of content they were unable to get anywhere else. Now Numa and Dennis are the geniuses behind Black&Sexy.TV, an subscription video service running off the back of VHX.TV, that deliver web-only content to a very specific audience of black Americans. With this model, that admittedly no one is doing with premium content, Black&Sexy has found a business that can prosper online, while also finding ways to diversity their revenue, just as they are potentially doing with the pilot they are working on with HBO.