Dispatches from the TCA Summer Press Tour: When will web video look like web video?
While the watchword for the first Tuesday of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour was “broad,” the pair of Wednesday afternoon panels on TV-like projects for the web dealt in specifics. Whereas the broadcast networks may be looking to cast a wider net, Yahoo! and YouTube are interested in digging into niches—niches that have previously been spoken to by broadcast and cable outlets (in addition to the local moviehouse). In the words of the panelists, YouTube’s AwesomenessTV channel could be the new CW, while the web site’s Wigs channel seeks the type of viewers inclined toward character-driven independent films. Cybergeddon, Yahoo!’s collaboration with Symantec (the manufacturer of Norton Antivirus) and CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker, meanwhile, looks to hook that lucrative segment of viewers who love being distracted while they consume their entertainment. It’s a serialized techno-thriller starring Missy Peregrym with supplementary online material meant to pull viewers deeper into the experience. (Or make them relate to the characters. Relating to characters is very, very important at this edition of the press tour.)
Yet, the questions being asked on Twitter—if not inside The Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom—during the panels all seemed to revolve around these projects’ failure to do anything more than port existing television and film formats to the Internet. To quote The A.V. Club’s own Swag Onion Todd VanDerWerff (whose newest layer includes a pair of totes promoting NBCUniversal cable programs): “The problem with so much online video is that it brings TV grammar to the online space. Use online video grammar!” The major difficulty with courting viewers like the teenage sons who inspired Smallville producer (and former Head Of The Class star) Brian Robbins to create AwesomenessTV is that those viewers would much rather watch images on an iPhone screen than a TV screen. The solutions offered by those making the leap from TV production to web production are so far only offer the same type of content not playing on the family flatscreen. (Cybergeddon’s “immersive” elements like an iPad app excepted.) For example Runaways, the Rashomon-style prep-school soap (and neither the Joan Jett-centric series nor the Marvel Comics adaptation you want it to be) presented by Robbins, looks an awful lot like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. The format’s changing, but the content hasn’t quite caught up.
Those in the television industry are embracing digital platforms with a greater enthusiasm than their colleagues in film and music, but it’s a half-hearted embrace. Of course, it could be worse: Robbins stated that his other main inspiration for AwesomenessTV was Lucas Cruikshank’s spastic YouTube phenomenon Fred Figglehorn. If the strings that connect the next wave of scripted online video to traditional television and film also keep it looking less like this, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.