quarterlife, the online video series that debuted on MySpace and became the first to be picked up by a TV network, made its TV premiere on NBC on Tuesday.
But it did not produce the type of history its creators and NBC were hoping for – according to Returers, the premiere ”marked the network’s worst time-period performance in at least 17 years and has thrown the show’s fate into imminent jeopardy.”
The show, about six artists in their 20s, was initially distributed via eight minute episodes on MySpace and its own dedicated website, which doubles as a social network. It built up a decent following online and was well-received.
But that didn’t translate to a decent following on television as the show attracted only 3.1m viewers. American Idol, for comparison, attracted 29m.
While The Hollywood Reporter points out that the online distribution of quarterlife may have made watching the show on television less compelling and NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman proclaimed that the experiment was “so worth the try,” I think quarterlife’s probable failure as a network TV series highlights something quite important.
Television and the internet are two distinct mediums with their own unique traits. Expecting content that finds success in one medium to be instantly and successfully transferable to the other is naive.
Just as pre-roll and post-roll online video advertising has been designed to replicate the same sort of advertising experience that consumers are exposed to on television but has been received with limited consumer enthusiasm, it’s clear that designing an online series for future television distribution (or vice versa) probably isn’t the best strategy.
That’s not to say that there will never be any room for a successful cross-over series or two.
I do, however, believe that a successful series developed for either medium will be designed specifically to take advantage of the unique characteristics of that medium.
Simply taking a series that was originally designed to be distributed online over 36 eight-minute episodes and packaging it into six hour-long episodes is probably not doing the series any favours.
All this said, at the end of the day, I applaud NBC for taking a risk and experimenting.
NBC apparently paid very little for the series compared to the typical cost of a similar television drama and the creators, Hollywood veterans Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, were able to retain an unusual level of ownership and control.
Everybody certainly learned a lesson and hopefully it will be of value to others who are trying to create great content and leverage the power of the internet as a media distribution platform.