Blogs & Comment

Pushing CanCon online

Web series producers find new opportunities to interact with audiences, if not to generate profit just yet.

The title character of Canadian web series Ruby Skye: P.I.  (Photo: Story 2.OH)

Think there’s nothing good on TV these days? Maybe it’s time to give web series a shot.

To get around barriers to entry into the traditional broadcasting system, Canadian producers are using online-only shows to interact with audiences and showcase digital talent. Now they just need to figure out how to monetize them.

“One of my big theories about working on the web … is to build your community first, build your audience, and then start figuring out how to make money from it,” says Jill Golick, president of Toronto-based web production company Story2.OH.

Creator and executive producer of award-winning web series Ruby Skye P.I., Golick has yet to fully pursue revenue-generation with the teen mystery show, and has largely relied on funding from the Independent Production Fund (IPF). But she points to a number of potential methods that may change that. Ruby‘s first season (2010) took advantage of paid brand integration, with its title character using a Polaroid camera, for example.

Other methods involve licensing and revenue-sharing with distribution portals, and having viewers pay through subscription or download fees.

But getting consumers to notice and opt-in to web series, let alone pay to watch them, requires a certain amount of sweat equity. So says Evan Jones, partner and creative director at Halifax-based Stitch Media, which produces interactive content related to traditional broadcast programs as well as standalone projects.

“People [start watching] a web series not knowing if it’s going to be homemade skateboard videos or high-definition scripted drama,” he says. “And the challenge we have found is reaching the people that would enjoy your project but are having trouble finding it, because [the Internet] is such a noisy space.”

For Golick, getting Ruby Skye P.I. in front of audiences has required constant promotion through social media and other interactive content. Like Jones, she says identifying a specific audience for a series is essential, and also valuable for potential advertisers.

Meanwhile, through a partnership with Shaw Media, Jones is building an audience for a web series called Moderation Town. Though not linked to a broadcast project, the comedy series (not safe for work, so be warned!) is hosted on Showcase’s online video portal, among other destinations like YouTube.

In addition to the Shaw partnership and sponsorship from ICUC Moderation Services, Moderation Town (like Ruby Skye P.I.) received funding through the IPF, which launched a program specifically for web series last year.

Since proposing the program two years ago, IPF executive director Andra Sheffer says the number of web series has grown from five or six total to 50 Canadian series. In June, the IPF <a href="”>awarded $1.4 million in funding to 15 Canadian web series, out of 160 applicants.

With second seasons of Ruby Skye P.I. and Moderation Town among the recipients, Canadian producers are allowed another round to experiment in hopes of building up web series success stories.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there will be money made in the entertainment business, wherever it goes,” Golick says. “We just have to try a variety of things.”