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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why Isn't 'The Line' a Bigger Hit?

What's your theory on why 'The Line,' a funny, well-done series of seven short episodes, isn't racking up more views?

The series was produced by 'SNL' cast members, and produced by Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video. It features several recognizable actors -- including Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis. It was directed by Seth Meyers.

They got big publicity earlier in the week in The New York Times. They paid to send out a press release on PR Newswire. They had distribution on sites like, YouTube, and Crackle. The series is funny -- I watched four or five episodes in one sitting.

But on YouTube, the episodes on average have 43,000 views. On Crackle, the average is 18,000 views an episode.

If they were depending purely on showing advertising around and during the episodes, that kind of traffic isn't going to produce much scratch. Lucky that they signed a sponsor for the series, Sony Pictures (Crackle's parent company), which uses it to advertise some upcoming movies.

What isn't working?

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

I'd pinpoint two things...the second more significant than the first.

1. Not enough of a cliff-hanger or hook to carry you from one episode to the next.

2. The name. Try Googling "The Line" and see what comes up. You get Johnny Cash and a lot of other stuff, but not this series. Now try Googling "Ask a Ninja" or "Homestar Runner" and see what happens. Those Web series are the first result.

"The Line" is a good name for a movie or TV show, when you have a studio or network to spend millions advertising it and promoting it. People know to find it at theaters on August 22nd, or on TV on NBC.

But on the Internet, Google is the way many people find stuff, and if you don't appear on that first page of Google results, people won't keep hunting. I submit you need to give your series a distinctive name that doesn't already produce lots of Google results. (What did the words "Homestar Runner" mean before the animated series started up?)

Here's a link to Episode 1 of "The Line."

Interested in hearing your thoughts...

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  • Probably not enjoying much positive word-of-mouth. It doesn't seem successful as web video, since nothing really happens till 30 seconds in, and it looks and feels more like a clip from a rejected TV show. Perhaps these star-laden side projects have jumped the shark?

    By Blogger AVN, at 10:41 AM  

  • I'm wondering if this isn't a case of false expectations.

    What's the best a *series* has ever done on Funny or Die? What about on the internet, ever? Probably Dr. Horrible is tops, and it used a different release model/PR strategy.

    I think if "The Line" is any good, word-of-mouth will push up those views in a viral way. Your post, by the way, is the first I heard of it. So maybe their expensive PR campaign wasn't all that great.

    By Blogger J. Ott, at 10:56 AM  

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    By Blogger GB, at 1:40 PM  

  • The traditional "pay for play" that the big boys are used to doesn't work on the internet. Stars don't matter. Traditional PR has little effect. Established internet presence does have an effect. Joss has a huge following on the internet. People knew about his project and were interested before it came out. And avn is right, if nothing interesting happens in the first 10 seconds, people are going to click on something else. is also correct, most stuff that Hollywood touts as successful on the web has paltry numbers. When I released my first trailer on YouTube it shot to number 1. Most viewed & Top Rated. Three Hollywood studios the same day posted their trailers. They had the stars. They had the PR. Their numbers were dismal. Black Dahlia barely got a tenth what my film did and Gridiron got less than a quarter. I believe people are looking for something different when they look on YouTube etal. Hollywood only knows how to regurgitate.

    By Blogger GB, at 1:42 PM  

  • the quick answer? because it's dumb (at least the first episode - i gave up after that).

    but also ditto here for never having heard of this before your post. and i completely agree with having a unique name. its annoying when a song, book, movie, etc., has a non-unique name. makes it a pain in the ass to google.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 3:26 PM  

  • Uh, mr. kirsner? I think deepstructure gave you all the answer you needed: the Line is flopping because it's dumb.

    Honestly, you think this is funny? I love comedy. And I love a lot of the comedy online because it goes places Network TV doesn't dare to go. Check out Wainy Days for something that is so consistently fresh and funny and rude. I could move in with David Wain.

    This Line thing? It's much less funny than a lot of student film comedies. I'm sure there is some talent in the mix, but they missed the boat big time.

    So the answer to your question seemed obvious to me within the first minute. It's not good. Scott...are the Line guys your friends or something?

    By Blogger Helena Handbasket, at 12:24 AM  

  • Helena-

    I guess everyone's taste is different. I thought it was better than most SNL skits these days.

    And yes, I am close personal friends with all of the creators... Lorne Michaels, too. I guess I should've disclosed that earlier. ;)


    By Blogger Scott Kirsner, at 11:54 AM  

  • I produce an online series (on YouTube) called "The George Show" and have had a related experience. Some episodes get good traction -- 200K views. Others don't even though the quality may be better. Based on my experience you have to be insanely something, like funny, topical, controversial, star-studded ... to get viewers. Targeting word-of-mouth viewers is clearly different than more predictable viewers from traditional distribution channels.


    P.S. Here's a link to "The George Show":

    By Blogger Ron Gentile, at 2:04 PM  

  • I thought it was good, but real prob. is tooo long... 1 min or less is best... or just don't interrupt the viewer... primary danger with serials... once you lose suture... have to work twice as hard to get it back.

    By Blogger OVN.TV, at 3:44 PM  

  • I'll have to disagree with Info a bit. The Line isn't suffering because shorter is always better. It's suffering because it's too long to watch something this middling-to-fair. If something is great, the fact that it's online doesn't dictate a 3 minute runtime to be good.

    I truly believe that the only reason that the <3 minute runtime rule only applies because viewers won't invest more than that in middling-to-fair content. Ask A Ninja is only a bit better than middling-to-fair. And so being real short helps it big time. But I've watched 15 minute content online and been riveted. Because it was just really good.

    After all, we happily watch top-notch 1 hour network programs like Med Men. Or half-hour comedies like Arrested Development. But these are just exceptional shows.

    Online content is often compromised by lack of budget and sometimes lack of talent. And ultimately it's compromised by the once-burned-twice shy phenomenon. Afer suffering through the first 3 minutes of so much bad stuff online, it's just very unlikely an audience will give any online program more than 60 to 120 seconds to get satisfaction before they move on. WE've learned that if we invest more time, it's badly spent. Whereas we've also learned that NBC comedies on TV are often worth more than 120 seconds. When online content is more highly selected and aggregated, then audiences will come to trust the source more, and I'm sure the runtimes will start going up.

    Sidenote: I can't tell if Scott Kirsner was being facetious about being buddies with Lorne Michaels et. al.

    By Blogger Helena Handbasket, at 5:23 PM  

  • I thought it was funny. Not great, but funny. And that should be a GOOD thing! How much crap is out there now that doesn't even scratch funny?

    And it begs the question... when we set the standard that something has to be extraordinary and a total of 60 seconds to be successful, well that seems insane. Are we saying people are so "busy" they can't find time to sit through a seven minute short? We're talking seven minutes here. You wait almost that long at a busy traffic light.

    I don't know where the new paradigm of internet distribution will end up or how it will effect entertainment long term, but right now it seems insanely unrealistic.

    "I demand everything to be very funny and to match the needs of my short attention span and fit on my micro-screen on my phone and it needs to be free and it needs to have production value and it needs to have stars."

    It appears we're developing a generation of internet viewers with the patience of a crack addict needing a hit. "Crackertainment."

    That business model doesn't have legs.

    By Blogger Pete Bauer, at 11:43 AM  

  • homestar runner and Ask A Ninja both had been around a pretty long while. the success wasn't totally overnight.

    compare that to dr. horrible and as other have mentioned the online presence of the creators were much higher and the PR rollout happned online.

    i pay pretty close to attention to this space (but only online, duh) and this is the first i've heard of the show.

    you can't create something for online consumption and expect to promote it the way you do normal television.

    regardless of content, if you don't get that, you're at a loss. get that right AND have good content, then you have a shot.

    doesn't sound like they got any of it right.

    By Blogger Cliff Wildman, at 9:48 PM  

  • In response to Helena... meant under minute best for serials... stand alones I think can run any length they want (suture comment)... but once the serial ends if you want to retain most viewers, keep content under 1 min... but do think your argument re. "quality" is spot on... but people can't go if they don't know is rule #1 of distribution... and I only learned about "The Line" from here (I'm in Can., but read Wknd Times-don't remember art. if was in)... I consume all kinds of media and I simply didn't know about it... until now... and "The Line" feels a day short/buck late social commentary wise.

    By Blogger OVN.TV, at 12:56 PM  

  • Too much out there, and not enough hype I guess. Hype brings them in, but quality is what keeps them hooked. Here there is no hook.

    I thought the series was funny, and I liked it, but Pete Bauer is right.

    It appears we're developing a generation of Internet viewers with the patience of a crack addict needing a hit. "Crackertainment."

    There's so much out there. Hard to get an audience when you have so little time to hook your viewer.

    By Blogger Karl, at 8:21 PM  

  • oh come on, enough with the "cracktainment" stuff. the audience today isn't a bunch of instant gratification/a.d.d kids, they're savvy consumers.

    this is just the classic tirade of blaming the audience. and it's wrong. the audience isn't on crack. they've just gotten smarter than you.

    "How much crap is out there now that doesn't even scratch funny?"

    this is the crap+1 fallacy. i'm not going to watch something just because it's slightly funnier or better made than the sea of crap out there. i'm going to ignore it also - it'll just take a few more seconds to ascertain that before i move on.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 9:06 PM  

  • DeepStructure,

    Thanks for telling me I'm the dullest nail in the box. That's funny. I guess because I don't agree with savvy web mavericks it obviously makes them all smarter than me. Well, who knows, that very well maybe true, but bear with a member of the short bus for a moment.

    My point was expectations are out whack. I didn't say the people expecting them didn't have their reasons, like being brilliant, I'm just saying its not a sustainable model.

    It is what is accepted now, even the dim lights like me know that, but unless there's commerce behind it, it will die on the vine.

    This short form "crackertainment" has as much long term life as nickle shorts did at the turn of the 20th century.

    Yes, all the exceptionally bright trend-setting audience members sitting in their underwear in their home office savoring 60 seconds of quality entertainment are defining the wave now, but it will all fade as it did for those films shown at nickelodeons.

    Maybe I'm just old school... expecting my entertainment to be an actual story, not just an idea. You can tell an idea in 60 seconds. However, you'll need... hold on, let me get my abacus out... yeah, you'll need longer than that to actually tell a story.

    By Blogger Pete Bauer, at 12:24 AM  

  • Helena-

    Joking about knowing the SNL guys. I'm not *that* well-connected... thanks for being part of this discussion!


    By Blogger Scott Kirsner, at 12:21 PM  

  • To Pete:)

    Yes "we" are hooked on "cracktainment" (sorry, like it better than crackertainment;)... for now... but what is the social/societal arc of how the "novel" came to be? Wasn't everything a serial for awhile? (I am prob. totally wrong on this, so pls. feel free to correct me)... I know the roots of several Dickens' now novels were initially serials... Yes? so if we're on a trajectory from Muybridge (sp?) maybe that's just where we're at in the arc??? For me the real question is why aren't online viewers more valuable? There are digital/cable channels which would be ecstatic with some online viewing numbers (especially considering lesser spend).

    By Blogger OVN.TV, at 10:27 AM  

  • For me the issue with this kind of "failure" is that the scale and nature of success are still being measured on a yardstick created by a TV/Celluloid economic paradigm.

    I think the really innovative content will be produced by younger, less "experienced" producers who intuit the subtleties of the medium. These may be today's youngsters who, raised on YouTube, will see today's web content as the status quo and whose rebellion will be an effort to improve and go beyond this nihilistic reductionism to "byte-sized" content and may surprise even the most cynical (and tiresomely postmodern) YouTube naysayers.

    Oldster attempts to get on the bandwagon by launching so-called "web series" only expose the old school mentalities still at play which are not tuned in to the web audience's interests or the nature of the internet as a medium for creative expression.

    I agree with helena handbasket that better filtering and curatorship of online content will be the primary force which separates the wheat from the chaff. Yet for the internet to have true longevity as a medium it will be the new formats (perhaps especially relevant will be those integrating GPS into storytelling/gaming paradigms) that have entirely different dynamics than their TV/Celluloid predecessors.
    My Vimeo Videos
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    By Blogger Gabriel Shalom, at 6:21 PM  

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