DIGITAL REPORTER

Webisodes are worth the time; Web DVR software would make the time

There was a moment in the evolution of online entertainment when something clicked. Maybe it was right around the time of Joss Whedon's Web hit "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog." Or NBC Universal's "Gemini Division." Maybe even CBS Corp.'s "Stephen King's N."

All of the sudden, webisodes got good.

So after a steady influx of serialized shortform series endemic to the Internet, this should be the point where someone out there programming for the Web should be taking a victory lap, heralding the breakthrough of a new source for original creative.

No such luck. There really hasn't been any one webisode that has seized the public imagination like "lonelygirl15," which has been the standard-bearer for the genre for too long. When your reigning hit is about 21/2 years old, something isn't right.

If there's an increasing amount of quality out there but no traction for these efforts, what's wrong? Perhaps the problem inhibiting growth in this space is not the programming but fine-tuning the episodic programming experience.

The good news is that there is a wealth of original material out there piquing my interest. The bad news is all these webisodes are scattered all over the Internet on portals or destination sites.

My current viewing pattern is: I see a Web series I enjoy, I watch the latest episode, and then I never see it again. That's because seeing the next episode means it is incumbent upon me to come back to that Web site when and if that episode is ready. That's insane.

What the Web needs is a browser-based DVR, like a one-stop-shop media player that will aggregate RSS feeds for online-only original series. Unfortunately, there are a few dozen Web sites that claim to do just that but either focus their energies on the premium programming already collecting space on my television's DVR (see Hulu, Adobe Media Player) or relegating entire sites comprising multiple Web series to just one RSS feed or other restrictions (see Odeo, Veoh, Pyro, Miro, Mefeedia, Fireant, Invision, Ffwd, etc.).

But blame should not be laid entirely at aggregation sites. The individual programmers are just as responsible and ultimately have more at stake. But as it stands, every webisode out there is presented as if it is the only piece of content in existence and you will be so wowed that you won't drift anywhere else. That's not going to happen.

I could bookmark the series, but that's not going to remind me when a new episode is ready. Some programmers have e-mail and SMS message notifications to do that, which I find intrusive. Why can't this process take place inside an agnostic media player?

This piece of software also would need to do more than just aggregate for me. It should be embeddable in social networks, which is not only an example of serving the customer where they live but also just plain good business sense. A player stocked with programs that sits on my profile page is basically free marketing, allowing any connected friends to hop on whatever bandwagon I'm riding.

In time, this player of my dreams should also be able to migrate to other platforms — namely my mobile phone and television — so that I can either take my programs with me or sample them on a bigger screen. Again, this kind of innovation would maximize exposure, either via a pass-along device like an iPhone or on a couch built for more than just me in my living room.

Original online entertainment is gaining momentum, but the presentation requires more sophistication. It's got a fan in me. Now don't let me get away.

Andrew Wallenstein can be reached at andrew.wallenstein@THR.com.
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