I started writing for ReelSEO back in June, and the first thing that I wrote about extensively was web series. Not long after I started writing about them, a debate was raging on whether to call them a "web series" or a "multi-platform series" or an "original series on [Hulu or something similar]." There is a very distinct, very valid reason not to call them "web series," because of perception. Perception that a program that originates on the web is inferior. "If it's so good, why didn't a major network pick this up and turn it into a real series?"

The Continuing Debate On What To Call Online Shows...That Come In Series

Recently an article by Liz Shannon Miller over at GigaOM entitled, "Why We're Going To Keep Calling Them Web Series" was published and picked up by several other sites. The article cited an e-mail from producer Wilson Cleveland (Leap Year, Suite 7, The Temp Life, and The Webventures of Justin & Alden) that read:

When the Leap Year trailer was first released on Hulu last summer, I asked my 64 years-young mother to email the link to 10 of her friends of similar age and introduce it simply as "a new series Wilson's working on." All 10 watched and responded with various comments. Then I asked her to send the exact same link to 10 other friends of similar age, but to call it a "web series." This time, four people claimed "the link doesn't work;" two said the "video won't play;" one asked "what channel is this on?;" one asked "How do I find this so I know when to watch?" Only two out of the second 10 watched the trailer without any questions or issues. Not exactly a scientific study but it made me wonder if placing the word "web" in front of "series" or "show," could be hurting the cause at raising the broader awareness we need to grow.

That seems like damning evidence not to call it a web series, but unfortunately this experiment doesn't cover all the bases. In one instance, the use of "web series" is an offending phrase that causes a bunch of the older generation to be confused. Then in a misleading manner, it is called "an original series" and the similar demographic is enthused, but somehow the question of "what channel is this on?" doesn't also pop up in this control group. Aren't they eager to know where they might get to watch it later? Because Mr. Cleveland called it "an original series," the immediate thought was that "this is on TV," and there was much rejoicing. Do you think that maybe when they find out that the show is "online" or whatever the young kids are calling the Internet these days, they might have the same prejudices or reservations about the show, regardless of what it's called?

Here's that trailer for Leap Year, by the way.  It's presented like a movie and has quality production value, so I get the feeling that the "web series" group is closed-minded and it's pretty much their fault if they can't accept where it's playing:

[Video removed from YouTube]

Another term that is being thrown around is "multi-platform series" which has no chance, not one chance...zero chance of being a common description among those who actively watch these shows. OK, so I'm on Facebook and I want everyone to know that I've been watching The Booth at the End. "Hey guys, have you seen this new multi-platform series called The Booth at the End? Man, I love multi-platform series. They're just so...not confined to the web, you know?" (142 Likes.  50 Comments.)

For the record, I think "multi-platform" is just fine when you're behind closed doors at a business meeting trying to get a show some international distribution or a DVD release or made into a movie, sort of the roller-coaster ride the Kiefer Sutherland-John Hurt series, The Confession, took this year. Months after its rollout as a web series, I continue to see stories about The Confession making it in some new medium and increasing its potential audience all around the world. Just don't think for one minute the people watching that show is going to pop some popcorn, bring out the Twizzlers, and ever refer to it once as "a multi-platform series."

ALSO ►  Beyond YouTube: Why MCNs are Looking to Other Video Platforms for New Opportunities

Call A Web Series What You Want, Its Still Online, And Thats Not Shameful confession 606x348

OK, so what about "original series on x platform," as web personality Shira Lazar tweeted back in September? I like the idea of that. It certainly sounds better when you put that word "original" in it, much like the example above with Wilson Cleveland. In the end, though, you have to stop playing games and you have to tell people where they can see it. It's online. It's on the web. It's on Hulu or Netflix or Revision3 or Koldcast or YouTube or Vimeo. So right after I call it "original series on [x]," those people with immediate prejudices about serious entertainment on the web just lost interest.

You Ever Heard Of "Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover?"

So you know what? It isn't about what you call it. It's about creators making content that force people to lose their preconceived notions about where they watch it. With more and more people watching their entertainment on a computer, the distinction about whether or not it's on TV (legit) or originated online (still working to become mainstream legit) isn't going to matter much longer. Netflix' House of Cards and new episodes of Arrested Development will blur the line concerning where we get our entertainment in the next year or two.

Call A Web Series What You Want, Its Still Online, And Thats Not Shameful arrested3 606x340

Also, web series themselves have been getting a lot better, with writing and production value that rivals television.  Machinima introduced the high-quality RCVR and Dragon Age: Redemption.  Excellent comedies The Guild and Web Therapy have become go-to places for amazing guest stars.  The Booth at the End on Hulu was fantastic.  There are many more.  The only problem with web series that I've seen is consistent episodes being delivered and keeping fans sated, and I think that becomes less of a problem once more money starts pouring in for online video on the whole, which we know is inevitable.

We're in the early stages of online video being conceived less as a bastard child, because it's still relatively new. Did TV have nothing but amazing series when it began in the 1920s? Of course it didn't. And, I'll remind, that TV wasn't really considered legitimate by many people until cable started growing up. It used to be a taboo for name actors to participate in a TV series, now you see it all the time, because better stories began to be told in the age of The Sopranos. Better actors, writers, producers, and directors gravitated towards it (there's also a ridiculous creative dearth in Hollywood concerning the multiplex that has caused that shift, but that's another story). It took a long time for TV to be considered truly legit. Why are we in such a rush to call a web series something other than it is in the hopes that putting a prettier package around it will make people forget that they are watching it online?

So for me, I'll be calling them "web series" because it's simple and works to describe the medium pretty well. There have been many articles written that discuss its problematic syntax, like it's so difficult or embarrassing to describe what it is and where it's on. That's where the people delivering the message need to start delivering it with confidence. If the show is good, call it what you want, but don't be apologetic about watching it online.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507080756 Jason Leaver

    A fascinating article. I've been long debating with myself, do I call Out With Dad a "web series"? a "show online"? or simply a "series"? I think I might call a spade a spade and let the rest of the world catch up.

    • Chris Greenaway

      there's nothing worse than watching TV people come into our space and treat it like it's beneath them. We're on the web, I'm proud to say it and I'll still be here and proud of it 10 years from now!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=563510887 Courtney Henley-Anderson

    Amen! I think this is just sore grapes an people trying to hold on to the old model. EVERYONE should be embracing the web as it offers far more than TV - global rather than national exposure and the ability of the viewers to watch whenever they want instead of at a set time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=142281679121417 Border Guardians of Ackernon

    l have witnessed with some amusement the seemingly endless discussion on Twitter from content creators about what to call an original series presented on line... Duh, a web series. A good story with high production value will be watched and no amount of lip stick on the pig is going to change it. I agree with Javier (hello) and Indie Intertube (hello as well). Thanks to all.

  • Wilson Cleveland

    Hey Chris,

    Running on fumes right now but I had to  respond to this because my comments in Liz's story are out of context here.  My 'email experiment' had nothing to do with fostering a perception that the term 'web series' should in any way indicate an absence of quality.  Nobody is saying we should retire the term out of shame.  Nowhere did I suggest we condemn a term to protect our own egos.  

    I was merely testing a primarily traditional media audience's familiarity with the concept of a series created FOR the web versus a TV series available ON the web.  I've been doing this nonstop for 6 years.  If I were somehow ashamed of what we're all trying to accomplish here, I promise you I wouldn't do it. 

    If the goal is to make this space top of mind among the broader audience we need to grow and prosper long-term, I was suggesting it may warrant our switching up the branding depending on the audience we're talking to.

    • http://www.nymoviereviews.com/ Chris Atkinson

      Thanks, Wilson, for replying. I didn't intend for your e-mail that I have republished here to be considered an example of "shame," although I can see why it could be seen that way. I was more interested in the idea that by calling a web series, or web show, something else and sweeping the "online" or "web" under the rug that your "control group" was more interested in the show. I'm not sure how this same group reacted when they finally found out that the show was online--if they reacted more favorably or not, or were more willing to give it a chance even after they found out it was on the web.

      I still say, "call it what you want," but in the end, people will have to be let in on the fact that is available on the Internet. I appreciate your comments!

  • Christopher Kubasik


    I know that the audience for The Booth (on the Hulu boards, on Twitter, on Facebook) tend to call it a TV show.

    I think the migration of the term is especially interesting because most of the content use on Hulu *is* television. And so, for the viewers, it's just *more* television.

    Is there snobbery? Especially, honestly, in the halls of Hollywood. But snobbery is a way of people making sure they feel better about themselves by trying to put down others. Once upon a time television was the ghetto and stars and real directors made sure to stay in cinema so as not to defile themselves. Today, not so much.

    I see your point, however, and I do appreciate it.

    I think, ultimately, it's a branding issue. If we know a show is from ABC or HBO or Paramount or has such-and-such a star, we assume it's been at least through some sort of screening process.

    When it's from "The Internet" -- well, who speaks for the Internet? Everyone! And Everyone might not know how to make good shows.

  • http://www.nymoviereviews.com/ Chris Atkinson

    Hello, Jim, thanks for commenting!

    I think you can call it a show or series or whatever, but eventually the "ugly truth" is that it's online. I know "series" sometimes seems problematic because it sounds like you have to make an investment to watch it, but in the end, everyone is just running around in circles trying to avoid saying "web" or "online."

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607049358 Javier Perez-Karam

    Thank you! I keep having this argument with indie filmmakers... for some reason they believe work that is online is not legit! I don't get it! A web series, in my mind, has the potential to reach many more than an indie pilot that wants to make it into TV (and might never because of the politics behind it). I am also proud to be a web series creator and will call them web series until the next medium comes by. I do like adding the "original" infront, so it doesn't sound like a spin off film or TV for the web. I am a PROUD WEB SERIES PRODUCER. I don't make TV nor traditional films. so much so that I am making now WEB FILMS. haha :) Thank you Chris Atkinson.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000748995993 Christopher Alan

      Can it be Union sanctioned and paid ??

  • April

    That's fine Jim but the question of "where can I watch it?" will still come up. Why are some some of us so ashamed of where they create their content. It's created for and watched on the web. Be proud of that and embrace it because until we all do the money and eyeballs will never come to the space. Embarrassment rubs off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001039149526 Indie Intertube

    Could not agree more. Glad someone besides us finally said it!

  • Christopher Kubasik

    Jim, when I refer to "The Booth at the End" that's exactly what I say.

    I say, "Have you seen the show?" or "I have my show on Hulu," and that sort of thing. "Show" seems perfectly apt.

    Since people are already watching content online (and "The Booth" has already aired on television in some nations) I see everything flowing into one big mess of "Shows" at some point.

    As Chris points out, ultimately it will be the quality that wins the day, not the means of distribution or point of origin.

    And, of course, I'm honored "The Booth" was used as an example of a show built with new production and distribution models that hit the target of quality.

    C.K. Kubasik
    Creator/Writer "The Booth at the End"

    • http://www.nymoviereviews.com/ Chris Atkinson

      Thanks, Christopher, for dropping a few lines! Big fan of The Booth at the End, a huge example of a show that the Internet needs more of to defeat "web prejudice." Here's hoping for a Season 2!

  • http://revision3.com/ jim louderback

    How about just calling it a "show" as in check out my new show...