While there are plenty of popular web series that have several million views out there, the medium is still looking for the consistency it needs to be attractive to advertisers. So many web series have a large audience on the first episode only to see that audience drop heavily by the time episode 2 comes around. One strategy that seems to be effective, is to center a new web series launch around a real world event that appeals to the same demographic.
One web series that has proved extremely popular, and is about to launch its fifth season beginning with San Diego's Comic-Con (July 20-24), is The Guild, a show about a bunch of MMORPG players who have discussions over their headsets while playing a fictional World of Warcraft-style game for endless hours. The series has over 45 million upload views from YouTube and has won a number of Streamy Awards, web series' closest thing to the Oscars.
Creator/star Felicia Day has become a nerd's pinup, a redhead with an unexpected sexy, "everygirl" appeal who actually likes and plays video games. Day's nerd cred is way up in the stratosphere, having starred in Joss Whedon's TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and web hit Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, a musical Whedon himself says was, in part inspired by The Guild.
If you've never seen The Guild, check out the premiere episode--it's only 4 minutes long (WARNING: there is a bit of strong language involved, so proceed at your own risk):
Day picked the perfect kind of setup for a web series. World of Warcraft is played by more than 12 million people around the world. Creating a fun, breezy comedy about people who play these games instantly finds an audience in a place where tons of people already are: their computers. She also picked the perfect kind of crowd to market The Guild to: Comic-Con attendees. Both the show, and the online gaming theme, appeal directly to that demographic.
The Guild has been a regular at Comic-Con, and this year, Day will head the panel to drum up excitement for the new season. Also, she'll talk about a new web series she's creating, Dragon Age: Redemption, based on the popular fantasy RPG Dragon Age. Day will be a part of a panel called "Evolution of a Web Series: From The Guild to Dragon Age." There, along with actor Doug Jones, Redemption director Pete Winther and its executive producer Mark Darrah, Day will discuss why The Guild is popular and how they will be using the same techniques for the new web series. There's no doubt a whole slew of would-be web producers would like to hear what they have to say.
So it appears that making a hit web series has a lot in common with every other successful media venture, putting yourself out there and talking about it to a large group of people most likely to be interested in your work. It's not likely to happen by just putting it out there and hoping it will take off. Day's hard work in promoting her show to a convention that regularly attracts 125,000 people a year has paid dividends, and The Guild is a key success story for the future of web series.