Last month YouTube celebrated its 7th birthday. Hulu, the largest legal TV streaming service in the US, will be 5 in August (It's four months older than iPlayer). There's been much talk in the US recently about online video "growing up". Google's decision to foster partnerships with content producers, starting with its YouTube Partner Program, has now seen the launch of premium video channels. At a presentation to advertisers in May, US comedian Chris Hardwick, who runs YouTube's popular Nerdist channel, summed up Google's intentions best: "The web will be to cable TV what cable TV was to broadcast".
Google though is not an isolated case, and other online platforms are taking it further. Both Hulu & Netflix have commissioned exclusive web series including political sitcom "Battleground", a new reality show from Morgan Spurlock, and a series of documentaries from the acclaimed director Richard Linklater. US online video services are for a wide variety of reasons evolving, but what's still unknown, and so exciting, is what effect the continual growth of this video market will have on Television.
This is contextually interesting, and relevant to the BBC, because today we published seven brand new comedy shows online. Of course that happens regularly on the iPlayer, but these shows have never been on television; they were commissioned for bbc.co.uk. Promoted by BBC Three as Feed My Funny Exclusives, and championed by controller Zai Bennett as a chance to find "the next Gavin and Stacey or Little Britain", they throw up exciting possibilities for comedy, a genre where traditionally you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the next Prince or Princess, like Mrs Brown.
Dawson Bros. Funtime
New talent, new formats and new scripts can be developed at relatively low cost in relation to TV production and put in front of an audience. Architecturally, the Feed My Funny Exclusives, use the same templates as TV shows, working within bbc.co.uk/programmes, utilising iBroadcast, and they can appear in IPlayer. But the differences are what makes this so exciting going forward. These shows don't need to be 28 minutes long, they cost less to make than most TV comedy and they are at that intersection between technology and storytelling Ralph Rivera described a few months ago.
How many of this year's Feed My Funny Exclusives will go to full TV series remains to be seen. What we do know is that when more are commissioned later this year, we can ask some interesting questions. For example, what would data driven comedy look like? After all, Yahoo, who now commission web series, make programming choices driven by data. After tracking the torrent of clicks that news stories about wedding engagements routinely get they commissioned a reality web show "The Ultimate Proposal".
Could we create a personalised comedy akin to the Tipp-Ex Bear on YouTube using bbc programme pages? Or create live comedy driven entirely from social media feeds? Technology is changing what we can do with comedy but all that really matters is how funny the end product is. So I will leave you to judge and comment on what's been produced for the first series of Feed My Funny exclusives, but I would like to point out that without this project we would never have been able to unveil the latest revolution in equine technology. It keeps you up to date with news for horses, surf websites for horses, and connect with friends, who are horses.
Feed My Funny Exclusives
Will Saunders is an executive producer within BBC Comedy.