Meet Hannah and Mackenzie, two women standing at the intersection of legacy media and new tech, making "Internet odysseys," such as their new Web series Whatever, Linda, alongside television and films. Read more about their journey, and watch the first episode. In this month's column, the future of Linda comes into focus – and more challenges lie ahead.
Two years ago this month, we began creating Whatever, Linda.
Now the project has come to a climax, of sorts.
We've finally released all 10 episodes on whateverlinda.com. Most important, we scored a distribution deal with ThisIsDrama and Fullscreen. Over the next many weeks, a network of 40,000 digital channels will be used to expose more than 6 million subscribers to our series. Our partners will also seed it to the masses by having online aggregators, YouTube personalities and industry sites start social discussions about that new hit Web series – that's us!
Given how smoothly we'd moved from production to being the buzz of festival circuits, we had a bit of a naive hope that our work as creators and builders was done. We thought the boat was built and we could let it sail off.
But it seems our compass was off.
Our target audience was not just sitting there waiting for Linda to be uploaded to YouTube, fingers poised to click Play All. Even with the backing of an established channel and one of the biggest digital media companies out there, two weeks in we have yet to really tap into the audience that will make or break our little show.
We want an audience to see the fruit of our labour. Not just a few thousand, but hundreds of thousands of people. Or, even better, "millions," to steal a line from our lead, Linda Thoroughbred. We want to make Whatever, Linda a true digital success. But where we initially thought that meant looking ahead to creating subsequent seasons of Linda for a devoted fan base, it seems that the real work of building a community for our creation comes first – and it's only just begun.
On the Web, community isn't measured merely in clicks or page views. It's about building a connection with people who want to talk about Linda, to share it, tweet about it, review it, meme it.
So far, all the good word of mouth and critical acclaim we've garnered haven't translated into the community we desire. What are we missing?
In the wild west that is the Internet, success can be found in a number of ways. One option: You can become an overnight viral success, such as the legendary "Charlie Bit Me!" video on YouTube. (So adorable, right?) But can you really bank on a digital strategy that favours one baby being bitten multiple times by his brother?
Then there's content created for a ready-made niche. Tello Films is one example of this: It is behind a channel that focuses on lesbian programming. Established niches are a handy way of finding an audience in this fractured digital world. Another example: the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony. In the case of Linda, however, there isn't a community of female Ponzi-scheme masterminds waiting to be appealed to.
Having the heft of a platform such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon can also spell success. Their revenue means they have wide reach, but these giants remain relatively off limits for short-form digital series, not to mention new creators such as ourselves.
It's hard to predict when something on the Internet will hit its stride. The gold standard for Web series is arguably High Maintenance. The show began as an "indie," with a three-episode season in 2012. It slowly gained traction over a few years until it was picked up by Vimeo's Netflix-style streaming platform. There's a paywall, which partly goes toward paying for the series' production, and it has the profile – and marketing – that comes from pairing with Vimeo.
But what made High Maintenance stand out from the start is that it was just plain good. We believe Linda more than holds its own in that regard.
The Web is a milieu that's still forming, still without tried-and-trusted paths to success. You won't always have a complete map with which to navigate.
We have to build a community for Linda on our own terms. The process is humbling, and we still have much to learn. Sharing is the new networking, and sharing how you do it is the new filmmaking – we think, so far.
We're prepared to do a lot of personal campaigning, whatever it takes to connect with the right people who have a voice that goes beyond ours.
So where will Linda go in the end? We don't know exactly, but yet more hard work – and hopefully a few marked strokes of luck – is a good start.