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A funny thing happened when I clicked through to Geek and Sundry’s “Subscribathon,” intent on showing my support by letting the live feed run muted on my computer.
I found myself watching.
And I couldn’t stop.
Geek and Sundry is a new YouTube channel and web hub brought into being by Felicia Day and company. Actor (Dr. Horrible, Eureka, The Guild), Writer (The Guild), Producer and self-ascribed Geek, Felicia is no stranger to sci-fi and fantasy in all forms. With the help of friends and colleagues she has put together a genre-fan-pleasing lineup of launch shows. Included in these productions is comedy series The Guild, A Celebrity Poker-esque table-top gaming show hosted by Wil Wheaton called—wait for it—Table Top, Felicia’s own quaintly-titled Flog, a motion comic series created by comic book publisher Dark Horse Comics, and others.
On first glance Geek and Sundry looks to be a labor of love that caters to a specific demographic with original programs much like other web-based series and weekly news shows. After watching most of the Subscribathon, however, I can’t help but think that G&S may be something more significant: the next step in the evolution of web-based entertainment.
Felicia and her G&S posse put on the Subscibathon as a way to promote their April 2nd launch of the G&S YouTube channel. It was no small undertaking: 12 hours of non-stop, live-streamed content including special guests, contests, giveaways and direct fan interaction via the Google+ ‘Hangout’ feature. As mentioned earlier, I dropped into the broadcast planning to simply have the feed running in the background while I watched whatever we had recorded from TV the previous night. Give them the web hit, I figured, and that would be enough; I would have done my part.
Instead, I ended up intrigued by the content. There was an informative panel about the art of producing web series that delved into the motivations of the creators, the logistics of production and the question that everyone is asking: is there a financial future in web-based content? Felicia then took questions directly from Twitter, as well as, the ongoing and thoroughly chaotic irc chat. I was only partially listening during this panel but my interest had been piqued.
This panel was then followed by a fan art contest; now, this was cool. They selected several fans, people just watching the Subscribathon, to appear via webcam and hold a brief art competition for prizes. Felicia was chatting with the fans, interacting with them directly via the live video chat. Now, certainly there have been TV talk shows where viewers can call in, and radio shows where listeners can call and talk to the hosts, but this level of interactivity, in my experience, is something rare and unique. Not only does it further erode the barrier between celebrity and fan initially breached by Twitter; it also heralds new possibilities for audience-influenced programming! Felicia held several of these mini-contests and while some were more interesting than others, just the fact that she was getting the audience directly involved was major.
The guest panels continued throughout the day as well. Erik Bruhwiler of Dark Horse comics discussed what goes into the creation of motion comics, including the weekly series debuting on G&S. Bioware’s David Gaider had an interesting talk with Felicia about romance in video games, specifically how to create believable, romance-able characters like those seen in Baulder’s Gate, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. There was even a fun educational chat with NASA Astronomers. I found all of these panels very interesting, though my favorite panel was the Novel Writer’s panel with Patrick Rothfuss, John Scalzi and Amber Benson.
In the Writer’s panel the focus was on the creation of compelling characters. As a writer it was fascinating to hear these three (and Felicia) discuss what makes a great character, why heroes are not as exciting as they once were, how to create a strong antagonist and other aspects. It is exciting to hear your own revelations about character development echoed in the sentiments of successful writers, as well as, examining the different approaches that writers take to character creation. In every panel the guests were very engaging and the audience questions were wonderful.
There is currently not a show in the G&S lineup specifically designed for more of these panels but I hope it is something they will continue to do.
The rest of the day was filled with fun contests, random G&S staff appearances (panda suits, flower suits…and unicorn head?!) and other assorted Felicia-Guild-Geek-ness. While I missed the first and last hour or so of the Subscribathon I consider it quite an achievement on the part of G&S that I was thoroughly entertained for nearly nine full hours. Okay, sure, I was working on other things while I listened and watched but I can’t remember the last time I watched original TV programming for nine straight hours and found it all enjoyable!
While G&S likely will not put on half-day shows with great frequency (Felicia and crew were champs!), or even produce multi-million dollar episodic series in the near future, the fact that they were able to put together an entertaining, informative, engaging—at times zany—day’s worth of content gives me a lot of hope for the content they will be producing weekly. I’ve already watched Flog and Table Top and enjoyed the laid-back, quirky nature of both! I really hope to see G&S take off, add more content, and continue the audience-participation Hangouts.
My wife put it simply, and best, “I can see why people cancel cable and switch to the internet.”
Much like specialized TV stations such as SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi), TLC and Discovery once did, Geek and Sundry offers a media hub where fans of sci-fi, fantasy, gaming and geekery can find the content that they crave. This channel is the strongest concerted effort I have seen yet, to bring a TV channel-like programming lineup to the web. If it proves successful, it may well prove to be a great template for others to mimic in other genres.
That is what I find most significant about what Felicia and the rest of the G&S crew are doing. The G&S model is something that can be used to great effect across genres to create a web-based landscape both familiar and easily accessible to audiences that are familiar and comfortable with the ‘channel’-based broadcasting structure used by television studios for decades. If more creators latch onto this model it will only hasten the evolution of web-based entertainment and, hopefully, break the industry wide open.
The real question still remains: “Can web-based content be financially viable?” The entertainment industry is a business-oriented field, after all. That question is the reason major studios—for better or worse, depending on your point of view—have stayed largely out of the web-based arena; they do not know the answer. Fortunately for us, pioneers like Felicia, the G&S crew, and many of her panelists are not waiting for that answer. They will keep doing what they love and let the answer come in time.
To be optimistic for a moment, I believe the answer is yes. It is just a matter of time. There are already cracks in the dam: Dr. Horrible and The Guild are prime examples. If you make quality content, the viewers will come, and they will buy. Geek and Sundry is the newest, and perhaps largest, crack not for its ability to make money (yet), but for what its format represents. When that dam bursts I hope it will be the creators riding the crest of that wave, firmly in control of the future of web-based entertainment. Because if they are they will continue to do their best work and they, as well as us the viewers, will be rewarded for it.