Photo: Getty Images
TV on the Web seemed a foreign concept a decade ago, but then came YouTube and Hulu. Both changed the way we consume video. It started out small, streaming old shows on sites like Google Video, AOL and Yahoo. Fast forward a few years later and online ventures into original programming fared decently (Lonelygirl15 fooled the world while soap opera star Eden Riegel starred in Emmy-nominated “Imaginary Bitches“). Although many attempts have been made, no one’s really perfected the right way to showcase new content in the medium … until maybe now.
Earlier this week, YouTube unveiled three new channels at their first upfront event—one surrounding the summer Olympics, Team USA, and another on Machinima revolved around Halo 4. The third, WIGS, features A-List Hollywood actors, music composers and filmmakers in personal, evocative stories for women. Inarguably, its most lucrative channel will be the latter. And, it’s all free. We know because we previewed the channel ahead of its release May 14. Thursday, we spent the afternoon at Google’s New York headquarters discussing YouTube’s huge venture into original programming with filmmakers Jon Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia, YouTube Original Program Manager, Ivana Kirkbride, and channel COO, Jake Avnet, the big wigs behind WIGS.
We loved what we saw.
See why WIGS will be the envy of TV>
customised original content for viewers, big name advertisers partnered, high quality videos shot in movie format. They’re bringing the silver-screen to the Web for free.
What is WIGS?
The 5-8 minute series or short films document one unique experience in a woman’s life—a secret forbidden love with a priest (Jennifer Garner and Alfred Molina) or a mother (Julia Stiles) keeping a scandalous secret from her son.
Each show is entitled with the first name of the series’ or short’s protagonist. Garner and Molina star in the channel’s first short film, “Serena,” while Stephen Moyer and newcomer Caitlin Gerard are featured in the channel’s first series, “Jan.” While Avnet and Garcia have produced many of the shorts, other filmmakers will be joining the party, too, including Leah Rachel and Mattie Brickman.
As for the WIGS title? No, it has nothing to do with hair. While the channel’s tagline is “Where it gets interesting,” for marketing purposes, the channel breaks “WIGS” to the acronym: “Where It Gets …” Given any particular episode, the last word in the tagline will get changed. For the channel’s first series, “Jan,” the tagline is, “Where It Gets Spicy.”
“Everyone’s jaws dropped when the actors walked out onto the stage.” — Ivana Kirkbride, YouTube Original Program Manager on the unveiling of WIGS at Brandcast.
Inspiration / Getting the big names
WIGS has been in development for two-and-a-half years. According to Avnet, he and Garcia noticed the huge opportunity in online programming. It’s an untapped realm they haven’t ventured into, and certainly one not many have dared touch.
Point taken. It’s difficult to know what will go viral and do well online. It’s a huge risk, one that Avnet and Garcia both know because they don’t recommend anyone does what they’re doing. “You have to be insane to do this,” said Avnet. “Obviously, we’re not of the right mind.”
However, its low-cost to produce high quality content makes the gamble worth it.
To make this work, they knew they’d need the best of everything. The two got in touch with friends to see who would be willing to work on the project. According to Kirkbride, Jennifer Garner and Virginia Madsen were among the first to sign up, and when you get one or two big-name actors, as Garcia explained, it’s a snowball effect. Soon, the two had a lineup of huge stars including Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”), Julia Stiles, America Ferrara and Stephen Moyer (“True Blood”) to hit the Web.
So, what are they getting paid?
We know what you’re thinking. How can YouTube afford to pay A-list actors to sign on for such a project? This is the beauty of it. According to Avnet, they’re being paid “very little.”
What does that mean? Essentially, the actors are getting paid the equivalent of SAG actors with all actors earning the exact same amount regardless of name or talent.
According to last year’s SAG contract summary page five, performers make anywhere from $825 for a day performance to $2,921 for weekly performances. 1/2 hour programs pay upwards of $4,600. Keep in mind these shows are several minutes. Very little indeed.
So, why would stars commit to doing something for peanuts?
Well, exposure for one. This is a unique opportunity for stars who have been out of the limelight for a while, but who still resonate with viewers (i.e. Garner and Stiles). It’s also a great opportunity for break out stars such as Caitlin Gerard in “Jan.”
Avnet says it’s also for the experience. They’re getting be a part of something that hasn’t been done before and that has the potential to be huge. Again, the snowball effect also comes into play here. Once one mega star is signed on, it’s the cool thing to do.
Since November, Avnet and Garcia have filmed 98 separate episodes for when they launch in a little more than a week.
The result is sheer cinema brilliance on the small screen.
If this takes off, we’re looking at a new format for online video content. Don’t be surprised if you see the next Avnet and Garcia pairing to follow suit. If this isn’t the future of TV, we don’t know what is. Hulu and Netflix’s forays into original programming have nothing on this. You can’t argue with free TV.
Other than the 98 episodes already produced and ready to go, Avnet and Garcia plan to produce weekly and daily content catered according to user-generated comments.
Some of WIGS series and shorts are already scripted and ready to go. However, one of their mini-series, 'Speed Dating,' is told from different perspectives. How do you want the date to end? You'll have the choice of selecting the characters' outcomes. Avnet and Garcia produced 12 shorts for this feature, with six corresponding to the date going one way, while the rest show it going another.
Because the content appears on YouTube, the duo can get feedback instantaneously. No Nielsen nonsense necessary. In response, Avnet and Garcia can shoot an episode a day and as noted in the last slide, will churn out more new content every week.
- No Rules, No Ratings Guidelines
The channel basically has the freedom to do whatever they want--be as sexy and scandalous as they want.
- And, with no rules come no boundaries.
One of the stories to be showcased on WIGS was originally titled 'Food Porn.' The segment follows a woman who loves food more than she loves sex.
'You're not going to see this on NBC,' says Avnet.
When ABC's coveted soap operas 'All My Children' and 'One Life to Live' went off the air, Prospect Parks discussed bringing the programs online. However, those deals fell through, leaving a big demographic without their stories.
After watching the preview for 'Jan' and seeing a clip from 'Speed Dating,' the shorts certainly have the feel and appeal to become a new genre and the answer to fallen soaps.
Avnet shared that although each series and short follows one woman, we'll see characters in other spots to flesh out characters. This level of storytelling certainly has potential to drive audience involvement where soap operas failed to captivate in recent years.
Maybe ABC's soaps just needed were some live audience involvement.
Unilever and American Express jumped at the chance to partner with the channel.
The channel also partnered with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, and YouTube is investing $200 million into marketing a bunch of new channels, including WIGS.
In addition, WIGS will be promoted with television spots on select channels.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.