Web Series – Opportunities or Rorts?

Ever since Auckland Daze transitioned from online to TV, web series have been seen as an opportunity for young scripted programme makers to get the break they so desperately want and have been effectively shut out of in broadcast in New Zealand.

Of course there are those who see YouTube and other online platforms as a revenue generating opportunity and produce content in the hope that they can turn their web programme making into paid work.

And then there are the truly passionate who just want to make stuff and put it out there for people to see without a lot of expectation, hoping that their good work will get noticed and lead to something better.

On the other hand there are some, like Shoshana McCallum, who created a full spec TV pilot as she did with Animals to pitch to a network, which got shutdown and now it’s online so it at least gets seen.

Then there were Gerard Johnstone and Luke Sharpe who revamped Terry Teo for TV 2 and ended up having it pushed to OnDemand without it seeing the broadcast light of day until TVNZ responded to criticism by promising to schedule it and defending their non-broadcast play citing a viewer rating concern.

Some time ago, particularly after the success of KHF Media’s Reservoir Hill, New Zealand On Air realized there was no turning the digital clock back and so they gradually expanded digital content funding streams to deal with what would inevitably become a growing area of application activity.

The initial largess NZ On Air showed Reservoir Hill with 8 x 8 min. eps at just over $300,000 or $4,700/min. has essentially dropped to $100,000 for web series for around the same number of eps and mins., at essentially $1,500/min.*, although some series are going as low as $500/min., and some as high as $2,500/min. And now you have to make a pilot to go with the application.

Here are some comparable numbers for broadcast comedy shows; the genre most popular with web series: Agent Anna 2 (TV One) at $8,200/min., Auckland Daze (TV One), which moved from online to broadcast at $2,800/min., Paranormal Event Response Unit (TV2) at $4,700/min., and Find Me A Maori Bride 2 (MTS) at $2,800/min.

*(Per minute rates are based on the half hour or hour, not the actual commercial duration.)

It’s my guess that anybody working on a scripted show for less than $4000/min. that varies it’s locations and cast, employs art direction, make up, props, costumes, etc. and pursues a quality production approach is not getting paid properly.

So how are people being compensated fairly?

Are cast and crew getting back end points in the production of a web series on which they work for low or no pay so that they can share in any revenue upside that might come from developments like an additional sale, a move from online to broadcast as in the case of Auckland Daze, or an offshore remake as happened with Reservoir Hill in Sweden?

When producers retain the intellectual property of a show and get cast and crew to work for free or below market rates, they have an obligation to share the success with the team that helped get them there when something goes good. And cast and crew have an obligation to demand it, even when it’s from friends as it most often is.

And what about when media giants want to pay little more than the basic wage for the creation and production of online content, take all the rights to ideas that creators come up with, rely on the creative execution of directors, editors and others to craft good programming, then monetise it to generate revenues for themselves? Something’s not right here, surely.

Film has essentially been the home of the above-the-line creative delusional—web series it seems is now the digital equivalent—There’s no lack of people laying their heads on the digital block with pilots for TVNZ’s and NZ On Air’s New Blood Competition in the hope that something greater will come of it.

If you are not being compensated at market rates for the work you do on a web series or online project, ensure that you negotiate the opportunity through points or another mechanism such as shared IP ownership to benefit later if additional revenues ever flow. Or ensure that you agree to a deferred fee arrangement for the difference and maybe a backend kicker that gets paid to you when the producer/rights holder starts to see money come in, either with the content you helped create or another series, version or manifestation of it.

And get your contract or agreement on paper, even if it’s a deal memo and not a long-form contract, before you start working on a project, not after you’ve started, particularly with mates—it’s merely being professional about the whole thing.

There are many positive outcomes that can flow when you contribute your time and expertise for nix or next to nada, and there are just as many rorts. Make sure you are on the right side of the equation. You deserve it. Otherwise you won’t build a sustainable career.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director