Web TV – the beginning of the end for your telly?

Many broadcasters and programme makers are waking up to the fact that a lot of us spend a great deal of time on the internet and use it for entertainment purposes.

They’re also realising that in a hectic world, lots of us prefer to choose when we want to watch something rather than be tied to TV scheduling. There are of course lots of ‘catch up’ facilities on the net for seeing shows you may have missed on TV but the new media wave is programming produced solely for broadcast online.

And another major factor about online programmes is that they are interactive. Viewers can take an active part in the shows, and that’s something that is becoming more and more popular.

Shows like Lost, which marry themselves with online experiences, are increasingly the wave of the future so it’s almost inevitable that the whole shebang will evolve online.

As it stands at the moment, the majority of web TV shows are aimed at young people, but of course, in 20 years, those young people will be in the majority when it comes to viewing figures, so will we see the traditional telly becoming a relic of the past, like vinyl LPs and video recorders?

Production companies such as Endemol – the folks behind Big Brother – Conker Media and Big Balls Films are market leaders for online programming, according to research by Futurescape. The report by the online TV specialist found that these and other production companies were jointly responsible for almost 30% of the 45 web shows that were analysed for the report, such as Kate Modern and The Gap Year, both popular online only shows.

Emily Booth, editor of Broadcast, said of online TV… “As traditional TV funding comes under threat, the Web offers a way forward.

“Far-sighted indies are already carving a new niche in Web-only content, as the report from research company Futurescape reveals.”

So what’s it all about? Well, exactly what it says on the tin; it’s drama, comedy and general entertainment programming that are only available to watch online.

MSN’s Kirill was one of the most popular web TV shows last year and was an interactive sci-fi production made by Endemol and Microsoft. And let’s face it, if Microsoft and Endemol back a thing, it’s pretty much a license to print money. But was it any good? Well, I don’t personally like sci-fi that much but my husband was hooked.

The basic concept for the show revolved around a guy called Kirill, played by David Schofield, who’s an outcast living in a dank, techno-style hideaway. He risks everything to get in touch with a journalist who’s been working on the Large Hardon Collider….

Yes I realise there’s a silly couple of words there but nonetheless, the show got a big online audience as a serious sci-fi drama.

The Gap Year was another successful web TV show which saw six Bebo users travelling the world completing a series of challenges while interacting directly with other social networkers.

Then Kate Modern followed suit and now, Sofia’s Diary, another Bebo based drama, is online and again, it’s proving very popular.

To give you an idea of how popular these shows are, an estimated 25 million people watched each of the four-minute episodes of Kate Modern. Those are viewing figures that traditional TV just doesn’t get so you can imagine how rapidly advertisers are signing up for a slot on these shows.

Another online drama series that’s proving a hit is LOL which is described as, “exploring the teenage world of sex, drugs and social network-fueled peer pressure.

“In a series of webisodes, flash-forwards reveal how relationships are destroyed and families are broken down, creating a mystery that raises more questions than it answers…”

The show was shot in HD on the same sets used by TV soap Hollyoaks.

Jane Tranter, the outgoing BBC Fiction controller, gave the UK Web show market a major boost last year by committing £1.3m for commissioning original online drama projects. However, even before that cash injection, the BBC was already a significant presence in original online drama.

Geoff Goodwin of BBC Switch has launched To be Continued, which invites viewers to contribute to the storyline and in August of last year, BBC3’s Danny Cohen announced he’d given the go ahead to a girl band drama Mouth to Mouth from Avalon Television which is again closely affiliated to Bebo.

Personally, unless the programme makers start producing stuff that appeals to me – a 40 something woman – these shows are of little interest but who knows, if they broaden their horizons and produce shows that aren’t so ‘niche’, I may well begin tuning in.

As a concept, I think it’s a great idea; it offers a ‘total’ experience of interactivity and choice, but what do you think? Is Web TV the way forward or will you be sticking with the goggle box in the corner of your living room?

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.