Killer web serials: Why the future of television is on the internet

From side-splitting comedies to boundary-pushing dramas, web series of all kinds are bypassing TV as a means of distribution. The art of independent web series production is being celebrated this weekend in Toronto.

T.O. WebFest 2015 runs through Sunday at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto

Why make a web series?

7 years ago
Duration 2:42
Out With Dad creator Jason Leaver explains why he turned to the internet to make his quirky drama about a lesbian teen and her single dad.

The future of television is on the web, for an increasing number of viewers and content producers, alike.

From sidesplitting comedies to boundary-pushing dramas, web series of all kinds are bypassing TV as a means of distribution and going exclusively to the internet.

The art of the independently produced web series is being celebrated this weekend at the second annual T.O. Webfest. The two-day festival features free public screenings and industry panels.

One of the official selections is Canada's most watched web series, Out With Dad, a quirky drama about a teenage girl who comes out as a lesbian and her relationship with her single father.

Now in its fourth season, the series has been viewed nearly 25 million times. 

When Jason Leaver conceived it five years ago, he wasn't long out of film studies at Ryerson and felt intimidated by the TV industry. Since he believed he would never get the chance to make his series for TV, given the challenging subject matter and his lack of experience as a producer, he went straight to the web. 

"This way I got to make it and it's still my show," he told CBC News during a break from filming on location in Toronto. "And I'm doing it the way I want to. It's still my vision."

Leaver now crowd funds to raise the money to pay himself, his actors and his small crew. 

He is also fuelled by the response from fans around the world who tell him how the show has helped them come out to their families, or with their struggle with suicide.

Getting into the game

While many web series are produced independently, and posted on YouTube or their own websites, conventional broadcasters are also getting into the game. 

Body Buds will air in June on Punchline on CBC. (DHX Media/Vimeo)

CBC has several web exclusive comedy series on its Punchline website, and more digital original series will be announced on May 28, the broadcaster said.

"It's a great opportunity for us as broadcasters to be able to showcase and grow young and up-and-coming talent, explains Michelle Daly, CBC's senior director of comedy. "And [it helps us] see if an idea has real legs as a television series as well, or if it's just a great web series."

One of the new offerings, which will debut June 1, is called Body Buds, a comedy series that satirizes the work-out video craze of the 1990s. 

Comedian Adam Cawley, who co-created and co-stars in Body Buds, likes the creative freedom that making a web series provides.

"When you have a series on TV, there are certain guidelines and certain things you have to make, you have to fulfil certain things for advertisers, for the CRTC," he said. 

Although, he added, with a web series "you still don't have—yet—as much money as TV."

And as more and more content shifts to the internet, the competition for eyeballs online is even more fierce than on TV.

"You compete in such a vastly different way now than we did you know, five to ten years ago," said Daly.

"Now we have the main networks plus tons of specialty channels, plus all of the online offerings—Netflix, Crave, Shomi—and then just what's available online on portals like Punchline or Buzzfeed or Funny or Die.

"There's so many options out there for people who want to consume comedy in particular, that everybody is the competition."

T.O. WebFest 2015 runs through Sunday at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.


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