How To Successfully Pitch A Web Series

There are many opinions and many ways to pitch shows. As a public broadcaster, my network is open to connecting with its audiences – and allowing Canadians the chance to share their stories in the form of entertainment. This is not a “how to” for landing an agent, working the system, or getting a one way ticket to Hollywood. This is a basics 101 for anyone with a great idea for a digital web series … and a dream.

What is a web series?

A web series is a series of visual entertainment episodes released via the internet, but also for play on many other digital media, such as mobile phones, and is part of the newly emerging medium called web television. Web television’s popularity continues to rise, the result of increasing availability of broadband and improved video streaming technology. Major television networks and production companies are using the internet as a means to promote their TV shows as well as developing specific media and shows for an internet audience.
One instance of a web series program is called an episode – whereby a “webisode” is a term now being used to describe the lower budget “reality genre” end of the web series creative development platform.

It’s the Internet – so anything goes, right?

When it comes to concept, stay away from a gimmicky idea. This isn’t just a singular medium – it’s multi-platform. The most saleable properties – those that stand the best chance of being made, are the ones that can be leveraged across multiple platforms – digital, gaming, mobile, graphic novel, TV, film, music, international rights, licensing and merchandising. The web series is seen as the next gold rush – prospectors know there’s gold in them ‘thar hills, they just don’t know when they’re going to strike it big time.

It looks like TV but it’s not TV

Digital content is unique. It shouldn’t look or feel like anything you see on TV or at the movies. While big networks are taking TV shows and broadcasting them on the internet, you are after something much bigger. You want to pioneer the first Massive Digital Super Series. An important thing to keep in mind is that like, but unlike any other medium, digital viewers are a fast click away from boredom. If the writing/entertainment factor isn’t top drawer, they’re gone – and so is your word of mouth on Facebook and Twitter. Remember, too, that the majority of digital screens provide less comfortable viewing environments than those of traditional media. Your show has to be so compelling that it will entice viewership despite being watched on a laptop by a frazzled commuter in a train station, in bed on a laptop, or by a bored husband on an iPhone in a crowded Winners outlet. Concepts that have never flown in traditional media are your best bets – or if you can offer a spin on the traditional – for example, soap stars directed by indie film directors, and you can prove an audience for it online, then you might be on to something. Knowing your digital audience is key to all aspects of web series production – both in the development of the concept, as well in the selling of it.

The Pitch

Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but write yourself an outline for the meeting – a step-by-step agenda for your presentation. Just like a script, you need a beginning, dramatic middle, denoument and ending. Presentations are no different. If you are presenting as part of a group, I cannot stress enough the importance of everyone practicing their roles in the presentation – or by yourself in front of a mirror. Even seasoned performers get the shakes before an audience, so if the thought of 4 Execs churn your stomach, don’t let it freak you out – knowing your stuff cold is the best remedy.
Prep yourself by reading “How To Successfully Pitch a TV Show”.
Just like a TV show pitch, a digital pitch relies on many of the same elements for success. But here, let’s get into the presentation with a little more depth.

Make the initial telling of your concept into a story. Don’t always be one-sided. The best presentations are just like social media – they engage. Start off with a shared experience “have you ever been standing in line when the guy behind you …” – you want to get all the heads in the room nodding along with you. Now you are in their heads. You have their attention.

Focus on what’s unique about your project, but sell it back to why it’s relatable to your audience. Never forget that this boils down to salesmanship. You are selling a dream. You need to persuade everyone in the room that your concept is a winner. But put yourself in their shoes – those producers and Execs are looking at it from both a creative – and moneymaking point of view, with a greater emphasis on the latter. And you need to sell it to them that way by demonstrating that you’ve thought the whole thing through a full 360 degrees.

While you’re pitching your concept, keep your focus on story and style – don’t get hung up or side-tracked by the technology inherent to the delivery platform. Save that discussion for down the road – if you are lucky enough to get another meeting.

Just like a TV show pitch, use visuals to help get the idea across. You’ll still need an outline, mini-bible, stills, animatics, video … anything that helps sell the finished product that’s in your head. But remember that digital is the great beyond – you may have website ideas, interactive content ideas, social media links. Don’t leave anything to the imagination. All too often projects become derailed long after the meeting is done when the players compare notes, only to realize they’ve all imagined something different. Now’s the time to put it out there, in a polished, professional presentation.

Listen to the feedback in the room. Not everyone knows what’s best for your project. You might hear some really dumb ideas and suggestions and criticisms in the meeting. But keep an open mind and don’t be defensive while you’re in the room. A simple smile, nod and a wise “I didn’t think of it that way” is enough to keep the meeting productive and moving ahead. File the comments away and really think them through in the privacy of your office. If it makes sense, maybe it’s a criticism worth looking at. If not, throw it a mental bird and move on.

End the meeting with a recap – a couple of memorable sentences that will resonate with your audience, as to why YOUR idea is the best thing since digital 3D and if appropriate, hand out your leave-behind.

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About Jill Atkinson

From concepts and smart headlines to original content and transmedia storytelling, to television pitch materials, directors treatments, long format writing, blogs and web copy with SEO, I write it all. I'm a writer, copywriter, and a content writer. My job is to help you say it better with ideas and language that get noticed. With copy and content that engages customers and audiences and ideas that make a connection with them. Ideas that generate a response. Materials that can sell a pitch. When you work with me you're working with the big boys: Maclaren, BBDO, Taxi, Sharpe Blackmore and also a great bunch of mid-sized agencies, b2b shops, a national television network (CBC), 15 specialty channels (History Channel, National Geographic, Showcase, Action, IFC, BBC Canada, + many more) and start ups who have taught me everything I know about how to get you noticed, remembered and sold. Or clicked. Or talked about. There are lots of ways to try to sell your products or to sell people on your offer or to engage them in your content and your show. But there is only one way to get it done right and on strategy. My experience is a foot in the door for your brand or your television idea . And no matter the size of your project, my commitment and attention to detail remain the same, big or small and always on deadline. Great conversations have to start somewhere. Give me a call or shoot me an email zookeepersboot@sympatico.ca Check out my work at http://jillatkinson.com
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11 Responses to How To Successfully Pitch A Web Series

  1. Lots of good points.

    After you pitch it, produce it, edit it, then read my blog post “When and How to Launch a Web Series.” (It’s a blog piece about…well, you get the idea.)

  2. Drats, I probably should’ve put the link to “When and How to Launch a Web Series” http://bit.ly/dfbz55

  3. Thanks for a great article!

    Pietro D’Alessio
    Producer, “Proper Manors”
    @propermanors (Twitter)

  4. Miles Maker says:

    The best takeaway for me is the engagement away from one-sided conversation as I tend to forget to do this. Thanks for that! Every good pitch should start with an engaging question.

    [Miles Maker is a story author, motion picture auteur and independent distributor whose dynamic media ventures encompass mobile, social and real-time megatrends @milesmaker on Twitter]

  5. Melanie says:

    what exactly is a mini bible?

    • jillatkinson says:

      A mini-bible is a document that details storylines, characters, character traits and pretty much anything else story-related that is a non-negotiable piece of the show as envisioned by the creators of the entertainment.

  6. Debbie Hess says:

    Great article. I have been researching to no avail, how to find an agent to help you pitch your web series to larger networks. Any suggestions out there?

  7. Jessica Bern says:

    Incredibly helpful. I completed my pilot, edited, the whole thing and am now making a sizzle reel. I am very grateful to have read this first b/c it really changes everything.
    Thanks very much.

  8. Debbie Hess says:

    The real question on everyone’s mind is how to get those appointments To pitch your series in the first place. The larger, paying platforms don’t generally accept unsolicited material. So,having a great pitch is no good unless you can FIRST get the appointment with networks to begin with. Any ideas?

    • jillatkinson says:

      It’s not as hard as you may think. First – do your research! Get to know the players. Who is the head of content at the network? Who is buying the programming? Who is the head of original production? Is there anyone that you went to film school with or worked with who is now a VP? You have to know and understand the business to know how to get in. You can also cold call and you might reach a decision-maker right off the bat.

  9. laithha says:

    Thank you jillatkinson

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