Friday, February 12, 2010

Destini's Indie Intertube, web series and soap operas: history, women and change

Indie Intertube & the History of Web Series

I have been listening to Destini's first Indie Intertube podcast on Web Series. There is a lot of great information there about the history of web series, format, funding issues and the connection with TV soaps.

I learned about the first web series The Spot, made in 1995. Sadly neither Destini or I have found any videos of it, but there is this one about it. Fittingly this also was a soap. There also is another early one, Eon 4. If anyone has a link to videos of either of these series, some of us will be really interested to see it.

Soap Operas: Gender and broadcast drama series

While some look down their noses at soap operas, it was actually a defining format for serialised broadcast drama, first on the radio and then on TV. And most other TV genres have regularly borrowed from features of soaps to engage viewers with the characters and their stories - from crime shows and sci fi, to reality TV.

I think the reason that many see soap operas as a low status art form, has to do with the fact that they have always primarily appealed to a female audience. DayTime soap operas targetted housewives at a time when that was assumed to be women's primary role. For the soap sponsors it was a means of advertising to the people who were most likely to have control over the household budget. For the women listeners/viewers it often had a different role, connecting them to the people outside their homes, and providing content for chatting to other women over coffee/tea or on the phone.

The Evolution of Soaps: from TV to the Web

Consequently, soaps always have tended to encourage a kind of interactive viewing. Women have often used them as a focus to discuss relationships and the rights and wrongs of human behaviour - a very important way of improving their ability to conduct and support inidividuals and their relationships.

Now US DayTime soaps are under threat with the longest running soap, Guiding Light being axed last year, and As The World Turns also being cancelled. This has to do with the fact that these days many women are in paid employment, and there isn't the same home audience that there used to be for soaps. So, as is discussed in Destini's Indie Intertube podcast, many are looking to the Internet to find a new audience, or re-connect with long-term soap viewers, and to try to re-create soaps on relatively low budgets.

The interactive potential of the Internet is ideal for soaps, or dramas that focus on characters and their relationships. It provides an environment where viewers can engage with other viewers to discuss their favourite characters and stories, to give feedback to the producers on audience reactions and desires, for viewers to provide creative responses to the characters and stories that engage their imaginations, and to enjoy the fun of doing this easily and quickly.

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