Web Series Vs Ad Blocker


As regular readers know, I am a fan of web series as a format. The medium presents a huge potential of creativity and it is changing how we interact with media.  One of the major factors fueling the web series’ advancement is its ability to monetize. This area is also where web series are feeling the most pain.  Being able to make a profit on the content is vital if it is to continue to grow.

Put bluntly, the most efficient method of monetizing any online media content is advertising. Now I know that there are going to be people that say that paid subscriptions or buying clips is more profitable. This may be true in some circumstances, but these options also limit a series to only the people who have the income to pay. On the other hand, advertising costs the consumer nothing but time.  But a lot of people out there find that even too high a price to pay.

Before we get into that, let’s go over some details. For a web series, advertising money usually comes in the form of a profit-sharing agreement with the video hosting site, although not every video host does this. For example, Youtube does have ad revenue sharing, but only with select partners; most people do not get this. On the other hand, Blip has ad revenue sharing with all their content creators. In an ad sharing deal, the norm is a 50/50 split of the profits, calculated on what is known as a CPM or Clicks per Mille formula, where mille equals 1000. A rate is set for every thousand views of an ad. If the CPM for an ad is $5.00, if you get 5,000 views, you make $25.00. Ad rates are not consistent, so profits can fluctuate even if views don’t. In this model, it is possible to be profitable and even make enough to make a living at it, but you need to have a high viewer rate. You also have to get your ads seen. The CPM is calculated on ad views, not video views. If the ad does not play, it is not added to the CPM calculation.

This is where programs like Ad Blocker enter the equation. There are a lot of reasons people will block ads. There could be an issue where certain types of ads cause the viewer’s system to crash. Some people claim they have gotten malware from ads. But most of the time, the reason people block ads is that they find them annoying.

Here is where we get into the thick of it. As the series producers only get paid for ads shown, when viewers use Ad Blocker, it cuts into the web series’ ability to produce a profit. This is a fact that has been debated back and forth, for as long as there have been web series and both sides have become pretty entrenched. Sites have tried to find ways to deal with this and recently, Blip launched a new salvo that has brought the issue forward again.  Blip recently made a change to their site so that when they detect an ad blocker is being used this image comes up.


As stated, it makes the viewer wait 90 seconds for the video to start playing. This is hardly a new nor is it the most extreme tactic; other sites blocks that completely bar access to anyone who is using ad blocking software. Of course this raises hackles – several people equate it to bullying – and that community is already working on workarounds.  But more importantly, this has brought to the fore the fact that Ad Blocker cuts into the producers profit. Many viewers in forums have stated that they were not aware of this fact.

Lewis Lovhaug (aka Linkara) produces the comic book review show Atop the Fourth Wall as part of the online review and comedy site That Guy with the Glasses. Linkara is one of the rare producers who is able to make a living by making a web series due to his large viewer base.  He recently added to the advertising debate with a video wherein he explains how ad profits work and why Ad Blocker is a problem for producers like himself.  He states that he does understand if people need to use Ad Blocker for legitimate technical reasons, but otherwise, if they don’t, to consider not using the software for his show, as it is how he makes his living.

This video set off a debate on the TGWTG forums. Several viewers were unaware of the impact Ad Blocker has on the producers and have set their Ad Blockers to allow advertising from Blip (a process called whitelisting.) Others took offense at the video, saying that they don’t owe Linkara anything, that it’s their right to use Ad Blocker and that it’s his tough luck.

So where does that leave us?

For me, it is a question of what we want to see happen. Web series have an amazing potential, especially as film-making and distributing technology improve and become more available to consumers. This could have a huge impact as people can make creative programing that no one in Hollywood would ever green-light. However, in order for that to happen, it has to be profitable. Otherwise, no one is going to be able to make it in any sustainable fashion, much less grow the medium.

I have read a lot of people saying that the current ad structure is not sustainable. I’m not sure I agree with that. I think that as long as there are ways around ads, big advertisers are going to be nervous about taking the plunge.

I have also read people telling Linkara and other producers to go and find sponsors to put in their videos directly. That idea looks good on paper but has several flaws. It would take time away from video production to find and negotiate with a sponsor. Furthermore, most deals stipulate the producer would only get paid during the life of a campaign.  This means that if someone went into the series’ archive and watched an old video after the campaign ended, the sponsor of that episode would not be obligated to pay him again. With the current CPM ad structure, both new and old episodes have ads generating profit.

In the end, the question is: Do you want to see web series as a medium thrive or not? If the answer is yes, then I believe ads are the price we are going to have to pay. For myself, I find ads are a small price to pay for entertainment from a web series. If an ad comes on I don’t like, I just mute the computer. That way, I don’t have to hear it and the producer still makes money, allowing them to keep making more of what I like.

If another model does come about that works better I’m sure it will be adopted.  Until then, we all have a choice to make.

The Aquabats! Supershow! Review

AquabatsImagine that some mad genius decided to cross the Adam West Batman series with the Monkees. That pretty much describes The Aquabats! Supershow! (And as much as my grammar checker hates it, those exclamation points are a required part of the title.)

Before looking at the show itself, we need to explore the Aquabats history.

The Aquabats are a band that formed in 1994 in Orange County. Originally an eight member ska band, they evolved due to band changes to a rock band with punk, new wave, and ska influences. What really makes the band stand out is their stage act. Their concept is that they are a team of superheroes who formed a band. Each band member adopts a superhero persona, and they wear matching superhero costumes. An Aquabats show will include bits where a supervillian will appear on stage for the team to banter with, and then fight, sometimes while they are playing a song. Musically they are influenced by Oingo Boingo and Devo.

The band has had ups and downs, and a couple of hiatuses, but they have a cult following and keep finding ways to keep on rocking.

At their height, the band had eight members. Currently that are at five. In total, 15 people have been members of the band at one time or another.

With their superhero theme and theatrical nature, a television spin off seems natural. However, it took three tries for them to make it happen.

The first attempt was in 1998, with a mini-pilot directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Apparently it wasn’t very good, and even the Aquabats don’t want anyone to see it.

They tried again a year later with a music video for their album Vs. the Floating Eye of Death that also acted as a set up for a series plot. Fox Family Channel expressed interest, and were in the process of ordering a pilot when they were bought by Disney, and the project fell by the wayside.

While the band was on hiatus during 2004, band leader Glenn Jacobs became involved with television production. While the band was revving up again, one of his company’s pilots was picked up.  The name of that show is Yo Gabba Gabba! You might have heard of it. With the success of that show, Jacobs was able to get some added exposure for the Aquabats by having them appear at times as musical guests. A new pilot was produced. Even then it took a few years to get the green light.

Eventually, Kids’ Network “The Hub” picked up the show.

The premise is not far from what I said at the beginning. The Aquabats are a team of superheroes who also work as a rock band. They travel around in their mobile command center/ tour bus, the Battletram. The show is campy, but not in the old Batman show style; feeling more like the Sid and Marty Kroft live action kids shows from the 70s.

The five current members of the band star in the show with each fleshing out his character more than in their stage show. All are presented as nice guys who want to help people, but have a bit of an underdog status.

The lineup consists of the following:

The MC Bat Commander (Glenn Jacobs): The team’s leader and lead singer. He is brave, but impulsive. He is also has complete confidence in everything he does, even when wading in without a plan. Although he is the only member who does not have superpowers, he is often the first to charge into battle.

Crash McLarson (Chad Larson): The team’s muscle and bass player. Crash is an endearing man-child, who has the power to grow to 50 feet tall. Unfortunately he cannot control this power, only growing when becoming emotional. And it’s not just anger, any strong emotion will do. Once the Bat Commander got him to grow by pointing out how sad the situation they were in was.

Eaglebones Falconhawk (Ian Fowler): The band’s guitarist.  He is cockier than the rest of the team, and will at times strike out on his own. At first he had no powers, but uses a laser powered guitar as a weapon. After losing a battle with his archenemy and older brother Eagleclaw Falconhawk (Jon Heder), Eaglebones was visted by the spirit of the Sun (Lou Diamond Phillips), who gave him the power to summon a spirit animal (a female eagle named “The Dude”) and the power to see the unseen. After this, Eaglebones often acted as the voice of wisdom on the team.

Ricky Fitness (Richard Falomir): The band’s drummer. As his name implies, he is in the best shape of the team, and tries to get the team to be healthier, being the only one to not indulge in junk food. He is also portrayed as a lady’s man, often flirting with female characters, even villains. He also has a phobia about getting dirty. His power is superspeed.

Jimmy the Robot (James R Briggs Jr.): The band’s keyboardist. His name says it all – he is a very human-looking robot, with built in weapons, sensors, and detachable hands. He acts as the team’s scientist. He often feels lonely and worries that the team does not truly accept him because he is a robot.

Each episode has four elements. First is the live action story that runs throughout the episode, which features the Aquabats facing some enemy with the conflict being resolved by the end of the episode. At some point during the episode, someone will come across a TV screen in an odd location and exclaim, “Look, it’s a cartoon.” At this point a short Aquabats cartoon will be shown. Unlike the main plot, the cartoon has a serialized plot that runs through the course of the season. There will be a second very short cartoon featuring the Aquabats mascot Lil’ Bat. Finally each episode will have a parody commercial  for a useless product from a company called Gloopy.

The guest stars are also often a treat. Besides Lou Diamond Phillips and Jon Heder, the show has included appearances by “Weird” Al Yankovic, and Samm Levine.  Former Aquabats members Courtney Pollock and Boyd Terry appear as their superhero personas of Chainsaw and Catboy, but in non-Aquabat costumes. One very notable guest is Matt Chapman, who is one of series regular writers and directors. In one episode, he plays a ghost tormenting the team for disturbing his grave. More importantly he plays an evil carnival showman named Carl who looks and talks like Chapman’s character Strong Bad, from his site Homestar Runner.  In the next season, the show will have appearances by Tony Hawk, as well as Mikey Way of “My Chemical Romance”. Mikey’s brother, Gerard Way, will direct this episode.

So overall how is the show?

Actually, it is really good. It knows what it is: a show aimed at kids, but with enough going on to entertain any adults willing to buy into its premise. The five leads are totally committed to their roles, and at no point seem embarrassed to be there. The guests also seem to enjoy themselves.

The production is naturally cheap, befitting the show’s budget, but this is the kind of show that turns that into an advantage. If you are able to get past the show’s cheesiness, it is very enjoyable.

Season 1 is currently available on Netflix. Season 2 will debut on The Hub on June 1st.

I give The Aquabats! Supershow! a grade of B+.

Hemlock Grove Review

netflix-hemlock-groveHemlock Grove is the third series in Netflix’s push to begin presenting original programming to their subscribers. This is a significant move, as it is another piece in the puzzle that could significantly change how we consume media. Part of this plan includes putting the entire season up at once so that you can either watch the show over time or all at once.

But for this move to work the programming has to be good. Not all of it, though. Even the most successful networks have bad programming. But the better the programming, the more people are going to pay attention. The big push will be next month with the fourth season of Arrested Development.

But in the meantime we have Hemlock Grove, so how did they do?

Hemlock Grove is a supernatural mystery developed for television by Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman based on a novel by McGreevy.

The show takes place in the eponymous town of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania. The main characters are Roman Godfrey, eldest child of the richest family in town, and Peter Rumancek, a gypsy who has just moved into town with his mother. The two meet when they are both drawn to the location of a violent death of a fellow student. They bond over being fatherless loners, and also over the fact that they both are supernatural in nature.  Peter is a werewolf; and although he is not aware of it, Roman is an Upir, which even though the series acts like it is teasing it out, is clearly something akin to a vampire.

As the two bond, they decide to hunt down the student’s killer after a second attack occurs. The police think it is a wild animal, but Peter can tell it is a vargulf, which is the term for a werewolf that has gone insane.

Several of the other characters represent other horror story archetypes.

There is Christine, who fancies herself a novelist, and is familiar enough with folklore to recognize that Peter is a werewolf, although no one else really believes her, making her the exposition character which is more a universal archtype.

Shelly is Roman’s younger sister. She is nearly 7 feet tall, mute, bald (but always wearing a wig), and part of her face is deformed. She is also the sweetest most caring person in the story, and is used in the story to act as a gauge for the level of compassion in other characters. As her backstory is revealed it is clear that she is a Frankenstein archetype.

There is also Letha, Roman’s cousin, whom he is unusually close to. She becomes pregnant after an encounter with what she sees as an angel. Eventually she becomes Peter’s girlfriend. She is the damsel in distress archetype.

Roman’s mother Olivia is clearly a femme fatale and master manipulator. She is the evil temptress archetype.

Peter’s cousin Destiny has psychic abilities and in many ways both covers and subverts the witch archetype.

There is also a Battlestar Galactica reunion. Arron Douglas plays the town Sherriff, who is the typical horror movie lawman; and Kandyse McClure is Dr. Clementine Chausser, a Fish and Wildlife investigator and this story’s Van Helsing.

There are others but the show has a huge cast and I could be here all day covering them.

The story at its heart is a classic horror mystery. The heroes have to discover the identity of the monster and how to defeat it before it can kill again.  But at times that is secondary to the exploration of the characters. The theme of the monster within is covered, both for the supernatural characters and the humans caught up in events, as they spin further out of control.

Bucking the current trend of supernatural storytelling, romance is not at the heart of the story, even poking fun at Twilight, as seems almost required these days. The core relationship is the friendship between Peter and Roman. In these days of prolific fanfiction, they are a duo almost tailor made for Slashfic. They are constantly drawn together by their need for friendship, while at the same time being pulled apart by their differing nature. Landon Liboiron as Peter and Bill Skarsgard as Roman give good performances, and are clearly the anchor of the series. The one downside here is that when Roman becomes emotional, Skarsgard’s natural Swedish accent starts leaking through which can be distracting.

Unfortunately the level of acting from the rest of the cast is uneven. Some are very good, like Dougray Scott as Roman’s uncle, and Lili Taylor as Peter’s mother. Others are fine but not anything that will stand out, such as Douglas and McClure, as well as Tiio Horn as Peter’s cousin Destiny. Some of the younger cast members definitely show their inexperience, especially Freya Tingley. She gives a very uneven performance as Christina – at times playing too wooden, and at other times over the top, but every once and a while doing fine. And then you have Famke Janssen as Olivia, where she is attempting to chew the scenery while going for a constant state of bored distance, coming off as a character from an Addams Family movie.

The show is best as a character study. As a mystery it does work as well, but I feel they telegraphed the identity of the vargulf a little too much. I figured it out three episodes prior to the reveal. This is not to say it is all bad. I was engaged with the story through to the end and did find myself caring about the characters.

From a production perspective it was clear that the show was working from limited budget, and found ways to work with it. The werewolf transformation, while not necessarily a new take, was done extremely well. There was also a reliance on suggested violence over outright gore, although there were gory aftermath scenes.

Overall I enjoyed the show and would certainly check out a second season if one is made. It is also a solid entry into Netflix original programming plan.

I give Hemlock Grove a C+.





When I was a kid, I got a copy of Orson Welles’s radio play adaptation of War of the Worlds. I had heard of it before and wanted to hear it myself. For those not aware, this was a 1938 Halloween production of H.G. Wells’ novel. Orson set it in the modern day, and the first half of the play was presented as a news report breaking into a radio show to tell the tale of an alien invasion. Due to the authenticity of the production, listeners who came in late thought that aliens really were invading New Jersey and people across the nation panicked. It was one of the best-documented cases of mass hysteria and crowd delusion ever.

Since then, there have been other shows that have used the live broadcast method to tell their story. Most go to great lengths to remind the audience that they are fiction. But even with this effort there will always be people that believe they are watching something real.

One of the most infamous of these was the BBC’s 1992 production Ghostwatch.

Ghostwatch was a 90 minute broadcast on Halloween, and was presented as a live investigation of a haunting. The producers’ intent was to create an experience much like the one Welles inadvertently created 54 years earlier.  The show was listed in the Radio Times as a drama with a cast list, and there were credits at the beginning and end.

The story was that a team of ghost hunters and journalists were doing a live on-air investigation of a reported haunting in a London suburb. While the team on site was doing the investigation, back at the studio the evidence was being analyzed by a skeptical psychologist and the BBC host. A phone line had been set up so that the viewing audience could call in with their own theories.

Most of the first half hour was interviews with the family and backstory, with not much happening. The young girls in the house were terrified of a ghost they had named Pipes, due to the fact that their mother had explained strange noises as just being the pipes. As the investigation goes on, events start happening that unnerve the investigators, including an attack on one of the girls that requires her to be rushed to the hospital.

Eventually the investigation learns that the house was owned by a 19th century child murderer, and it is his ghost haunting the house. The attacks get worse, and one of the ghost experts realize that by broadcasting the investigation live they have created a massive séance that has supercharged Pipes. He proceeds to drag one of the Journalists, Sarah Greene, into a cubby hole, with the implication that he has killed her. Pipes escapes the house and appears at the BBC studio, with the suggestion that he can enter any home watching the show. He creates havoc in the studio and the final shot of the show has him possessing the host, Michael Parkinson.

While the BBC did take steps to promote the show as a drama, a huge portion of the viewing audience thought they were seeing a real event. Several factors played into this.

Due to a program overrun on another channel, a large percentage of the viewing audience tuned in late, thus not seeing the opening letting them know this was a drama, instead of a real event.  The show also had a call-in number for people to use to share their own theories about the haunting. Once callers got through, they were reminded that the show was fictional, but encouraged to share any ghost stories they knew. As the show got more intense, more people called in, resulting in many callers getting a busy signal.

The way the show was shot was brilliant for the theme, and also added to the realism. They had an actor on set named Keith Ferrari who played Pipes. Ferrari was made up to be scarred and missing an eye. He would at times be in the background of a shot out of the camera’s focus range, or he would be standing in a corner when a quick pan occurred. Since the camera never focused on him, people who did notice him were sure they had seen the ghost.

But the main reason people believed it was real was that the cast included real BBC presenters playing themselves, including Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, and Craig Charles. To give context for an American audience, this would be the equivalent of having Anderson Cooper, Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, and Al Roker star as themselves.  And yes, this show was produced after Red Dwarf premiered, but Craig Charles’s career on British Television included being a frequent presenter, so his presence did not seem odd.

I suppose it goes without saying that there was a public outcry when the BBC, in response to viewer concerns, pointed out that the show was a drama.  There were several complaints filed against the BBC, including one claiming that an 18 year old with severe learning disabilities had committed suicide after seeing the show.  The complaint was dismissed, although the BBC did issue an apology. Due to the controversy, Ghostwatch has never been rebroadcast in the UK. It is available on DVD, however.  Last month, a documentary¸ Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains, was released in the UK on DVD, interviewing most of the participants in the original broadcast.

In spite of only being aired once, Ghostwatch is credited with being an inspiration for shows that blur the line between fact and fiction, such as The Blair Witch Project and modern ghost-hunting shows.  The latter is due to the fact that even though it was a fictional program, Ghostwatch presented investigation techniques, such as night vision cameras and thermal imaging, that have become standard fair today.

So there you have Ghostwatch, a little-known gem that really does deserve a wider audience.