Internet TV is as disappointing as real TV, but at least there's money in it, right? Not yet, says Yuri Baranovsky, writer of the serial comedy Break a Leg. It's one of the few popular YouTube series with a full cast, real (if illicitly borrowed) equipment and multiple locations. The series has millions of views and thousands of dedicated fans. It's part of YouTube's partner program, which was supposed to revolutionize indie media by funding small-time creators — at least according to YouTube and many breathless magazine articles. Obviously Break a Leg isn't making a profit, but is it even making enough to pay the show runner? Yuri writes below.
Short answer? No.
Long answer? In early September, my brother Vlad and I received an email from YouTube inviting our show to their exclusive and romantic-sounding Partner Program with the delicious lure of actual profit.
Break a Leg is a full-length internet sitcom. It's filmed in high-definition, with real actors, full scripts, at least a dozen or so locations and is released weekly. This at a price, of course. Higher quality means a crew, it means a sound designer to fix our sound, it means a production coordinator to get over 10 actors together, it means securing locations as exotic as a sewer, a high school, and an old Wild West ghost town.
So, when YouTube offered money, we couldn't help but salivate just a little. Could this be the thing we need? Could this help us feed ourselves, quit our jobs, pay the crew? Could we make Break a Leg and focus on creating the first self-sufficient high quality, full-length internet sitcom?
In two years of doing Break a Leg, we have made around $2,500.
So, no, probably not.
Here's how it all breaks down: with over 2 million views on YouTube, we've received roughly $1,600 from their Partner Program. We also over half a million views at YouTube competitor Blip.tv, worth a whopping $100. Finally another competitor MetaCafe featured us on their front page and with nearly 100,000 views, we made $500 - which is great, except the only way you'll ever get that many views is if you win a contest (like us) or your show is primarily about how round and pretty the female breast is. Plus a year later, MetaCafe still hasn't paid us.
YouTube is the only game in town right now; they're the only ones who can afford to pay significant sums of money. To be fair they never promised a network-sized budget by any means. The problem is that the most YouTube can do is barely feed a one-man, low-quality show about, say, kittens.
So until the Internet can produce any real amount of money for good creators, there's no way it will ever be the future of TV as everyone in "new media" exclaims. The purpose of entertainment and art isn't to get smaller, quicker and catchier; it's to push the boundaries, to grow, to teach and to create. With no money and an endless stream of throw-away content made for a dime and worth about as much, the shows that can challenge network TV will eventually get grabbed up by those networks or they'll just give up and go on to greener pastures - like carpentry and porn.
So, are we rich yet? Hardly. But we're waiting for your call, Mr. Guffman.
Below, the trailer for Break a Leg.