the mystery of episode nine

ElizaDragged2-GLOWLet’s quickly review the particulars regarding the Every. Drop Counts. web series inaugural screening, and then we’ll get to some hard numbers regarding our viewers. This, my friends, is going to get interesting – especially after a certain shocking episode.

E.D.C. began its life as a web series in concept which morphed into a feature film in production before morphing back into a web series in post. It was divided into thirteen episodes, a number that was not only spookily well-matched to the subject matter but that also matched an industry standard number of episodes per season. The format seemed a better fit to the dialog-heavy, character rich story, as well. What’s more, the shocking finale would fall on Halloween. To say we were eager to roll it out after having begun production a full four years prior would be a ridiculous understatement.

The series began on Tuesday, August 5th with a short “slide show” teaser presentation that was designed to foreshadow, if you will, certain production aspects of the coming episode that we found remarkable for one reason or another. We felt some carefully curated background details regarding our indie production shot primarily in live, public settings would be almost as interesting as the narrative itself. We also wanted to “prime” the viewer with something to tide them over until the next week’s episode, and at times included series-related tidbits such as Internet radio and blog reviews with myself and our cast in our rotation. Since our episode run times ran an average of 9:39, we thought that a little too short a number to keep the attention line taut enough for the interim six days. This was uncharted territory we were sailing, and since the very idea of soft-releasing a web series was still very new, we expected to hit a few rocks along the way. At the very least we would learn a few things, and figured our feedback would serve to counsel future ventures.

After a weekend-long booth presence at the very horror convention in which we shot our footage and another weekend of passing out some sweet promotional flyers, the series kicked off. In short, things ran as scheduled between 8/5/14 and 10/31/14, with each Tuesday teaser and corresponding Friday episode advertised on our Twitter account (3,000 + followers) and on both the series Facebook page (700 + likes) and my personal Facebook page (600 + friends) with occasional posts on two Facebook group pages representing those interested in web series. Times of posting varied, but most were broadcast between 9 am and 2 pm. In conjunction, we ran a Facebook ad campaign to hone in a demographic of horror, film, TV and drama fans. The amounts and reach targets varied as well so we could best discern what worked and what might be a waste of money. Our feeling was that between our Facebook reach, our Twitter reach, and our organic Vimeo channel reach we would generate enough of a sample set to learn something. To account for late-comers and fluctuating viewings, we recorded the numbers up to 12/10/14. Let’s take a look:

VIMEO LOADS (# times a post appeared on someone’s screen) = 3,399
VIMEO PLAYS (# of times posts received play interaction) = 2,116
VIMEO LIKES = 21
VIMEO COMMENTS = 6
FACEBOOK REACH (# of times a post appeared on someone’s wall) = 67, 824
FACEBOOK POST ENGAGEMENTS (# of times a post was played, Liked, etc.) = 98
FACEBOOK LIKES = 333
FACEBOOK COMMENTS = 62
TWITTER REACH = n/a
TWITTER PLAYS = n/a
TWITTER RETWEETS = like, 1
TWITTER FAVORITES = like, 2

Let’s start with the Twitter numbers, or lack thereof. Twitter doesn’t provide much in terms of metrics so we can only deduce that, since posts there involved connected Facebook links, any draw from the application informed our Facebook numbers and/or sent them to our Vimeo channel which was advertised in our description. Would we have done better by posting Vimeo links instead of Facebook links into the tweets? Hard to say. Twitterers are a unique bunch, and they prefer words to images or videos. They also seek celebrity, both personal and otherwise. I had never seen anyone try what we were trying, so maybe they weren’t really sure what they were seeing. Still, there had to be a connection to our Facebook page, so with such a large following, that must have made a significant difference, right?

Well, by looking at our Facebook stats we do see a fairly large reach, but also a very small number of engagements (.01%). The amount spent for our reach is only interesting in terms of gauging the price point of Facebook ads for web series with no established stars, so for $245.88 and whatever Twitter/convention overlap we managed we got a whopping 98 plays. That’s 2.5 cents a view (not counting booth and flyer costs). Even for an indie soft release, a mere 98 plays over 13 episodes casts a skeptical eye over the application for our purposes. Facebook is sketchy in terms of reach, as well. Organically, your posts are only seen by a small percentage of your friend list based on previous interaction and post interaction (likes and comments). As for paid reach, the more narrow you set your target specifics, the smaller your reach. So, in essence, you reached the most amount of people for your dollar the more general you set your specifics. That means for each post you had to decide to preach to the choir – and our choir wasn’t exactly well defined beyond TV, web series, horror and drama interests – or spread your postage stamp-sized ad like unmarked Halloween candy to any and all tastes. When one looks over the results and realizes that the amount spent per episode didn’t at all effect the number of plays, one can only conclude that advertising a web series on Facebook probably isn’t the most assured way to get eyes on your stuff. Yet.

But it’s in our discussions within Vimeo where things get interesting. Vimeo was chosen as our core platform because, unlike YouTube, it boasts an entertainment-driven community that actively seeks out quality, independent productions. It’s also more popular for its content than its comments, so we felt hosting our channel there gave us a better chance of finding the right audience. Judging by the numbers above, we may have been correct. That said, we were unable to determine if a load or play corresponded to a link posted into another application or only the one inside the Vimeo platform itself. So all of these numbers could be overlapping, which is fine if they’re working together to get you your feedback. Obviously, the Likes and comments weren’t exactly forthcoming with information (despite all being complimentary and positive earning our deep appreciation) but in breaking down the stats there was one particular piece of statistical information that blew us away. Check ’em out:

EPISODE PLAYS THROUGH EPISODE NINE = 1,925
AVERAGE PLAYS PER EPISODE = 214
TEASER PLAYS THROUGH TEASER NINE = 504
AVERAGE PLAYS PER TEASER = 56

Those numbers include a big start, with 311 plays for Episode One and 152 plays for Teaser One. Then there was something of a sharp decline which sort of makes sense. People finally got a taste and some of them probably lost interest due to budget constraints or failed expectations. That was to be expected. But after that initial drop things held fairly steady, with very little play fluctuation. We’d found our audience and they were coming back.

Now, look what happened after Episode Nine:

EPISODE PLAYS FROM EPISODE TEN THROUGH THIRTEEN = 123
AVERAGE PLAYS PER EPISODE = 31
TEASER PLAYS FROM EPISODE TEN THROUGH THIRTEEN = 60
AVERAGE PLAYS PER TEASER = 15

That’s an 86% drop in average plays. And while there was a little jump back for Episode Eleven, the series never recovered beyond 20% of our original average. What happened in Episode Nine, you may be asking? Well, it’s a flashback to the central traumatic event of the story and it’s available for viewing here. But I urge you to watch the previous eight episodes before viewing it so that what transpires on screen is put in proper context. However, I will show you the warning that was written on its Facebook post:

PastedGraphic-1

Did we scare them away? Did they just refuse to go any further, or was it the actual viewing of the episode that turned them off? Our main character does attempt to recount her clouded memory of what happened in the previous episode so it couldn’t be considered a sudden narrative shock. In fact, there were many instances that alluded to her traumatic experience from the very first scene. And I can tell you we were careful not to be exploitative with our dramatization, so what exactly accounts for the drop? All we’re left with are questions.

Did the warning scare them off?
Did we miscalculate our audience given the subject matter and the manner of release?
Was our marketing of the genre-mixed series misleading?
Is there something to be learned about episodic entertainment versus feature length?
Do we need to learn more about various online platforms and their respective audiences?
How do you decide 70% of the way into a series to simply stop watching.

We may never get the answers to those questions. In fact, all that’s guaranteed is that we’ll find more. In a way it’s funny how everything changed after that episode in much the same way everything changes for our main characters. The main scene involves hypnosis and regression therapy, so perhaps there’s a small population of viewers out there walking around in a daze. We’re re-releasing the series with recap clips on another platform so that each episode is given a short refresher in the form of the “previously on” clips one sees in series these days, so maybe that will allow us to set up events with more impact. But if there are people out there losing their minds, is more impact what we want?

If you’re reading this and you’re intrigued enough to either check out the series for the first time or finish what you started, we would love to hear your thoughts. We believed in this story and the way we rolled it out. We still do.

Do you?

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About S. Norton

Writer, marketer, musician.
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