Monday, May 20

Up Next: Success of ‘Video Game High School’ model for future of web TV

"Video Game High School" is an action comedy web series independently produced by Freddie Wong's RocketJump Studios and funded through Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Its series finale aired Monday on YouTube. (RocketJump Studios)

"Video Game High School" is an action comedy web series independently produced by Freddie Wong's RocketJump Studios and funded through Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Its series finale aired Monday on YouTube. (RocketJump Studios)

The rise of original online programming has revolutionized the way we consume television. But are any of these new shows actually worth watching? Up Next highlights noteworthy original content from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Studios and examines how the flexible online format functions within each show. All you need is a laptop and your friend’s Netflix or Amazon Prime password.

“Video Game High School” demonstrates the power of the web platform to build a series from the ground up without the sponsorship of a major production studio and may represent the future of independent web television.

Set in the near future, the action comedy web series follows gamer Brian Doheny (Josh Blaylock) and his experiences at Video Game High School, a high-tech school that teaches gaming strategies to gifted students. There, he befriends Ted Wong (Jimmy Wong) and Ki Swan (Ellary Porterfield), and tries to prove his worth to Jenny Matrix (Johanna Braddy), the junior varsity captain of the school’s first-person shooting games competition.

The series is produced by Freddie Wong’s RocketJump Studios and co-created by Wong, Will Campos, Brian Firenzi and Matthew Arnold, who previously created independent YouTube contentwithout funding from producers. Now in its third and final season, “VGHS” recently aired its series finale on Monday.

“VGHS” boasts a successful business model that may become the standard for independent web television series. The show is primarily funded through crowdfunding sites Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Likely due to Wong’s devoted YouTube following, the Kickstarter for the show’s first season passed its goal of $75,000 in less than 24 hours, reaching nearly $275,000 by the end of its 30-day funding period. And the show’s budget has only increased from there.

For its third season, “VGHS” raised about $900,000 in one month, marking a considerable increase in production quality compared to its humble beginnings. The series has progressed from low-budget shorts to studio-quality long-form content with surprising cameos from actor Joel McHale and talk show host Conan O’Brien in the third season’s premiere episode.

Although the episode lengths have increased from 10 minutes to about 50 minutes, they still garner millions of views on YouTube, which suggests the viability of long-form content on a site typically known for its viral short clips . Long-form content may require more time investment from viewers, but this investment encourages “VGHS” to develop its characters and writing in order to sustain a lasting relationship with fans.

Because the show attracts a massive audience to YouTube, the company granted “VGHS” additional help in producing and advertising its final season. YouTube invited Freddie Wong and his team to shoot several scenes in its Space LA studio and provided an advertising campaign for the show that ranges from massive billboards to sponsored tweets.

An increased budget means “VGHS” differs little in production value from network or cable shows of its kind and exemplifies the possibilities of the monetization of YouTube content. Its creators started their careers through the platform and are familiar with its audience, so they know how to attract and maintain viewers. Consequently, “VGHS” has built a massive fan base, which encourages companies to purchase premium ad space on RocketJump Studios’ page.

Nevertheless, long-form shows like “VGHS” may need a better metric to account for the depth and time of viewer engagement since shorter clips still receive the most hits on YouTube. This trend also proves true with episodes of “VGHS.” Briefer episodes acquire more hits, with earlier episodes reaching as many as 11.8 million views and more recent episodes reaching about three million views.

Besides its innovative business model, the show itself is pretty entertaining for a teen action drama. Wong and his team portray gaming as an immersive experience, with humorous dialogue that mimics gaming jargon and clever eight-bit graphics. The special effects are fairly impressive and add to the richness of the characters’ gaming experience. The show’s niche humor references popular video games and Internet memes, which suits its web audience.

The show’s independent production studio and reliance on fan support give “VGHS” a more intimate relationship with fans, who may hold the showrunners more accountable for considering viewer feedback when developing new content. The success of the show also implies that independent web series would be wise to target large Internet communities when crafting content.

In a nutshell, “VGHS” is a web show about gaming geared toward an ever-growing community of online gamers. It’s no wonder the show is such a smash Internet success.

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