The launch of WatchMe has been promoted by NZME as a major victory for Kiwi comedy in that it provides a vehicle by which local comedians can connect with their audiences on a weekly basis. And while the new site certainly benefits from having the weight of NZME's media muscle behind it, it's by no means the only player in this space.
Former editor and publisher Fiona Powell has also been collating local content on The Web Series Channel, an online hub she founded in 2013.
For Powell, the arrival of WatchMe clearly provides competition. But she still views it as positive for the Kiwi content scene.
“I think it’s really cool to highlight New Zealand content," Powell says. "It’s not behind a subscription wall, which is really good.”
Powell agrees that Watchme is something of a threat to web series channel in the New Zealand online video content space but she sees a point of difference between the offerings of the two channels which is like the difference between Venus and Mars.
“Theirs [NZME's] is quite testosterone heavy [and] we’ve got a much more diverse range. There are lots of web series made by women. The cool thing about web series is we’re seeing lots more women come out as directors and producers.”
This was a point also raised by the Spinoff's Alex Casey, who pointed out that men greatly outnumbered women on WatchMe. In fact, of the eight inaugural shows on WatchMe, only two were targeted at women.
That said, new talent will be added sporadically over the next few months, and this will hopefully result in the introduction of a few more female content creators.
In contrast to WatchMe's bro leaning, Powell says the Web Series Channel has a stronger female presence.
“It just turned out that most of the creators I talked to seemed to be women because lots of women were out there making web series,” Powell says.
Popular offerings finding a home on webseries channel include Flat 3, a series featuring the travails of three young women in a flat, directed by Roseanne Liang and starring TV3s new Story reporter Perlina Lau.
Series produced for the web appear at first blush to be the sole province of millennial digital natives at ease with YouTube, Vimeo and the latest social networking buzz but Powell points to one successful offering aimed at an older generation.
“High Road has just won our NZ Webfest Awards for the best web series and it’s also just taken out the Web Series World Cup.”
High Road stars Mark Mitchinson as Terry Huffer, a former rock star now plumbing the depths as a community radio DJ, who receives more complaints than Facebook likes.
Webseries channel was born out of Webshow Central, an online magazine edited by Powell, and a desire to offer a platform for New Zealand’s web series creators to show their productions.
“Creators were making the content but their main problem was finding an audience for it,” Powell says.
“As part of [the] magazine, we were interviewing lots of web series creators and realised there was nowhere for those series to be discovered so that’s why we created web series channel – so people could find them in one place.”
At present all content uploaded to Web Series Channelis funded through crowd sourcing, the creators themselves or some NZ on Air funding but Powell hopes to turn Webseries channel into a money maker.
“Web Series Channel (NZ) is moving into its next phase of partnering brands and sponsors with content creators and their shows; and offering creators opportunities around a revenue share of advertising. We are currently partnering with other media companies for this next phase.”
Powell says while the exposure to a wider audience is important for the development of web series, creators also needed a share of any potential coffers.
“It’s important that creators get not only get views and build their audiences, but also receive an income stream.”