With only a month left before the launch of Season Three of what is probably our consensus favorite show around here, Battlestar Galactica, Sci-Fi.com has launched a series of “webisodes” — internet-only episodes with brand-new content.
Obviously, Battlestar isn’t the first TV show to do this, but the webisodes were actually delayed for a month or so because of controversy over compensation. It’s the latest variation of the “new media meets old contracts” meta-issue we’ve seen played out over and over again.
In this case, the legal issue can be boiled down to this: what is a “webisode” anyways? Is it strictly promotional? Or is it brand-new content for a brand-new medium?
It might surprise noone that I fall squarely in line with the latter. While, sure, there is no question that while the “webisodes” might — are — being used to promote the third season of Battlestar Galactica, the same argument could be made for the Season 2.5 DVD that is being released next week. Otherwise, why not put it out a few months ago or after Season 3 started*? The timing suggests that it is part of the overall push to build buzz for Season 3. Yet noone would think to treat it as anything but another delivery system for the original content. I would argue that treating the webisodes as strictly promotional derives from a fundamental disrespect for not just the content, but the medium itself.
Which doesn’t make any sense.
In a day and age where the YouTube saga of lonelygirl15 has become a huge phenomenon, can any doubt remain that the internet is a legitimate medium for the same type of storytelling that one finds on television? Regardless of who’s behind it, the fact remains that it was web-only content, and it captivated millions of people.
It seems to me that not only has the web come into its own as this type of medium, it — just like television, film, theatre and radio — is also generating its own rules for what works and what doesn’t work. I suspect that rule #1 is going to be “keep it short.”
Which is the rule that lonelygirl15 has followed, as well as the Webisodes for the both The Office and Battlestar. Still, what makes the webisodes break the boundaries of “promotional” and fall into the realm of “content” is that they are telling original, stand-alone stories, one piece at a time.
This to me, is the most salient point: The Office webisodes looked into a mystery of missing money; the Battlestar webisodes are about life on New Caprica under the Cylons. Are they absolutely necessary to the overall story arc of the show? No. Neither was that episode with Apollo, his secret girlfriend and the mob boss. But that’s not the point.
The point, to me, boils down to this: are the webisodes fresh, original content of the series, regardless of length? If the answer is “yes,” then it shouldn’t be treated as “promotional” no matter the intent. I believe that the Battlestar Galactica and The Office webisodes meet this test. Just as I feel that the much longer “The Story So Far” clip show really doesn’t. By this test, it would seem to me that clip shows should be treated as promotional, not fresh new content. Especially those fracking Lost clip shows. But that’s just me.
- Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance
- NBCU Files Labor Complaint Against WGA
- Sci Fi Creates ‘Webisodes’ to Lure Viewers to TV
*This is a completely rhetorical question. We are going to plow through those Season 2.5 DVDs prior to the start of Season 3.