Yahoo Goes All In on Web Series Wager

Company renews fall shows, rolls out three new series. But can Yahoo hold its own in a crowded space?

In October when Yahoo launched a slate of original Web videos, the company announced that it wanted to be the “broadcast network of the digital age.” It was an ambitious goal for a company whose competition included Google’s YouTube and its $100 million original content project and Hulu, which is backed by some of the biggest actual TV networks.

Yahoo’s not stealing TV dollars just yet, but it seems to be holding strong. The company is set to announce on April 2 that it’s renewing all but one of the eight women’s shows it promoted in the fall while rolling out three new series. “We are thrilled with how the first run of the female slate performed,” said Erin McPherson, Yahoo’s vp and head of video programming and originals. “We are exactly where we want to be with it.”

In fact, over the past six months, the new shows have been streamed collectively over 200 million times, per Yahoo. The seven returning shows have been among the top 25 most-watched online series, with most receiving between 1 million and 3 million unique visitors in February, according to comScore.

Among the additions are a fashion series with designer Rebecca Minkoff and a show with entertainment news reporter Michael Yo. Returning shows include Judy Greer’s Reluctantly Healthy, Niecy Nash’s Let’s Talk About Love and Ultimate Surprise, an expansion of Ultimate Proposal hosted by Cameron Mathison.

For the shows’ producers, the challenge is adapting TV-quality content to Web viewers’ shorter attention spans. But Bruce Gersh, CEO, and David Beebe, vp and gm, of FishBowl Worldwide Media, which produces Ultimate Surprise, said they’ve found the answer with emotional, relatable stories that get audiences to watch and share content online. “It all goes back to great storytelling,” said Beebe. “We just have to cut it down to five minutes.”

Nash said the Web also offers something TV doesn’t: time to grow. On TV, Let’s Talk About Love would have been under pressure to hit certain numbers on day one. But online shows can grow organically and incorporate advertising as the audience expands, Nash argued.

Advertisers seem happy. “Yahoo’s women’s slate significantly outperformed the other video programs supporting the 2012 Toyota Camry launch campaign,” said Dionne Colvin, national marketing media manager for Toyota. “Online video tends to be more engaging and offers higher conversion rates than other mediums.” But the space is getting crowded.

“Yahoo’s done a great job with developing new content and the way they’ve marketed and positioned it,” said Adam Kasper, evp of digital investments at Havas Digital. “But they’re only going to be facing increased competition in this area.”