In 2014 its our hope that we start a web-series or two; and reduce our short-film productions. The reason behind this is simply, we love making films, and short films are nice when you want to try something out, but they are unfortunately short lived (no pun intended). So to that end I watched several web-series to learn and decompose what makes them good, what makes them bad. Although each had its various charms and quirks one area I noted really defined a web-series was time; the length of each episode.
Original thinking of Web Series timing was based on successful YouTube videos of 3-5 minutes. However its hard to tell a continuation story (series which builds on previous episodes) in only 3-5minutes, so eventually episodes in later seasons got longer and longer. Now a days it seems some episodes in web series go upwards of 45 minutes (a normal TV episode); this I feel is too long to be consider a “web-series” in its pure form.
In the end It was found that most successful webseries tend to end up playing just over 5 minutes of story each episode (story is plot vs intro and outro credits, but more on that later). Reason it seems 5 minutes is the shortest an episode plays is that any shorter and you’re basically splitting the story into too many sub-episodes that end up getting interrupted by “next video” without really moving the plot forward. A GREAT example of this a spoof of doctor who, http://11thinspector.wix.com/theinspector
If you watch the first season, its a little painful because nothing really happens the whole season with all the really short episodes ~3.5 minutes each excluding credits… BUT when you watch the Season 2 prelude with is a lot longer ~7.5 minutes excluding credits something actually happens, in fact more happens in that 7.5 minutes IMHO than in the whole season one of ~20mins of episodes.
The +5 minute mark seems more reasonable for anything that is not ‘skit’ related (which were generally found to be 3-5 minutes; perfectly acceptable for most episode is a single joke). EDIT: It appears that their is another reason for the 5-8minute block (Thanks Kat Gracie) in that many ‘web-series’ award festivals consider only series with episodes within that running time.
Looking at longer episodes, things like Video Game High School are set-up like a normal TV or mini-series plots with each episode spanning as long as a normal television production. There is a clear trade-off though for the longer episodes; they cost a lot more, they take more time to make (and release!). That said, for the longer web-series (over 10 minutes per episode) most were good and generally involved more mature story-lines or in-depth characters.