A Few Thoughts on Web Series Budgets

Web Series are not the same as television programs.

Sounds like a reasonable statement, right? Not everyone gets that.

A few times a year I review web series applications for different funds. Increasingly we see people with tv backgrounds producing web series. Web series can be a way to explore stories and topics that broadcasters won’t greenlight, companion series to broadcast, a way for both producer and broadcaster to incubate new talent or a new revenue stream for the tv producer.

Evaluators can always tell when the budget and production plan have been prepared by tv people rather than those who come out of web series production. Why does it matter? TV-based budgets are usually bigger and they will need more money to finance the budget. There are limited funds so funders will question whether that much should go to a tv-based production. There is the issue of recoupment as it will take longer for that production to recoup its budget and pay profits. Finally, does the budget need to be that big to meet the needs of the audience or is it big out of habit.

To help you avoid these questions (and potential loss of evaluation points), here are clues evaluators look for:

  • What are the rates? Even with union cast and crew there are usually discounts for web series. Frequently web series are non-union and give training opportunities to emerging talent.  Can you justify higher rates?
  • What is the size of the crew? Web series have smaller crews. The productions are smaller so the need isn’t there and often, because of budget size, crew fill multiple roles. The cast and crew are also usually smaller because of the size of the storytelling for a web series – smaller cast, fewer locations, little in the way of special effects or stunts.
  • With a smaller budget there is less room to allocate a share of admin costs that the production company is already spending such as computers, rent, photocopying etc.
  • Sadly, one of the ways I can tell the difference between web and tv producers is that the tv producer will always charge maximum allowable producer fees, corporate overhead and contingency to the budget but a web series producer will allocate what they think can they can finance and take the risk that they will be able to pay themselves from revenue. Web producers may be more optimistic (or naive) than tv producers.
  • Web producers have a better handle on the promotion that needs to be done to get their web series in front of their audience and will be allocating budget to paid social media ads, social media content creation, paid influencers etc. TV producers sometimes just replicate their standard tv promotion and allocate money to attend festivals, international markets and creating press kits. However, if there is the opportunity to look for funding of a discoverability budget or a marketing budget then these costs will not be in the production budget.

So, if you are a tv producer exploring the opportunities for web series I suggest that you take a second look at your budget with the above in mind. You might even want to bring an experienced web creator onto your team (and get credit in evaluation for that experience). If you are a web producer – allocate maximum producer fees and corporate overhead in your budget. Funders are ok with you paying yourself.  Really.

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