The IMDb Game

[Update: The day after I published this blog post, Kitkast was accepted to IMDb.]

Yesterday there was some discussion in the web series community about IMDb and how difficult it is for web series to get listed on the site. I was a little late to the party and don't like to have discussions on Twitter, so here are my thoughts on the matter.

The first thing to note is that not all TV shows, films and video games are listed on IMDb. In fact, the popular Montreal morning show that Rudy and I were interviewed on about three and a half years ago, This Morning Live, was sadly never listed on the site. Additionally, I'm sure there are lots of public-access TV shows have never been accepted.

With this in mind, where do they draw the line on web series?

IMDb recently posted eligibility rules for online titles:

The fundamental rule is that you need to demonstrate general public interest. The most common ways to meet this criterion are:

  • Have someone very well known in your cast (or extremely well known in a significant crew position). If the person isn't well known enough to merit a solo profile in a notable publication like Entertainment Weekly (or equivalent), this rule won't apply. If you have any doubt whether the person or persons are well known enough-- they probably aren't. And, just cutting in some clips from one of their old movies/TV shows/commercials isn't enough; it has to be something they did specifically for your title. And not just a 10-second soundbite on a red carpet, either.
  • Be a tie-in/spin-off of a TV series on a major network, hosted on that network's official site.
  • Go viral. Get a staggering number of views, ideally on a site where we can easily verify this claim. Again, if you have any doubt whether your title is "viral" or not -- you probably need to qualify using one of the other criteria.
  • Get coverage -- significant, national, mainstream press coverage. That means, for example, that the New York Times is doing an article specifically about your web series (not just the people behind it, or an offhand mention in an article about web series in general). If the press outlet is online-only, it's almost certainly not going to be sufficient.

So for most web series, who don't have Tom Cruise starring on their show and aren't making a companion series to an existing TV show, we have to qualify by going viral or getting mainstream press coverage. But how many views is viral and what kind of press is needed?

The Viral Dilemma:

IMDb does not define viral success, but they say if you have to question whether your work is viral it probably doesn't qualify. Harsh. Even more harsh, however, is the fact that they don't care about views unless they are publicly displayed. This sucks because Blip.tv, which accounts for about half of my views (due to hosting my official iTunes and web site Flash files), doesn't count. Ugh.

Of my own titles listed on IMDb, Galacticast went (publicly) viral for the first time in early 2007 with over 1.4 million views on Heat Fozzy and also received a lot of mainstream press beforehand (The Hollywood Reporter, BBC News, etc.). A Comicbook Orange was a smaller success with less mainstream press (mostly web-based) and a viral hit with Frank Miller Time garnering over 400,000 views. Recently-launched web series Black Box TV (which I'll be appearing on next week, W00T!) only has three episodes and is already listed on IMDb. With no mainstream coverage (yet), the show has between 250,000-450,000 views per episode on YouTube. This might be a good example of the minimum number of views that might consider a series general public interest.

Note: If you know of any other web series listed on IMDb with less public views, please post the title and number of views in the comments below.

Getting Covered:

Sadly, by the above list, IMDb doesn't care about articles from NewTeeVee and Tubefilter even though they are the leading sources for news and reviews of web series. There are lots of other outlets covering web series these days, but unfortunately they tend to cover web series that feature mainstream celebrities. In the past (before Hollywood came in) it seemed more doable to get featured in mainstream press, so be competitive with your web series by making something unique and entertaining enough for press to cover.

I'm thankful that my biggest series Galacticast and A Comicbook Orange both qualified for IMDb, but it wasn't instant. I had to add more information (links to mainstream press coverage and fan pages) before it was finally accepted. That said, I'm with the rest of you as well. It's been a struggle to get the lesser known mini series I've hosted/produced for Next New Networks (Pulp Secret Confessions and Pulp Secret Live at Comic-Con 2007), whose views were mostly counted privately, to be accepted. I'm also in the process of getting my first work, Kitkast, listed on the site. It had hundreds of thousands of views per episode (private views, as I was paying LibSyn for hosting), was often listed as the number one most downloaded podcast on iTunes, and got lots of mainstream coverage (I was actually interviewed by someone at The Guardian who was jealous that my video podcast had more downloads than his newspaper's podcast!). Unfortunately, you never know what's going to happen... the fact remains that IMDb is a gatekeeper.

In the end, if you don't get your work accepted to IMDb it isn't the end of the world. To put it frankly, until you prove your web series is awesome, it's just public access television. Let this experience push you to create even better content taking into consideration what will garner more views and be sure to pitch stories to press outlets other than our beloved NewTeeVee and Tubefilter.

[Side note: I got some good news yesterday that my recent mini series Project: Comic-Con was accepted to IMDb. W00T! I would've included it in this article but it was broadcast primarily on the PS3 so, though it's new media, it's not technically a "web series."]

WritingCasey McKinnon