What are the most common types of web series?

I’m trying to make a list of the most common varieties of web series formats, but I’m struggling with a naming convention for many. Here’s what I have so far…

The Mini TV Show

A traditionally filmed series with no interactive elements whatsoever- literally just short form TV

Examples:
https://stareable.com/series/view/submissions-only
https://stareable.com/series/view/the-gay-and-wondrous-life-of-caleb-gallo

The Narrative Vlog

Vlog-style web series

Examples:
https://stareable.com/series/view/the-lizzie-bennett-diaries @berniesu
https://stareable.com/series/view/the-uncanny-upshurs @threeminutesfast

Literary-Inspired

Adaptations of classic literature (sometimes but not always overlapping with narrative vlogs)
Examples:
https://stareable.com/series/view/carmilla @StephInTeevee
https://stareable.com/series/view/the-cate-morland-chronicles @chelsaat @hiamandataylor

Non-linear

A web series that uses playlists or some other digital platform quirk to tell a story in either multiple orders or a viewer-directed order

Examples:
https://stareable.com/series/view/relativity
https://stareable.com/series/view/choose-your-own-mcgurskey

??

Styles of shows I need names/definitions for:

Show type 1

2-3 person semi-serialized buddy comedy?

Examples:
https://stareable.com/series/view/killing-it @jonathankyall
https://stareable.com/series/view/not-a-plan @HackettKate
https://stareable.com/series/view/sam-and-pat-are-depressed

Show type 2

Semi anthology-style self-contained stories within the same universe/with many of the same characters?

Examples:
https://stareable.com/series/view/unicornland
https://stareable.com/series/view/the-feels @naje.tv

(to be honest I legit don’t even know if I’d put these two shows in the same category? But they’re both very distinct styles that I feel deserve definition for hopeful future creators)

Show type 3

???

What are other common format buckets that web series can fall into? Not topics, or themes- specifically FORMATS.

1 Like

@filmwritr4 @SnobbyRobot very curious to hear your insights here!

what about documentary like One Minute Documentary or Stirrup?

that’s more of a genre distinction, which I think is something most people get. Right now I’m looking for literal storytelling formats, so found footage, nonlinear, etc. Mostly they’ll be specific to fiction shows.

Like… Killing It! and Sam and Pat and Not A Plan… what do you consider these things? If you were to give a name to the format? I was thinking Micro Sitcom, because they’re essentially old-timey sitcoms in that they are only loosely serialized and have fewer characters than a full length sitcom but tend to focus on two-three characters with each episode aligning with a particular theme of the show (classic sitcoms were about family or work or whatever- ours are just slightly more niche and much shorter in length)

Show type 2

Semi anthology-style self-contained stories within the same universe/with many of the same characters?

This is what “Deliver Me” will be. I like the term “Episodic”

1 Like

That makes sense!

They are definitely buddy comedies, and lower budget. There should be a budget category slider like when youre looking for hotels where you can see things made from 0 to 1,000,000. It affects the way the pieces are.

I mean all of these formats can exist at high or low budgets- I’m just trying to get a handle on formats that are unique (or common) on the web but not on mainstream TV

i just think that for web series in particular it is an aesthetic that comes out of necessity and its something I am interested in as a creator, to see what people make on a shoestring budget. Shows that look like real shows are awesome but I like to see things by artists in earlier stages of development, they are often wilder and unique.

1 Like

This is tough as a lot of this is still experimental. And I agree that budget is a significant factor in terms of defining the content.

1 Like

Ok these are not the “Most Popular” but they are webseries exclusive. I’ll keep brainstorming the popular ones.

  • Segmented Docuseries: Documentary style episodes divided specifically by theme or topic, which could have just been one long narrative episode on TV or one long film, but it split in a specific way to shorten the episodes and deliver them in individually digestible segments as well as a part of a larger whole.

  • Transmedia Narrative: Webseries that heavily relies on the use of transmedia storytelling and perhaps is not exclusively considered a webseries but also a part of an ARG or a multiplatform experience

  • Big Media Supplement: An “add-on” or “bonus” series for a TV show or other piece of mainstream media. These have existed for a long time and are often released on something like a network website or as part of DVD extras.

  • Branded Webisode/Series: Made by a brand with no attempt to hide product placement. Half ad, half actual narrative. Hulu has some of these.

  • Interactive and/or Game Element: You are specifically meant to click on something or participate in some way. Jeopardy-style series, choose-your-own-ending, or something of the like.

  • Specialty Reality (or Internet-Focused Reality): The kind of reality show that would never make it on TV because it’s specifically internet related or is about some kind of online sub-culture that would be weird to see on mainstream primetime. This can also apply to talk show or “trending” style content where people discuss internet stuff.

  • Live Podcast: Literally just a video recording of a podcast.

2 Likes

More!

  • Single Room Comedy/Drama/Etc: May or may not be single-cam, but the difference is often this all takes place in one room (typically in a house, like a bedroom) or one location because of budgetary restrictions combined with difficulty to get permits or permission to film in certain places. A single-cam TV show is often not so restricted.

  • Single-verse Semi-Overlapping Anthology: This is your show type 2, but with a different name. By “single-verse” I mean single (or even shared) narrative universe. Pick whatever word applies best. But the idea is that it’s an anthology with interconnected elements.

  • One-Punch Comedy: So short that it’s often just one joke, one punchline, one end laugh per episode. Think original Convos w My 2 Year Old or Teachers before it was a TV series. It was like a bite-sized, Twitter length piece of comedy in 2 minutes or less.

  • Topical / Direct Response Series: Kind of an “add-on” genre to one of the others. Something that is specifically made in response to a current event, or is able to directly include elements from recent news/conversations as it is much faster to release online than a typical TV show that has to go through a lot more people. A lot of LGBTQ content is like this, literally inspired by bad tropes or negative representation the people want to turn on it’s head and make better content and narrative choices. This can also be self-contained within webseries instead of news, like how many LIWs came about after LBD and are directly inspired by it.

  • Artsy Demo / Calling Card: There is not much of a story, just lots of pretty stuff meant to demonstrate your skills as a director/cinematographer/editor. It could never live anywhere else but online because there isn’t enough meat to it. Almost like visual fluff. Or part of a portfolio/film reel. Still awesome and pretty, but not enough to adapt into a full length series or anything.

3 Likes

Niche Micro Sitcom works as a name. Or Topic-Oriented Micro Sitcom? Like Same and Pat is literally what the title is about. That topic.

1 Like

Lets approach it from the producer perspective which we can do by looking at a series goals.

You have the ‘I want to make television or film’ projects that directors make in the same way they used to make short films. They are expensive, slow and unsustainable. They put them online because they can, not because that’s their ultimate goal.

Then you have the actor focused ‘I need something for my reel’ projects which is very character and scene-centric. They don’t care about the online component either, they just want a project they can be the star of (and collab with all their friends).

Next are the series that really embrace the web and technology. They exist online to take advantage of social media and the potential for interactivity. Think transmedia, experimental or choose your own adventure type stuff.

Speaking to Jonathan’s point above, there are then the budgetary minded series. These are shows that are made for incredibly low cost per minute and with the idea of releasing many videos constantly to build an audience and address the low revenues of single videos. I would put narrative vlogs in this area.

Next you have the ‘reality tv / docu style’ content that I’d say encompasses the majority or youtubers. It’s not entirely narrative but they is a lot of behind the scenes writing, clever editing and character creating / acting going on. These are generally done to specifically appeal to the YouTube core audience.

I forgot the ‘underserved audience’ production. These are often television style projects with small budgets who are taking advantage of the webs ability to distribute content directly to those who aren’t being served by big corporate distribution channels like television or film. Think LGBTQ series.

Last is what I would call ‘the traditional web series’ which is kind of a combination of all of the above. You make it because you want to be a movie director, or to cast yourself in your dream role, but you also try and adapt your ideas to the online space by using social media, editing your videos down to 5 or 6 minutes, limiting your costs but not to the point that it impacts the finished product too much. I’m not entirely sure this is it’s own category but I’d say at least 2/3rds of series fit here.

2 Likes

I would use words like these to describe the type of budget a series had instead of actual numbers:

  • Big Budget / Low Budget
  • High Concept
  • Indie
  • Boostraps
  • Self-Funded / Crowdfunded
  • Sponsored
  • College / Student Made
  • Stepping Stone
1 Like

Those aren’t narrative/storytelling formats though- maybe I was unclear. I’m specifically looking for help defining common storytelling formats that, yes, may often be influenced by cost/goal, but are ultimately just web-specific ways to tell stories

Even More!

  • Bingeable: Literally watch them all at once. In fact, it’s better if you do. Netflix has shifted to doing this more, because some TV shows are truly terrible for binging, particularly when they are meant to take place over the same period of time as their TV release dates.

  • Real Time: Released in real time or watchable as if it would be “live” even though it isn’t. Adds a sense of realism and immersion that TV and film cannot achieve, even when it’s very obviously fake.

  • Animated Adventure/Story Time: Modeled after “story time” vlogs and animated vlogs, because they are meant to contain one single incident or period of time as opposed to complexly juggling multiple stories, character growth, or world building. Viewers don’t need a ton of context or a lot of explanation to enjoy it, and in such short episodes a lot of that type of storytelling gets cut. Could also be considered Animated Mid-Narrative, like how Bravest Warriors just jumps in the middle of things and can be very confusing. You’re meant to just accept and move on. It’s not an anthology, but it also lacks a lot of traditional methodologies. Not explaining this great, but whatever.

  • Minority Focused: The whole point is to highlight minorities and minority cultures. LGBTQ is a genre you just can’t find as easily on TV because it’s an element but not a focus. Whereas on webseries it can be the whole point.

This is fun. I can do this all day.

3 Likes

building off danny’s one-room i’d say fixed camera is a pretty common genre-- not quite the same as vlog style or found footage, but one camera, one room, one angle. most of KindaTV’s stuff is like this, even the literary-inspired ones

I see. I think part of the issue is that, as Danny is showing… there is no end to describing the different ways to tell a story. Formats are typically defined by audience expectations and market requirements.

I think Buddy Comedy and Anthology series work for your first two, anthologies are especially popular. I have often reference a group I call “Apartment Comedy’s” for shows that are primarily set in an apartment, which represent a huge chunk of the web series landscape.

It all comes down to how specific you are trying to be. If you really want to limit it I would probably keep it to Narrative Vlog, Apartment comedy’s, Non-linear / experimental, transmedia, anthology, and mini television / movie

A couple of ideas:

  • I guess I’d add a general “sketch” category for something like “Gritsmore” - it’s almost like a stream-of-consciousness show.

  • “Lectures/How To’s” - this is a big type of webseries (they often don’t call themselves that) - where it’s usually single-camera “today let’s talk about XXX historical thing that I’m an expert in” (Lindybeige is an example)

  • “Let’s Play” - videogame playthroughs. They’re really different from anything else in a way; the story is the videogame, but the chat/commentary is running along a parallel track (sometimes you don’t even see the player) - something like “Markiplier” (these are definitely common, even if they’re not called “webseries”)

  • “Reviews” - This is a variation of “Lectures” I guess; Stuckman and MovieBob and MovieBitches (hell yeah MovieBitches) are examples.


For “Feels” type shows:
– I like the idea of calling them “poetic” or “self-contained” or maybe even “journal-like” - but journal implies a more linear narrative

Cool topic. Have to give it some thought.

2 Likes