As the most popular and ubiquitous video-sharing website, YouTube is many things to many people. To some, it’s the place to watch the latest music videos and movie trailers. To others, it hosts both coveted viral videos and fan made “shipper” mashups. And to most, it seems, YouTube is still that website that has all those cat videos. (Seriously though, there are a lot of cat videos on YouTube.)
In truth, however, YouTube has always offered more than some of its most popular videos would suggest. Although promotion material, tiny clips of cuteness and random bits of hilarity are part of the site’s inventory, they are only a small piece of what YouTube is capable of providing.
Since its inception in February of 2005, YouTube has been a place for content creators. YouTube functions much like a democracy, where anyone can sign up, upload and watch virtually anything. Videos and comments are policed by the community itself, with users flagging material that violates the few rules of the YouTube community (usually because of copyright infringement or obscenity). Even the videos promoted on YouTube’s front page are dictated in part by the community or the video’s number of views. With few barriers to entry, YouTube has always been an ideal platform for people looking to inexpensively share content online.
Over the years, that original content has only increased in quality. Homemade vlogs (or video blogs, a staple of YouTube) aren’t the only type of videos benefiting from this increase in production value, and the past few years have seen the rise of the web series.
In 2012, YouTube launched a $100 million Original Channel Initiative, partnering with well-known media personalities (from YouTube and beyond) to create more YouTube-produced content, pushing the boundaries of what web series can do. Even Reddit has gotten into the web series business, launching its first original series last week based on the subreddit Explain Like I’m Five. These developments have made it clear that web series are not just television castoffs, but also a new type of episodic content entirely.
Here are five scripted web series you should be watching:
“School of Thrones”
“School of Thrones,” a three-part web series that was released throughout March, takes the characters of George R. R. Martin’s book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” and brings them to a modern American high school. In “School of Thrones,” high school cliques battle for the title of Prom King and Queen of Westeros Valley High and hilarity ensues.
The series is chock-full of references to its source material and is definitely best suited to those who are already fans of the series and its TV adaptation “Game of Thrones.” “School of Thrones” is perfect for those who can’t wait until the show returns to HBO on Sunday.
The concept of “Squaresville” is anything but revolutionary: it follows best friends Zelda and Esther as they navigate growing up in suburbia. And yet, in “Squaresville,” this well-trodden territory manages to be both refreshing and comfortingly familiar. Zelda and Esther are misfits who daydream of both fitting in and breaking out, not unlike the many Internet users connecting to the show online.
Created, written and performed by nerd icon Felicia Day, “The Guild” follows the very wacky lives of an online gamers’ guild. Premiering in July of 2007, “The Guild” is still going strong, having finished its sixth season on Day’s YouTube channel Geek & Sundry.
MyMusic is a mockumentary web series documenting the antics of the employees of a “transmedia” company where the staff is referred to by music genre. In 2013, “MyMusic” was nominated for nine Streamy Awards, which honor excellence in online video.
“The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”
“The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” is a modernized, vlog-style adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, “Pride and Prejudice.” Developed by YouTube celebrity Hank Green (one half of the Vlogbrothers) and Bernie Su, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” documents the love lives of grad student Lizzie and her sisters through Lizzie’s personal vlog. (The vlog is part of Lizzie’s senior thesis project.) “The Diaries” is the right balance of funny and moving, perfect for Austenites and novices alike. A truly immersive transmedia experience, “The Diaries” has spawned character Twitter accounts, Tumblr pages and related web series spin-offs. The 100th and final installment will be posted on YouTube this today.