5 Questions With…Producer Wilson Cleveland

1, 2, 3, 4, 5! That’s how many questions Wilson Cleveland is here to answer today. The senior vice-president of digital media at CJP Communications, Cleveland wears many hats as a producer of numerous web series, including The Webventures of Justin & Alden and The Temp Life, in which he also stars. Below, he discusses web video’s trouble with discoverability, his secret crush on Clicker.com and the difficulties that come with producing branded content.

1. What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?

Discoverability. Right or wrong, if the industry is going to move forward, we need to goose demand among the masses, that 92 percent already watching some form of web video on Hulu, YouTube, (s GOOG) news sites or wherever, that may have never even heard of a web series. I’m not suggesting we change what works on the web by watering down our shows old media-style but the reality is there are millions of future web series fans out there who fall within every niche who just don’t know what they’re missing.

The more the web video industry can be appropriately associated with what the general public is familiar with — namely film and television — while maintaining the medium’s unique value proposition, the more original web series will be discovered as a result of that association.

2. What industry buzzword do you never want to hear again?

I could live without hearing the term “viral video” ever again. What’s more annoying than hearing the term itself a good four years past its relevance, is this notion perpetuated by marketing execs who should know better that these one-off phenoms can somehow be manufactured for their benefit. If you still think you can orchestrate a video to “go viral,” there’s a great deal on a gently-used island in Second Life you might be interested in.

3. If someone gave you 50 million to invest in a company in this space, which one would it be? (Mentioning your own doesn’t count.)

Clicker, because I think they are in the best position to become ground zero for the general public to discover original web series. It’s what the YouTube Shows directory should have been. Since Clicker is an independent aggregator of all online programming including television, film and web originals, chances are anyone who goes there to find an episode of The Office can also discover The Temp Life or Jake & Amir or Squatters. Clicker features web series on their homepage right alongside TV fare, which only helps improve the awareness and discoverability I was talking about earlier. They’re furthering the notion that one day it won’t matter which medium your programming is produced for because there’s an audience for everything and a good show is a good show. I get asked “so, what’s a web series?” at least once a week and I always school them with a quick click over to the Web Originals section of Clicker.

4. What was the last video (that you weren’t personally involved with) that you liked enough to spread to others?

The Auto-Tune The Guild Season 3 recap was brilliant. The Guild and Auto-Tune the News are two of my favorite shows and I’m a sucker for a good cross-over.

5. WILD-CARD: After having been involved with three different branded content series, what would you say is the trickiest part of working with a brand partner? And how do you make sure that your “branded content” isn’t really just an overlong commercial for a product?

One of the reasons brands partner with CJP is because we are part of a marketing communications firm and take a different approach to branded entertainment than a pure-play ad or media agency might. Our clients know going in that we create/produce/promote these shows as an extension of social media communications to engage their intended audiences as opposed to replicating their TV ads on the web.

I think in general, one of the more challenging aspects of working with a brand partner is getting them to trust your expertise in a field that is new to them with as much trust as you’re putting in their expertise about their business. Marketing executives are not experienced producers and vice versa. They’re not as familiar with how certain aspects of the entertainment industry work. Presumably that’s one of the reasons they hired you.

As a producer, you need to be really candid from the beginning. Chances are, this is the brand’s first web series you’re producing, so you sometimes need to remind them they are spending money to create their own media property to tell their own story. Over-using the actual on screen isn’t necessary. There is a reason people fast-forward through ads on their DVR: because they can. The sponsor is certainly aware of this, which is likely at least one reason they are investing in creating an entire web show in the first place, but sometimes they need to be reminded. Online we’ll patiently sit through a 15 second pre-roll on Hulu because we know at the other end we’ll be rewarded with that episode of Glee or The Real Housewives (don’t judge me) we hate ourselves for missing. With brand-sponsored web shows, if the “reward” is the ad, you’ve just lost your audience.

It is incumbent upon creators and producers to have these conversations early or throughout if necessary. Because if a sponsored series is poorly received for being contrived in an overly-branded kinda way, guess who loses? We do [as a community], because it’s easier for marketing executives to chock the fail up to web video itself being an imperfect or ineffective medium for brands. We can’t afford for that to happen, folks, and you don’t need me to tell you why.

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Fact or Fiction: Where Is Branded Online Video Going?