I’ve already mentioned in another blog post that I love YouTube videos, and I’ve already talked about my appreciation of the TableTop series on the Geek and Sundry network, which I will call G&S because I’m actually more used to that. Anyway, the G&S network is awesome, and I’ve started to follow some things on the Nerdist network because of Legendary Digital Networks, which is a partnership with these two channels and Smart Girls. On September 28th, 2016, Legendary launched a preview of their service called “Alpha”, which was not meant to replace their existing content on YouTube and Twitch, but rather to compliment it.
It only takes one look at the comments section to realise just how much of a mistake that was.
The idea, from what I can gather, is that Alpha simply offers different content to the existing content, or some existing content with new features. I think that’s awesome, and I may be alone in this, but there are some issues that they might need to look at, especially with shows such as TableTop. In fact, I will use that as my example.
TableTop is a show on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel and is hosted by Wil Wheaton. It started in 2012 and it features Wil playing board or card games with three (or more in a couple of shows) of his friends or some celebrities or people on YouTube. So far it is in its fourth season, and it is this season that I am to take issue with. It’s the season where Legendary took over the network.
Each season of TableTop consists of 20 (or so) episodes, and these are not the typical names of Monopoly or Cluedo, but rather marvels such as Dixit, Ticket To Ride, Lanterns, Smash Up, Fiasco, Settlers of Catan, and Legendary (not to be confused with the network; this is a card game featuring characters from the Marvel Comic Book Universe). Its third season was entirely crowd-funded and, in many ways, it really cemented the show’s place in the community. The aim was to raise $1 million, which would produce 20 episodes of TableTop plus what turned out to be 10 episodes of a role-playing game made specifically for its own show, called Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. They raised $1.4 million within their targeted period, which blew the minds of a lot of people, including Wil Wheaton’s. Season 4 seemed like a sure fire hit and would be coming soon.
Legendary now owns the G&S network and all of its content, and here is where the problems have gone. According to Wil Wheaton himself, the show would launch June 2016. Then July. Then August, and then god-knows-when. When the show did launch on November 2nd (sort of), Wil was very … non-committal to his thoughts on it. Which we kind of know means he was pissed off with it all, but couldn’t say anything because of Legendary Digital Networks. The series launched with the game Lanterns and I thought it was beautiful to watch and quite enjoyed it. They aired the second episode on November 9th and … now it’s Alpha only until January 30th, 2017.
And this is where my own issues come into play. I’m not going to be stupid and say that the show needs to stay off Alpha because I said so. Legendary / G&S need to make money. If they don’t make money, how are they going to make these shows? They already have merchandise and subscription fees, but the whole network costs money. Back when TableTop was first made, it was funded through YouTube and Google’s publisher programme. But it isn’t cheap to make these shows, and they aren’t making them with a little four-person crew on handy camcorders or iPhones. They use a full production staff and high-end equipment. It costs money. Any person who thinks that the show should still be made free only just “because” needs to really think about the bigger picture here.
Having a service like Alpha could be good, especially if they have additional content exclusive for subscribers, or advanced content as they are doing with TableTop. But three(-ish) months worth of advanced content for a show that was originally free-to-view? In the UK, there is a TV broadcaster called Channel 4. They are a commercially funded, publically owned broadcaster.
They have a soap opera called Hollyoaks which is quite popular, so I am led to believe. It airs Monday to Friday on Channel 4. However, the next episode is aired in advance (or at least was) straight afterwards on their free, but digital TV channel, E4. Which meant I could watch today’s episode on their flagship channel and then turn over to E4 to watch the next episode. Advanced viewing was no more than 72 hours, and was available to everyone with access to the channel. Now that digital TV is available to all and all analogue TV signals have been switched off, pretty much everyone can watch E4, but the advance notice was only one episode, aired only before the next one did on Channel 4. I would still need to wait until the next day to watch the next episode on E4. Legendary are offering TableTop episodes every week on Alpha for paying subscribers, and then the rest of us lowly fans get it a few months later, and even then, we would only get it on its usual release cycle of every two weeks.
I think that’s wrong.
Creating the new, exclusive content is fantastic. And airing new content in advance of other networks might also be great, and I do support that. But the way they are working, specifically at least with TableTop, does not inspire much confidence in me with the new direction.
Since TableTop is really the only show I watch semi-religiously, I would have suggested the following as an advance cycle – Episode 1 premieres on YouTube and Alpha on 2nd November, the original schedule. Episode 2 on Alpha only on 9th November. It would then be aired on its fortnightly schedule every episode after, alternating between Alpha and YouTube, with Alpha being given priority. Possibly build in additional features to the show as they are doing with the live Twitch role-playing game Critical Role, or, hell, even air an extended version exclusive for Alpha subscribers. A typical YouTube episode takes 30 minutes, why not make the Alpha episode 1 hour long? Again, paid subscribers get the advanced viewing, but only by one episode, and technically only by one week. On YouTube, we were treated to gag reels or something else; I am sure Legendary could have come up with something for that gap. But three months in advance? That’s not on.
And the fact that there are over 1,000 dislikes compared to about 300 likes on the above video kind of shows Alpha isn’t doing well even before it’s started.
Yes, “even before”, because the video says the service will launch November 3rd, but they’ve released an update kicking the launch day back to November 17th. They say they have feedback and bugs to fix, but I think they need to do more to think about where Alpha will be going, because if they aren’t careful, the fans will be going elsewhere, Alpha will be a total waste of money, and this will be another thing that Wil Wheaton loses.
(By the way, for anyone interested, Wil has won 16 out of 63 shows, including 5 co-operative games where the team has won and 2 where he has shared victory with another player. That’s effectively only 9 episodes where Wil has actually won clearly, with a percentage of 14%. Wil rarely wins. Especially when rolling dice.)