Want to Create a Lesbian Web Series With Over 1 Million YouTube Views? Here’s How!

The web series. As a format, it’s perfect for aspiring content makers: it can require minimal capital investment, be filmed almost anywhere, and be easily uploaded to a streaming service like Youtube. It’s the perfect training wheels for creators with a vision but without the financial and technical resources to make a feature-length film—or who just like bite sized episodic content. For LGBT viewers, the web series format has its perks, too. Queer content that might otherwise have been strung out in small scenes over the course of 22 mainstream TV episodes is condensed in a web series into a simple storyline that can be binged in just over an hour.

The web series. As a format, it’s perfect for aspiring content makers: it can require minimal capital investment, be filmed almost anywhere, and be easily uploaded to a streaming service like Youtube. It’s the perfect training wheels for creators with a vision but without the financial and technical resources to make a feature-length film—or who just like bite sized episodic content. For LGBT viewers, the web series format has its perks, too. Queer content that might otherwise have been strung out in small scenes over the course of 22 mainstream TV episodes is condensed in a web series into a simple storyline that can be binged in just over an hour.

But not all queer female-centric web series are created equal, nor do audiences receive them with equal enthusiasm. Some receive only a few hundred views on streaming platforms while others receive tens of millions of views. What’s the difference between them? Is success random or can a clever content creator develop a web series almost guaranteed to be a fan favorite?

This article argues that there are identifiable factors that drive the success (or lack thereof) of queer female-themed web series. Some of these factors, such as high production values, seem obvious. Others, however, are less apparent. By identifying these factors, this article is intended to help content creators write and produce a web series that will maximize its chances of reaching the broadest audience possible. Although of course it’s impossible to guarantee a web series will be popular with viewers, following the key recommendations below positions a project to have its best chance at success.

Data, Data Everywhere

Since the late-2000s, hundreds of queer female-centric web series have been produced and uploaded to streaming services like YouTube, tello Films, Revry, OneMoreLesbian (OML) and Lesflicks. My friends over at LezWatch.TV have been diligently cataloguing these web series and currently have 247 in their database, although there are undoubtedly many more that have yet to be incorporated into the database. LezWatch’s library of web series gives us a fantastic pool of data from which to learn about web series that were successful, web series that weren’t, and even—by proxy—the people who watch them.

I looked at the 137 web series currently available on YouTube to find patterns among them. In particular, what could I learn about plot, dialogue, acting, direction, and production from the 37 web series that each received over one million views for at least one episode on YouTube? Turns out, quite a few things.

1. Web series from marginalized areas do best.
Out of the 37 top performing web series, the single biggest predictor of success was whether the series came from a country with low overall LGBT representation on screen. Eleven different countries each had web series with over one million views for at least one episode. While it’s unsurprising to see US or Canada on the list, the presence of web series from Nepal, South Korea, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Brazil and Italy indicates that viewers from these countries flock to representation that reflects their own experiences and will watch those videos repeatedly.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than web series coming from India. All four Indian web series that I examined received millions of views. In fact, the first episode of “I Love Us” received 62.4 million YouTube views, more than any other web series episode I looked at. (An episode of “The ‘Other’ Love Story” received 23.3 million views, “Maaya 2” received 14.3 million, and “Neverland” received 3.9 million.) All three Brazilian web series that I examined also received millions of views, although fewer than their Indian counterparts (“A MelhorAmiga Da Noiva” received 6.7 million, “The Stripper” 5.3 million, and “Escondijero” 2.7 million). This is a success rate of 100% for Indian and Brazilian web series, compared with 20% for American web series (18/88) and 15% for Canadian web series (3/20).

Recommendation: Content creators should consider partnering with or filming in geographically underserved areas as a way to attract viewers and tell marginalized stories. Content coming from Asia is likely to attract the highest number of views, followed by Brazil.

2. Love stories are king.
Most of the viewers who seek out queer web series are, consciously or not, seeking love. The majority of high viewership web series use some form of the “girl meets girl” trope as their primary storyline. While the setting can vary (stripper at night/mild mannered secretary by day seduces boss in both personas, anyone?), at the end of the day, viewers like to see two women falling in love.

Recommendation: For the best return on investment, content creators should consider centering their web series around a romantic relationship and use relationship building as the emotional tension within the series.

3. Viewers hate video logs.
Out of the 137 web series I reviewed, the primary predictor of failure was whether the series was a first-person “vlog.” Among queer female-centric web series on YouTube, there exists a dichotomy: they tend to either be extremely low budget and filmed by collegiate performing arts students using the vlogformat, or they are of slightly higher quality and use professional actors despite a limited budget. Web series in the former category uniformly fail to reach a broad audience. Their low production values and uneven acting coupled with the difficulty many viewers have connecting with the vlog style are a recipe for disaster.

Recommendation: No matter how small their budget, creators should nix the dorm room vlog. With only one exception, “Carmilla,” viewers simply won’t watch it in large numbers. Instead, creators should aim to use multiple shooting locations, taking advantage of free locations such as parks, libraries, and even a regular old sidewalk to get away from the low budget, visually boring dorm room look.

4. Viewers tune in for kissing first and foremost, plot second.
For less successful web series, the most watched episode is the first episode. Viewers who aren’t enthralled by the series quickly drop off and move on to new material. The most-watched episode for the most successful series, however, is never the first episode. It’s always an episode with either the protagonists’ first kiss or a love scene. There’s a clear reason for this: viewers will often watch the episode multiple times to enjoy that moment again and again. This multiplies the view count, which in turn causes YouTube’s algorithms to suggest that particular episode to new viewers, creating a feedback loop of ever increasing viewership numbers. This loop is particularly helped if the thumbnail for the episode is of two women kissing.

Recommendation: If viewers are tuning in for a single, pivotal scene, it means the most important thing a content creator can do to help their web series is film a good kiss. Building up the tension before a kiss/love scene and delivering on the payoff will reap significant rewards with viewers, who will then inadvertently drive more traffic to the episode.

5. Subtitle, subtitle, subtitle!
Regardless of the origin of LGBT content, its audience is global. Representation affects everyone. Subtitling is a common way for LGBT material to spread and find a broader audience. While 121 of the 137 web series I explored were in English, the remaining 16 all had English subtitles. But English isn’t the only common subtitle, and some web series have subtitles in multiple languages. “Out With Dad,” for example, has them in Czech, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Greek, Croatian, Hebrew, French, Hungarian, Turkish, Polish, and Mandarin.

Recommendation: Subtitles enable more viewers to access material and that means a higher view count. Therefore, no matter what the native language of a web series, creators should seek out volunteers to translate it into as many languages as possible. Having a series in English, Spanish, Hindi, and Mandarin alone, for example, makes a web series accessible to literally billions of people.

6. Viewers prefer higher production values…but only to an extent.
Unsurprisingly, viewers prefer to watch web series with a finished, professional look. Videos that look like they were filmed on someone’s smartphone and posted without editorial intervention tend to quickly be relegated to the metaphorical dustbin with only a few hundred or thousand views. More professional production, on the other hand, can usually generate tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of views. That said, high production values alone aren’t enough to get a series to a million views for an episode. At that elite level, other factors come into play more strongly. Overall, this suggests that while content creators should strive to maximize production values, a little roughness around the edges—such as what we see in “A Melhor Amiga Da Noiva”—doesn’t mean a web series can’t still get millions of views.

Recommendation: If money is tight, content creators should focus on optimizing viewers’ visual experience, but not at the cost of blowing their entire budget on a nice camera. They should seek to find a balance between looking professional while staying within their financial means.

7. You can trick YouTube’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
How do creators get clicks? Through SEO. One web series that I explored, “Bloomers,” jumped from a few hundred thousand views per episode to 23.6 million simply by titling one of its videos “Hot Lesbian Love.” There’s no better proof of gaming the system than that. I’m not saying every web series episode needs to be titled things like “Sexy Lesbians Kissing”…but I’m also not not saying that.

Recommendation: For anything creators post online, they should check that they’re contributing to SEO by using keywords that potential viewers will search. Based on experience, queer producers have found that “lesbian” works significantly better than “queer,” for example, because people are more likely to search the former rather than the latter. Anything that suggests kissing or sex is also likely to drive higher traffic.

Exceptions to the Rules
For every trend identified above, there is an exception. As a web series from an area of relatively low lesbian representation, Argentina’s “Plan V,” for example, should have performed well, and yet its most-watched episode was nowhere near a million views. As previously noted, the vlog style employed by the creators of “Carmilla” should have deterred viewers, and yet the web series was so popular it spawned a feature-length movie. And finally, “Platonic” had fantastic production values and a review by the New York Times and yet it still garnered only 7,972 views.

So what does it all mean?

The Odds are Actually In Your Favor
Many quality, deserving web series have failed to attract the audience they deserve, often for no obvious reason. YouTube algorithms or some other quirk of fate robbed them of the viewership they should have had. That said, the odds of a professional looking web series garnering over a million views for an episode is much higher than it would seem at first blush, and that should give creators hope. If web series that received fewer than 10,000 views—those that are most likely to have been amateur, college drama class projects—are factored out, then we find that 37.8% of the remaining web series achieved more than one million views for an episode. Under the circumstances, those are pretty good odds.

However, according to Influencer Marketing Hub, the average YouTube pay rate is $0.01-$0.03 per ad view or $3-5 per 1,000 video views, meaning a content creator will only make around $3,000-$5,000 per million views. That’s peanuts!

Hope you found this article informative. I’m currently researching and writing about ‘how creators can make more by leveraging multiple platforms, as well as how private direct investment might revolutionize the future of LGBT content creation – so watch this space!

 

This article was written by:

Karen Frost

Karen Frost

Writer

Karen is an armchair pop culture pundit and blogger who has written hundreds of articles for AfterEllen, WhatAboutDat, and several other LGBT blogs. She is also a writer whose fourth novel for Ylva Publishing will be released in April.