The 3rd annual Streamy awards, honoring excellence in original online video, streamed live online (appropriately) Sunday night at the Hollywood Palladium. More than ever before, nominees ran the gamut of new and old media faces from YouTube vlogger Grace Helbig (DailyGrace), who won Personality of the Year and Best First Person Series, to Tom Hanks, whose web series Electric City won Best Animated Show.
Newsman Larry King and YouTube star Jenna Marbles summed up the diversity of artists nicely when they presented the first award together. “Here we are with the legendary icon of entertainment,” began Marbles, gesturing to King, “And the sexiest person on the Internet,” he added. Then, “You guess which is which.” King has his own web series Larry King Now on Hulu. Comedian Chris Hardwick hosted the event, which featured performances by Vanilla Ice, Soulja Boy and Shontelle.
The “annual” in “3rd annual Streamys” isn't quite accurate…yet. The awards premiered in 2009, but in 2010 were thwarted by technical difficulties and unexpected butt-naked streakers. There were also creative conflicts behind the scenes and the IAWTV (International Academy for Web Television) split from the Streamys to create their own web awards show, which had their second annual awards last month.
This year, Tubefilter partnered with Dick Clark productions (also producers of The Golden Globes and The American Music Awards) and brought on Coke as a major sponsor. The producers originally sought out TV distribution for the show, but couldn't find anyone. We're not there yet. Regardless, the professionalism of the event was raised from years passed. There were no unwanted asscracks or video glitches and plenty of sleek documentary montages.
And the creators merit the professionalism. Original web content is beginning to hold its own against at least cable views, though the revenue has yet to follow. Vloggers like Helbig as well as series like Red vs. Blue and WB's H+ are gaining views that rival some cable shows. Machinima's Mortal Kombat rivals the networks, with 5 to 18 million views per episode. Faces from film and television are also showing up more frequently on the small screen, much to some indie creators' dismay. Ben Stiller's Yahoo series Burning Love, a parody of The Bachelor staring Ken Marino, took home the most Streamy Awards (4).
The trend of watching television shows on Hulu and Netflix has also become so common that who's to say whether House of Cards, Netflix's first original series, starring Kevin Spacey, is a TV show or a web series. “Soon they're gonna forget which box they're watching,” quipped Jane Espenson, veteran TV writer (Battlestar Galactica, Once Upon a Time, Caprica) and creator of successful web series, Husbands.
Some were less excited by the more mainstream bent of the show and the blurring lines of the small and tiny screen. “My impression is it's almost like a red carpet for old media,” observed indie web series pioneer Felicia Day (The Guild) from the Streamy's red carpet. “Four years ago the show was about independent spirit, innovation, and people doing things to break the system. Now it's about Hollywood coming in.” She qualified her reaction by adding, “But I'm an indie girl. I love making things outside the box. And the Internet has infinite channels, so there will always be a place for everyone's voice.”
Two movie vets present the award for Best Male Comedy Performance
As if to make sure that new media wasn't getting too big for it's britches, the ambassadors of Hollywood pushed back with some not-so-well-received comedic jibes. Jackson Rathbone (Twilight) and Jamie Kennedy (Scream) joked that, as movie stars presenting at a web awards show, their “careers must be buffering.” They then added that having a streaming awards show without any nominees for porn “is kind of like if the Oscars didn't include movies.” Tepid chuckles and sidelong glances from the audience followed.
“Online video is still finding its voice,” observed web series PR consultant Brian Rodda when I asked him about the audience's reaction to the joke. “We have to be able to crawl before we can walk and as an emerging industry, we're still figuring out how to walk. It's clearly a little premature for self-flagellation or sarcasm when most creators in this space are still striving to be recognized as legitimate artists by potential sponsors and new viewers.” At least Rathbone and Kennedy showed up. Hanks and Stiller were notably absent.
One of the highlights of the evening was Shontelle's performance of her hit song, “Impossible.” The performance began as a video montage of dozen of YouTubers performing covers of the song. As their collective vlogging voices grew, Shontelle herself came onstage to join them. Finally, Lisa Lavie, Kurt Hugo Schneider, Sam Tsui, and Savannah Outen, all singers who began their careers on YouTube, joined Shontelle and the vlogger cover artists to finish the song.
Shontelle performs with other YouTubers
The multimedia, multi-artist performance illustrated beautifully how the web allows content creators and consumer to interact in a way that's still rare in mainstream media. We all want to be a part of the conversation, to sing along. “On the web, we finally have an artistic meritocracy,” Hardwick announced to the cheering crowd Sunday night.
But in a world of infinite channels, that desire to be part of a community often draws us towards what's trending. As the studios of Old Hollywood get more and more engaged in the world of original web content, it will be interesting to see whether the “artistic meritocracy” of the web holds, or whether viewers will once again congeal their communities around the old guard.
A full list of winners is at the Streamy Awards website.