The New York Times has just released an article on the recent webisodes that were released:
By JONATHAN D. GLATERBeginning tonight the television series “Battlestar Galactica” will travel from outer space into cyberspace. The Sci Fi Channel, which broadcasts the series, has created online mini-episodes, the first of which is scheduled to be posted at midnight.
The 10 Web segments, each just a few minutes long and viewable on devices ranging from iPods to laptops to desktops to full-size television sets, feature characters from the television show. And they have the same dark feel of broadcast episodes of “Galactica,” a post-apocalyptic survival tale of humans on the run after their home planets have been destroyed.
The mini-episodes will go online, one at a time, on Tuesday and Thursday nights until “Galactica’s” season premiere on Oct. 6. They focus on two soldiers in a new city built by humans fleeing Cylons, a race of machines that has wiped out human civilization elsewhere.
The two face difficult choices about how — or whether — to fight back against a new Cylon invasion, the climactic moment of last season. Their decisions will help explain their actions in future on-air episodes.
These Web segments are a bit of a gamble. Sci Fi executives are betting that people who are only glancingly familiar with the series — whose story line may be too complicated to follow for those who don’t know what happened in the first two seasons — will be able to follow the story told online.
The channel is hedging its bets by releasing a one-hour recap, called “The Story So Far,” summarizing the show to date. It will appear in September on several NBC Universal television channels (Sci Fi, USA, Sleuth, Bravo, Universal HD) and will be available free on the SciFi.com Web site, on iTunes, on YouTube.com, on Yahoo.com, on United Air Lines flights and at Universal theme parks.
Writing the story told in the Web segments posed a challenge because the episodes had to be short, lead up to the season premiere, be accessible to new viewers and look good on tiny screens. At the same time the shows had to be nonessential to the new season, so television viewers could follow the on-air series without having watched the Web content.
“It was challenging on several levels,” said Erik Storey, vice president of programming at Sci Fi. “Each of the Webisode chapters had to be close-ended, with a beginning, a middle and an end, and each of those chapters is going to be three minutes, four minutes. And there had to be a little cliffhanger ending for each one.”
To keep the Web segments viewable on tiny screens, “Battlestar” has used lots of close-ups of actors’ faces — plenty of emotion — and few sweeping vistas, Mr. Storey said.
“They’re very emotional, relatable conflicts that these guys are going through,” Mr. Storey said. “Because of that, we could really get in close with the camera.”
The “Galactica” segments are part of a broader effort by NBC Universal, which owns Sci Fi, to make new, original video and audio material — content — available on the Internet. David Eick, an executive producer, has a video-blog, or vlog, that shows steps in the making of the show, and another executive producer, Ronald D. Moore, keeps a blog and prepares a weekly podcast designed to be listened to while watching the show.
Sci Fi also has also posted podcasts of writers’ meetings to hash out the plots of episodes of the television series and made it possible to watch entire episodes online. Mr. Howe, executive vice president and general manager of Sci Fi, said the network plans to augment online offerings for other shows in the future too.
The channel bills the Web segments move as a promotion to drum up interest in the third season of the series. “This is a way to get people talking about the show a month before it airs,” said Craig E. Engler, general manager of SciFi.com. The Web segments, whose cost Sci Fi would not disclose, will be free, unsponsored and carry no advertisements.
The Web segments raise questions about how a show’s writers are compensated: Are Web segments the same as episodes, so “Galactica’s” writers and actors should be compensated at union rates? Or are they something else, for which networks can pay less?
“All of these new programming formats and media are causing a great deal of uncertainty and angst about whether fair compensation is going to be negotiated and paid,” said Christopher Murray, a lawyer at O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles, which in the past has worked for General Electric, which owns NBC Universal.
NBC Universal filed a complaint against the Writers Guild of America last month, charging that the union violated labor law by telling members not to cooperate in the production of Web segments. In a statement NBC Universal said it “has a contract in place with its TV series producers to create promotional, made-for-Internet content, which include ‘Webisodes.’ We’re asking our producers to fulfill their obligations in creating these materials and we’re taking appropriate legal action to discourage the WGA’s interference.”
Mona Mangan, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, said that the problem is the online segments do not fit so neatly into an existing category. “They’re trying to stretch the concept of promotion,” she said. “It doesn’t fit.”
It is not obvious how to measure the success of the online segments. Sci Fi executives said they would monitor how often the Webisodes are the subject of online discussions and of course would see how many people tune in to the season premiere.
“Never having done it, you’re never really sure what you’re going to get out of it,” Mr. Engler said. “Obviously if 50 million people watch them in the course of a week, that’s a great success.”