It wasn't a coincidence that the Streamy Awards took place on Sunday at the Hollywood Palladium exactly one week before, and blocks away from, the spot where the Hollywood establishment will celebrate their biggest night of the year, the Oscars. If anything, the proximity was meant as a challenge.
This year's Streamys were meant to "commemorate the arrival of online video as one of the pillars of entertainment with television, music and movies," according to Drew Baldwin, CEO of the website Tubefilter, which three years ago first created the ceremony celebrating the best in online video. The ceremony also commemorated the awkward and often contentious relationship budding between the online video world and traditional Hollywood.
In his opening monologue, host Chris Hardwick called web video's distribution model "the most significant global paradigm shift since the Industrial Revolution." This idea, that platforms like YouTube offer creators the opportunity to circumvent gatekeepers who might have excluded them from the entertainment industry in the past, was echoed throughout the night by winners accepting Streamys as well as the presenters doling them out — and even the commercials broadcast between awards. "Hollywood has really big gates around it, and I think we're cheating it by going around," one video creator announced in a montage paid for by Maker Studios and shown during the ceremony.
For all the tough talk, though, content created by Hollywood studios and stars still earned top honors at the show. Paramount's web series Burning Love was the night's big winner, taking home Streamys for Best Male Performance, Best Ensemble Cast, and Best Comedy Series. Tom Hanks' Electric City won for Best Animated Series. AMC's The Walking Dead: Cold Storage won for Best Derivative Series.
Mainstream pseudo celebrities paired with YouTube celebrities to dole out the awards: Jenna Marbles and Larry King, George Takei and Ashley Clements, Lance Bass and the Fine Brothers (there were also appearances by minor characters from Glee and NCIS).
The idea, Baldwin said, was to follow the lead of other awards shows by introducing upcoming talent alongside established talent. The move, though, left some in the ballroom (and online) grumbling that they wished the show was less about gimmicky appearances by Vanilla Ice and David Hasselhoff and more about the online video community.
The show's special guests, the slick set design, and the steady pacing were a far cry from the first Streamys, remembered by some guests as an amateur affair rife with production snafus (one guest recalled the host repeatedly calling out "roll the video!" to no response, an embarrassing miss at a show celebrating video production). The improvement might be attributable to Dick Clark Productions (responsible for the Golden Globes, among other awards shows), brought on to produce the show for the first time this year.
For all production value, however, there was one part of the Streamys that would never happen at the Globes or the Oscars: those commercials, broadcast in the ballroom throughout the show.
The most prominent ads came courtesy of Maker Studios and Machinima (both multichannel networks that have venture capital funds to burn, having closed fundraising rounds worth $36 milllion and $35 million, respectively). Baldwin declined to disclose how much revenue those advertisements, which also ran during the show's online broadcast, cost those networks or generated for Tubefilter.
It was hard not to notice that in between the commercial breaks dominated by advertisements for Maker and Machinima, programs made by those same networks were winning many of the night's top honors. (Maker Studios' KassemG won for Best Host, Epic Rap Battles of History took home awards for Best Online Musician and Best Use of Fashion and Design, and Machinima-made Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn won for Best Drama Series, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Production Design.)
Asked how large a role the show's advertisers might have in influencing the award winners, Baldwin answered, "Although there were representatives from all the major studios that are producing, the majority of the blue-ribbon panel are independent producers, so there wouldn't be voting along party lines."
The "blue ribbon panel" to which Baldwin referred selects all the Streamy winners, save the two audience choice awards. Baldwin said the voters are a "handpicked" group of video creators and executives from both the online video and the traditional entertainment worlds — "about 100" individuals total — but their identities aren't made public.
Such suggestions of backroom campaigning may be the surest sign of all that web entertainment is well on its way to competing with the Hollywood establishment — but the ceremony's cash bar was an equally sure sign that the Streamys still have a long way to go.