A short-form series backed by the Oscar-winning director Adam McKay's nonprofit production studio launched on social media this week, in one of the first major efforts from a traditional Hollywood producer to bring a scripted show to TikTok and other social platforms first.
Yellow Dot Studios' "Cobell Energy," a satirical comedy that follows a family-owned oil company, premiered Tuesday on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. It is also expected to debut on Snap in the future, the platform confirmed to NBC News. The fake company even has its own website. The show was shot and edited entirely vertically. Its humor and mockumentary format make the show a mix of “Succession” meets “The Office" — but in bite-size episodes that vary in length, and can be anywhere from one minute to four minutes.
But even with a smart premise and support from one of Hollywood's biggest names, “Cobell Energy" hasn't garnered many eyeballs just yet. As of Friday, its pilot had amassed just over 12,000 views on TikTok, where it has about 300 followers; about 560 "likes" on Instagram, where the show has more than 800 followers; and over 300 views on YouTube, where the channel has less than 100 subscribers.
The early lack of traction has underscored that it's not easy to court younger, social media-savvy viewers with short-form content intended to be watched on smartphones.
Several past attempts have either not had mainstream success or have been entirely unsuccessful, like Quibi, the short-form video streaming service from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman that abruptly shut down six months after its launch in 2020.
It's more "cost intensive" to produce a traditional television show for social media, according to Irving Belateche, a professor of the practice of cinematic arts at the University of Southern California.
“What is their return?" he said, referring to the creatives making the content. "Because like Quibi, you know, they put a lot of money in it and it didn’t get the money back.”
With the rise of mobile use, many have turned to TikTok to consume content. TikTok users have popularized uploading full movies to the short-form video platform by splicing them up several minutes at a time.
Shows like “Grey’s Anatomy, “911,” “Chicago Med” and movies like “Maid” and “The Fall” have become mainstays for anonymous “movie accounts," which rack up thousands — and sometimes millions — of views. While these accounts are unsanctioned and don’t have permission to share the content, they’re incredibly popular on TikTok, and some studios and streaming services have gotten on board with the trend. Earlier this year Paramount Pictures shared the entirety of its 2004 film “Mean Girls” in bite-sized pieces on TikTok.
A spokesperson for Yellow Dot Studios did not respond to a request for comment.
Ari Cagan, who serves as a co-writer, director and producer for "Cobell Energy," told WIRED that the show is trying to cater to a TikTok audience by cutting through tradition film and television storytelling devices like establishing shots.
The idea, he said, is to get viewers right into the story without all the preamble of traditional television.
“Given that everything is coming to you in this stream, and it is so disposable, it’s really easy to get into the habit of thinking that you can just make something that doesn’t look very good or doesn’t sound very good," Cagan, who worked on unscripted shows for TikTok, including the popular “Keep the Meter Running” series, told the publication.
The show's marketing also won't rely on traditional advertising. It will instead lean into the whims of social media algorithms, Cagan said.
For McKay, who has been a trailblazer in the digital space with platforms like Funny or Die, producing content that marries comedy with socially conscious messaging has been a priority. His 2021 Oscar-nominated film "Don't Look Up" was a satirical parable for climate change. With Yellow Dot Studios, which launched in May, McKay hopes to produce other forms of content with messages about issues like climate change front and center, according to Variety.
Both Cagan and McKay told GQ that they hope Gen-Z audiences will gravitate toward the comedy and environmental messaging behind “Cobell Energy."
When discussing traditional Hollywood’s attempt to produce content on social media, Belateche, the USC professor, said it can be hit or miss. As Hollywood taps more into social media, it often looks to content creators for how they can best succeed.
“I think that Hollywood is moving in that direction,” Belateche said, referring to content for social media. “But right now it’s dominated by non-Hollywood players. They’re much more, what we call ‘content creators,’ though some people don’t like that term.”
Belateche said he found the show to be very traditional in its production, making it similar to traditional television shows shared by the accounts that post film and TV show clips.
"As a film professor, I'm objective and just judging the clip, I thought it was pretty well done," he said. "And I thought it was entertaining."
Though he said it was surprising to him that the clip he watched didn't end on a cliffhanger, a storytelling tool that could help bring an audience back for the next installment.