Over the last year, Google has quietly been building itself a series of channels for its long-standing TV brand. The idea is simple: Google TV will be app-based and supported by original programming that mirrors a traditional television channel structure, but with YouTube as its platform. By funding a mix of pre-existing channels and issuing grants for original ones, Google has started to winnow down which of these ventures will be able to survive on their own methods, so we thought we’d offer up our own picks for what’s worth checking out in this new intersection of the web and TV.
The case of the following channels is simple: these are, without a doubt, some of the best programming you’d find if Google acted as your cable provider. They provide original content that is consistently entertaining and (occasionally) episodic. Shows come and go and seasons can be reduced to a month, which means that these channels produce more original programs in six months than cable and broadcast networks do in six years. These are the channels we hope will survive and prosper, since they’re currently providing some of the most interesting and original programs around, and since we have no sense of who or what is “not making the cut” as Google isn’t talking.
10. The Creators Project
The Creators Project is a three-year-old partnership between Vice (which also runs a channel of its own as well as the music-oriented Noisey) and Intel highlighting emerging technology and culture. There are great possibilities for what can be shown via partnered content from alt-gaming publication Kill Screen, discussing the score of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” with Benh Zeitlin or showcasing the artistic difference between digital and practical tools. To see this expand into longform creative content that’s not afraid to go high concept with gaming, design or film would be an incredibly welcome addition to tech-focused entertainment coverage online.
It’s hard not to love Bill Simmons’ sports-site-without-being-a-sports-site. When it gets translated into video content it works just as well, whether it’s dissecting the second season of “Homeland” with showrunner Alex Gansa or Bill Simmons’ “B.S.,” in which he gets Bill Hader to discuss trolls and Nate Silver to compare politics and baseball. Grantland as channel is the smarter and funnier sports alternative. In other words, it fuels itself by producing visual content that lives up to the editorial site, including Simmons having intelligent discussions with folks and nothing close to the screaming matches that “Pardon The Interruption” has forever associated with talking head sports coverage.
8. Machinima Prime
Machinima, which began with the use of video games as the basis of original animation, feels like it’s been around forever. But this “Prime” channel is a separate beast from the brand’s traditional format of “let’s replay what was linked on Reddit.” Kicking off with the live-action “Forward Unto Dawn” mini-series set around the release of “Halo 4,” Prime has all the markings of being an online replacement for cable genre. It even premiered “Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome,” the “prequel” to the rebooted 2008 SyFy Channel show. There are still lingering remnants from the original Machinima channel — the “Good Cops” series is “internet humor” in the worst stereotypical way — but Prime is one of the forerunners for semi-original episodic content and distribution.
7. Den of Horror
While Den of Horror is barely a few weeks old and filled with brief J-horror shorts (“Shocks!”) and dramatic readings of ghost stories by known Japamese TV actors, it’s incredibly niche and the type of specific subgenre that seems perfect for the channels’ format. It’s worth a look — one short about a game of fetch is genuinely funny while a third-person “stalker” short is just as frightening. It doesn’t hurt that DoH is one of the few sponsored horror genre channels along with being the rare import from Japan (Fuji TV is the parent company). If anything, it’s proof that narrowcasting is the first of many requirements when it comes to crafting how a good channel should be structured.
One of the most commercial channels presented in part by Rodale (publishers of Men’s Health), Tasted shares a video-of-the-day release schedule (much like its film counterpart Cinefix). Ranging from high concept cooking shows like “Improv Kitchen” to the always amusing weird-wacky-food-from-other-cultures like an introduction to durian. The channel is slick and the revolving cast of writer-performers are consistently amusing. Like other YouTube giant Epic Meal Time, Tasted is better as entertainment over exact measurements of specific dishes.
5. Geek and Sundry
Can a channel be too adorable? This one, spearheaded by Felicia Day and “The Guild” producers Kim Evey and Sheri Bryant, represents the true soul of how these outlets function, whether through an unabashed love of tabletop gaming (a strand called “Tabletop” that’s hosted by Wil Wheaton), a personal list of picks (“The Flog”) or “Written by a Kid,” which does what the title says and then has it acted out by adults. There’s original episodic content like “Space Janitors” and “The Guild,” but Sundry’s charm is its largest draw. It’s one of the few family-friendly channels that plays to the legitimate alternative nerd, down to Dark Horse Comics’ motion comics featuring “Conan,” “Hellboy” and “Concrete.”
4. Soul Pancake
Quirky channels aren’t anything new. But Rainn Wilson’s attempt to combine philosophy, comedy and whatever an unclassifiable show like “Kid President” represents has a particularly unique outlook. Where else will you find Oprah being invited over to discuss personal philosophy? The channel is further enhanced by the presence of a constantly bearded Wilson, who seems more comfortable ambling around on these topics than in character as Dwight, as most of America knows him from “The Office.”
3. SB Nation
One of the gorillas in the realm of YouTube channels and sports, SB Nation is included here because the breadth and scope of the nearly hundreds of sub-channels it includes. SB Nation is like everything Grantland isn’t — and yet, it’s better than ESPN proper for curating video selection based on your sports preference, whether by team, league type or even how much you want to subscribe and consume. The channel represents the ideal when it comes to picking and choosing how you consume your sports news, a vast improvement over skimming for highlights on your DVR or tuning in to let it all wash over you.
The only mainstream news organization on this list is not one of the more expected outlets to be making a name for itself on the web. But Reuters has taken the concept of a daily channel and run shockingly well with it. Networks like MSNBC, Fox and CNN have been struggling to keep news churning so that it seems like the cycle can’t ever end. But Reuters’ video packages are clean, clear and revamped for a friendlier YouTube audience. Now-defunct The Daily excelled at this too, but Reuters grabbed the idea for bite-size news content and made it friendly for your storage and streaming purposes.
If the internet had a face, it would probably be Chris Hardwick — mashed up with a cat photo or a reference to a popular video game. Nerdist’s aim is quite literally “What will entertain you?” And they’ve found it in an incredibly web-specific way, whether by re-airing old “Kids in the Hall” sketches with new interviews, offering “Farscape” “minisodes,” creating a bowling show or bringing back Bill Nye the Science Guy. And this is why they’re at the top of our list: we can’t tell what they’ll do next, in the best possible way. The shows and specials seem to be guided by whims. A Ben Folds Five video with the Fraggles? A parody song about an internet meme with R.L. Stein? Done and done. It’s the type of content that you’d only find on the web, and that would forever be too uncertain for basic cable. In other words, it’s perfect for your internet TV alternatives.