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Which Online Video Award Is Most Important?

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With the explosion in online video talent, it's no surprise that we've seen an explosion of online video awards, as well. One awards show might seem enough to celebrate a still young industry, but many rushed to fill the gap in honoring online video excellence. We spoke to people behind five of the most prominent awards: The Webby Awards, Streamy Awards, IAWTV Awards, Vimeo Awards, and Telly Awards. We also spoke to a few celebrated online video creators to see which award they'd most like on their mantel.

Online video awards show people that the medium is about more than cute cats, and that they should be paying attention. The awards call attention to the best of the best, bringing in viewers and helping grow an audience. (And as for those cat videos, they spawned two award shows of their own this year.) While five online video awards might seem a lot, it points to a healthy and growing industry.

The Webby Awards

Mention online video awards and the Webby Awards might be the one people think of first. Currently in its 17th year, the Webbys began back when fewer than half of U.S. households had a home computer, although they didn't start honoring online video until 2007.

"Whereas we started with websites, today we also honor online film and video, and we look at that as actual video—editorial video work that was created for or premiered on the Internet," says the Webby Award's executive director David-Michel Davies. "The Webby Awards has really grown in seventeen years from where it started, and that growth mirrors the evolution of what's happened online."

The Webby Awards take place in the spring—the next one will happen in New York City in May, 2013—and the evening gets a fast-paced, fun energy from its signature five-word acceptance speeches.

Patton Oswalt Hosts the Webbys
Patton Oswalt hosting this year’s Webby Awards (Photo courtesy the Webby Awards)

"We've been doing that, I think, since the very first Webby Awards," says Davies. "We were a very fortunate to have done that. We certainly had no idea that when we came up with that, that people would be communicating in 140 characters ten years later. But it makes the show a lot of fun. I think people really associate it with the Webby Awards."

Previous five-word speeches include "Well thank you. Oh, god," from Lisa Kudrow, "Me me me me me," from Stephen Colbert, "Holocaust. Did it happen? Yes," from Sarah Silverman, and "Where's our fucking Pulitzer?" from the Onion, which didn't even need all five.

The Streamy Awards

Mention the Streamy Awards, on the other hand, and industry veterans are likely to recall the second Streamies in 2010, a spectacular debacle marked by constant technical problems, offensive humor, offended sponsors, and streakers. It's one of the great stories of online video, but it's one that Streamy organizers would like people to forget. After a cleansing two-year hiatus, the Streamy Awards will be back in February, 2013, in what's sure to be a star-studded Los Angeles evening.

"What happened with the second awards show, there were some technical difficulties, there were some interesting moments with what happened onstage," says Streamy Award producer Josh Cohen. "At the time, we were probably overextended and under-resourced to [produce the show] effectively, but we didn't know it. We were a startup trying to do its best and produce the best show possible."

Illeana Douglas at the Streamy Awards

Illeana Douglas's fake Swedish band Spärhusen performs at the 2010 Streamy Awards. (Photo credit: The Bui Brothers)

The Streamy organizers managed to gain Dick Clark Productions as a producer and Coca-Cola as a sponsor for the 2013 awards. Considering the length of attention spans online, all will be forgiven if this ceremony goes well.

"We took some time to process what happened and then find a really great partner and move forward in producing what we think is going to be a killer show," says Cohen.

All the shows try for stars and glamor, but the Streamies pull it off the best. With Dick Clark behind them and an L.A. venue, the Streamies are the closest thing to an Academy Awards for online video.

"Working with Dick Clark Productions and Coca-Cola in developing the show, it was a little bit difficult for us at first to not want to move forward at full speed ahead to do the show as quickly as possible," adds Cohen. "But we really learned a lot from them in saying, 'Hey, let's really think about this, get everything right, and get all the components and elements of the show in order so we can make it the best possible.'"

The IAWTV Awards

The IAWTV is the International Academy of Web Television, and its awards show owes its existence to that problem-packed 2010 Streamy Awards. The non-profit organization was founded in 2009 to honor online video excellence, and it served as the voting body for the Streamy Awards. After the 2010 show, however, the IAWTV decided to go in its own direction. The IAWTV wanted to use proceeds to support opportunities for the web series community, but it also wanted to distance itself from the Streamies.

"[The 2010 Streamy producers] really swung for the bleachers, so to speak, and some things just didn’t work right. And so it was more talked about in a negative light than it was for the positive effect it could actually have on the industry," says Paul Kontonis. "I think that precipitated the whole move away from a glamorous show that is a money-making entity to a practical, very critical, credible type of show that is focused on really helping out the overall community and the professional industry."

Shira Lazar and Kevin Pollack

IAWTV Award winner Shira Lazar, host of What’s Trending with Shira Lazar, and actor/comedian Kevin Pollak, host of Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show. (Photo credit: Gregory Storm, www.gregorystorm.com)

The Consumer Electronics Show signed on as a sponsor, so the IAWTV Awards take place in January during International CES. That gives it an industry feel that the others lack. The first awards show in 2012 was a briskly moving, sanitized evening as far from the 2010 Streamies as a show could get.

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