If you think there are too many channels on your TV, good luck keeping up with the websites. TV keeps migrating into cyberspace, and it's not just the broadcasting networks that are getting into the fun. Social networking websites, search portals, and video-sharing sites are becoming the new launch pads.

Take Quarterlife, for example. A quickly canned pilot two years ago, ABC is ready to give it another go online. The creators -- who have their pedigree papers as the creators of former hit network shows thirtysomething and My So-Called Life -- will launch the series in two months. It won't be on a network website. Quarterlife will stream exclusively on News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) MySpace.

It's not the first time that MySpace's fast-growing video-sharing site has become the hub of an online serial. It's where the springtime viral sensation Prom Queen got its start. It's where Lonelygirl15 decided to screen its 12-episode season finale last month.

MySpace isn't the only social networking site to serve as an online serial's screening room. Bebo is the home of Kate Modern and last week announced that it would stream Sofia's Diary.

Few of these deals are exclusive, though. In the pursuit of greater audiences, producers may make a certain website the home for a series, but then disseminate the episodic installments through other traffic magnets like Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) YouTube.

Quantity dukes it out with Quality
Most of these shows wouldn't last in the competitive world of primetime on major networks. Even seasoned filmmakers often find themselves dealing with shoestring production budgets, mediocre acting, and flimsy writing. Those shortcomings are overcome by the convenience and simplicity of the art form.

In a testament to the time-shifting that made TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) a household word, online serials can be seen around the clock. The episodes are also brief, typically just a few minutes long. With 36 episodes clocking in at eight minutes apiece, Quarterlife is actually quite Tolstoyesque for the medium.

However, the real secret sauce here is in making the most of the Internet to generate a cult following. Lonelygirl15 did it by launching a namesake community website, interacting with its members through the occasional clue hunt or alternate reality game. Quarterlife aims to be a themed social network to keep its fan base engaged and close.

The empires strike back
The networks are responding. Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ABC has been streaming ad-supported episodes of its hit shows, on-demand and free at its website. General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC and News Corp. are apparently weeks away from launching Hulu, which will essentially do the same thing. They too are looking into ways to create show-based online communities to keep up with where their fans spend their online time.

Networks aren't dumb. They know they need to go online to reach consumers who have traded in their couches for their computer armchairs. However, this is where the "Wide" in World Wide Web becomes all too apparent. The competition is everywhere. A website like Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) can launch a prolific music series. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) video podcasts can strike a match, as it did with Sam Has 7 Friends, before that serial's creators moved on to make Prom Queen.

In short, don't be confident that because networks are taking their supply where the demand is that they won't suffer in the migration. Without getting into the costly self-serve streams or the tricky monetization, it's not easy to compete on a level playing field, even when you have the buck-banked productions. This is more than an opportunity. It's a challenge.

A stroll through the established online serial stars:

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.