The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Long Tail

In “The Long Tail,” Chris Anderson argues that, online, we have more access to and more demand for mx368167477_3d965b3b31_o.png.pagespeed.ic.RxYn8bXJYmBuYRY-5lurore niche, less mainstream “micromarkets” of media such as movies, books and music than we ever did in the physical world. In other words, demand is shifting from the head of the distribution to its tail (image to the right). Businesses can actually make money selling these types of relatively unpopular media. Today, you don’t need a megablockbuster to make money, but you still need to make a big impact to capture enough of the market share.

Film streaming services like Amazon or Netflix offer viewers both mainstream content and “off-the-grid” documentaries and vintage movies in large numbers. I, for one, never watched TV until Netflix came along.

I was bored with the silly, inane offerings on the major TV networks, deciding instead to rent movies from Redbox or other similar service. But once I was turned on to Netflix and I had access to so many great, offbeat moviethCSOW8G9Ds and TV shows, I was hooked. Mini-series like “Top of the Lake” and “The Killing” became my go-tos. I could always find something interesting to watch, even if it was just endless “Law and Order Special Victims Unit” shows. Paired with Amazon, you have a seemingly endless list of options, because what one doesn’t have, the other one does. For example, the other night I was looking for the original 1974 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (image to the right). It was nowhere to be found on Netflix, but there it was on Amazon, and minutes later, I was watching it. That film had a cult following in the 1970s, when it first came out, but I doubt it’s one of their most downloaded movies now; still, like Anderson stated, if just one person watches it every so often, it can be profitable for Amazon to keep it among its ranks. Likewise, I recently watched the film “Helvetica,” about a single font, for a class assignment; no doubt it was a niche documentary, but there it was on Amazon.

The other advantage Netflix has over the main TV networks is that you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want. Of course, you can do that to a certain extent with DVD, but services like Netflix and Amazon give you instant viewing at any time of day or night. So when I sit down at night after the kids have gone to bed, I can watch my detective shows that wouldn’t be appropriate for them.

The content on Netflix and Amazon is much easier to find than any content on TV. I have cable (the only reason I have it is so the kids can watch their kids shows), and I hate scrolling through the channels looking for something in particular. Most of what’s available is really junk viewing, and you have look and look to find what you might want. On Netflix and Amazon, a search function allows you to type in exactly what you want and, voila!, there it is. I’ve always complained about too many bad choices on cable, but perhaps its just the way the material is uncurated and disorganized.

Distribution graphic source: Ilya Grigorik

Posted on October 25, 2015, in Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Well, I would not call unknown productions as “unpopular,” as the word “unpopular” connotes a negative feeling of rejection. 🙂 I run a small entertainment business that I very much agree that the yet-unknown or little-advertised content does sell here and there, as well as older media too. In fact, add up all those little sales, and it is a nice chunk of cash every month with me not having to do anything.

    For those who want to break into the niche marketing, there is definitely money to be made, but there are some additional costs that author, Chris Anderson, failed to mention.

    – credit card processing fees
    – domain cost
    – hired help to write, upload, and do artwork

    I was surprised that Anderson did not suggest that those whose videos were not accepted into the Sundance Festival could have been sold their videos regardless by putting the videos on CreateSpace.com. From there, the videos can be sold on Amazon, all for free. 🙂

    • Interesting comment about the Sundance Film Festival films that weren’t accepted. I had never heard about CreateSpace.com, and I thought Amazon charges a percentage for sales. Is that not the case anymore?

  2. Hi Mary,

    I share the same feelings you do about cable- that despite the multitude of channels, there never was anything on worth watching. Once in a while there would be a show that piqued my interest, but overall I was bored with it.

    I switched to Netflix and was happier with it overall. As you mentioned, there are a ton of good off beat movies and TV shows that are available anytime. Additionally, joining gave me access to Netflix originals such as “House of Cards”.

    Interestingly, while this isn’t a long tail shows, it was developed by examining viewer’s long tail interests. Netflix analyzed and cross-referenced the minutely-tracked watching preferences of millions of customers to generate a formula for a hit.” (http://www.psmag.com/business-economics/house-of-cards-is-built-on-big-data-52602). Thus, through data driven audience targeting, House of Cards, and a resulting mainstream hit was born.

    • Wow, that’s how Netflix became such a success! It actually took the time to learn what its customers wanted and then gave it to them! Imagine that. Well, I’m just glad they did, for people like you and me. Thanks for your comment!

    • If this were a face-to-face class I’d burst into my Frank Underwood South Carolina accent and say something cryptic like, “The thing about watching television in Gafney is…”

  3. I feel similarly about Netflix. The one downside of getting your TV fix through Netflix is that often the seasons offered are already a year old. (Of course with Netflix originals we don’t have this problem.) If you can sacrifice the timely ritual of gathering around the cooler the next day to discuss a season finale, then Netflix is a great way to go through TV shows at your own pace.

    I did notice, like you did with the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that Netflix isn’t always a reliable source of some of the more dated or lesser known material. Many times if I have a specific movie in mind, I end up resorting to my wonderful local library because it is not available on Netflix, or at least not to streaming customers like myself. Maybe it’s a better service to browse through with no specific goal in mind, than to rely on it to have exactly the content you are craving.

  4. Hi Allie, You’re right about the aging content. I hadn’t thought to comment on that. That is a downside, but I’ve gotten used to waiting for the new content to come out, so I don’t mind it so much. I think you’re also spot on about Netflix being spotty as to the content it offers; you can’t always get what you want. Thanks for your comment!

    • I’m totally OK with waiting for new content, perhaps because there’s so many other shows I can watch on their platforms in the meantime. Also, I’m surprised no one has mentioned the lack of commercials as that’s the main thing I notice once I do turn the TV on.

      I will admit this is the first season I haven’t “found” a UK connection to keep up to date with Downton Abbey rather than waiting like the rest of America, but oh well.

  5. Hi, Mary: I am right there with you. I gave up cable about five years ago. It was included with my condo fees for almost 10 years. After a budget renegotiation resulted in the cutting the cable “perk.” At pouted. I whined. I stomped my feet. The acceptance set in.

    I started out with Netflix and found it had plenty for me. When I joined Amazon Prime I appreciated the new programming. Now my child can watch her Disney shows on Netflix and Amazon Primes offered the Nickelodeon programs. Later I added Hulu (my personal favorite!) so I could stay on top of current favorites… most current network shows pop up within 24 hours! And, finally, I ended up giving Giaim.com a whirl. It has a lot of health, psychology and “new age” documentaries, The real reason I added that one–which I really consider a non-essential, but still content heavy–was it has a ton of fitness programs, including some that I had back in the VHS days and missed.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your reference to TV as being “uncurated and disorganized.” I have not missed cable for a moment was I began bringing these other user-driven options into my home. I found out I can live without cable… but now I don’t think I could survive with my Roku. 😉

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