‘The Long Tail’ and the future of film (and tv)

About 4 years ago, with the UK launch of the new Battlestar Galactica , people were saying that the old network model of commercial programming was irrevocably broken — the new Galactica was co-sponsored by the UK’s SkyTV (a Rupert Murdoch subsidiary, like the US’ Fox Networks) and by some massive miscalculation, the US partner Universal Television’s SciFi Channel never thought that fans might redistribute the show on their own, by upoading DVR’ed episodes to the internet.

And so it went.

More recently, however, I’ve been seeing talk of The Long Tail and the new economics of media rental outfits like Netflix, Blockbuster and Gamefly that are capable of offering a larger inventory than the old brick-and-mortar stores, simply because they don’t have to make their entire inventory available at multiple localized stores: Because they deliver their rentals by mail, it’s unnecessary for them to operate at that ‘local’ level. Fact of the matter is, these new virtual rental and distribution agents do more business than the brick-and-mortar stores , resulting in things like the closure of Tower Records (also in the rental business) and Blockbuster’s expansion into the rent-by-mail option.

Sure, the Netflix model is innovative, but the business model for movies and television is about to undergo another major shift — that’s what the explosion of Pay-per-View cable offerings, BitTorrent and the WGA strike was all about — the next, always-already here model is going to be digital, transmitted over high-speed fiber-optic cable and satellite transmissions, so that there will seldom be any necessary packaging for either your rentals or purchases.

But as the Chris Anderson article also says, this change in distribution paradigm also opens up opportunities for creators. If there are more than 1,000 films submitted to Sundance each year and only 20 or so of those films make it through that inverted funnel to find distributors and screenings in real theaters. The problem here is just a shortage of venues. Sure, the venue-shortage problem has given birth to a variety of festivals — the South by Southwest Festival and the After Dark Horror Festival among them — but those festivals fall short of the exposure that such films would get as a result of commercial distribution. Enter the internet and the word-of-mouth that’s provided publicity for recent films such as ‘ Man From Earth ‘ (2004) and the failed pilot for ‘ Global Frequency ‘.

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