Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I am a long tail consumer

It's true. I'm finally coming to terms with this (definition of long tail). Before, I could just convince myself that I was weird. Why do I like books that you can only find on Amazon? And the only movies I like have subtitles! Why can't I just walk into a Barnes and Noble, find a book that I think I'll like, and read it?

Truth is, most of the stuff there doesn't appeal to me. Which is why the internet kicks so much ass. I mean, should my choices of books be limited by such an arbitrary measurement as shelf space? No! The last 5 books I've been thinking about buying, only ONE of them has been at the downtown Barnes and Noble.

The same holds true for my taste in all things cultural, as well. I'm not very likely to go out and buy a DVD of Lost or Spiderman 3 (yes, it's out on DVD, trust me). I'm more likely to maybe buy a DVD of Mr. Show or Family Guy, or maybe even of MST3K.

But most stores won't have Mr. Show. And they definitely won't have MST3K episodes. Rats! So, uh, I'm stuck ordering that stuff online from amazon, right?

Well, if content creators and distributors had any brains in them, they'd realize that this holds true for lots of people. Lots of people who are online. Lots of people who are online and developing intense nostalgia. Like MAJOR nostalgia. The difference is, many of these people had different experiences growing up. One person wants to see some episodes of Voltron. Another wants Charles in Charge. Another wants Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. TMNT, Power Rangers, after-school specials...so much content, so little shelf space!

The answer is so simple. You, as a content distributor, must take advantage of America's #1 cultural resource: laziness. Works for netflix, right? Oh, wait, that has more to do with long-tail stuff - they have choice, and much more than a local video store. My bad. Though Blockbuster is holding their own quite well - powerfully leveraging their storefronts through "on-demand" exchanges. But I digress.

It's going to come down to digital distribution eventually. DVD's are already outdated, save for the fact that we all have a DVD player in our living room (and computer!). They get scratched, you have to store them somewhere - in fact, they're probably piled or sorted around your TV...how unsightly!

Yes, places like iTunes are a great start. They've got new content, charge low rates for them (since there's nothing physical to buy or reproduce, just beam me a string of ones and zeroes, please!), but you can really only watch through your computer. And even AFTER you download them, you have to be "verified" by the iTunes Store afterward when you want to play them. Ridiculous.

But long-tail consumers require long-tail methods of distribution. The great thing about computers is that you can adjust their function. A server which hosts web pages one day can become an FTP server the next.

Likewise, one man's FTP server is another's bittorrent server.

Want to distribute those terabytes of content you've got, and charge money for it? It's simple. You already have what are known as mirrors - when one server gets overloaded when you're downloading, you connect to a mirror - it hosts the same exact file, but it's located somewhere else. But let's say that instead of a mirror, you change it into a bittorrent hub. Now, when your user want the file, they're downloading little different parts from every mirror you've got, and piecing them together. Meanwhile, this user is also distributing the little parts they've already gotten to other users, making the process faster. Multiple access points mean faster downloads, and none of them is critical - the system is redundant - no single point of failure.

But who wants to download stuff and watch it on their computer? Mostly geeks who are comfortable in front of computers. Most people hate computers - they've got one on their desk at work and it screws up and makes the user feel dumb.

TV is different. TV is designed to make you feel in control of technology. Press a button - FULL POWER TO THE VIEWSCREEN! Watching movies can be the same way. Did you know, for example, that you can watch a movie via an old xbox? Yeah, it's powerful enough.

What if we took every single XBOX in existence and modified it? You take it home, it has bittorrent installed, and YOUR CUSTOM INTERFACE HERE. End user navigates YOUR CUSTOM INTERFACE and finds what they want to watch. Connects to many servers who have said movie/TV show/user-generated content. Begins downloading. Downloads first five minutes worth' (in under a minute), and you begin watching while it pulls down the rest.

And hey, maybe even allow YOUR CUSTOM INTERFACE to create channels - have it download content while your user is at work or away from the TV. Think: based on past watching habits, this person is likely to enjoy...XYZ - let me download a preview or trailer of that show for them. You could even set up multiple profiles, one for me, one for my imaginary missus, one for little Timmy who loves dinosaurs. Timmy's shows download so that we all can watch them, but little Timmy cannot watch my shows, since I love mud wrestling and the Price is Right, which I will not allow him to watch.

Apple's little foray into the TV bizness is a good start, and it will give them leverage into a growing market. But long-tail distribution is going to be a key player in the years to come - especially with more and more content-creators making themselves heard. It's not just about NBC, ABC, and CBS anymore. It's only going to take a meeting of the great content-creators, and it will be like what Gawker did for blogs - bring the great content together, crosslink, and profit. Just get it to the living room already!

It all comes back to the American way - protecting existing industries. Shame, really. The new stuff could make us cutting-edge again. Fortunately, in our "globalized" world, we no longer bear the burden of being the sole technological innovators. When the cable companies start hemorrhaging money because a Chinese firm gave away their own "tivo-like" device as described above, I won't be feeling sorry for them.

Sorry for the long and probably boring rant.

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