A decade ago, Chris Anderson, then editor of Wired Magazine, and a former journalist at the Economist, published “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More” (2006) an influential book which argued that demand for media was moving inexorably from the head of the distribution curve to the tail. In other words, a traditional focus on mega-hits aimed at broad based or popular appeal content would be replaced by creation and consumption along a much longer content trail. At the time, the concept of niche programmes and audiences seemed ideally suited to New Zealand’s relatively small but digitally savvy production industry and audience.
However, increasing choice and diversity of digital content has not resulted in a focus away from the mass market. In fact, recent studies have suggested the most profitable business strategy in the entertainment industry is the converse of the long tail – the Blockbuster. In “Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking and the Big Business of Entertainment” (2013) Harvard business administration professor Anita Elberse concludes that the smart investments (in the US at least) in entertainment have bet heavily on a few likely winners designed to appeal to mass audiences. Which of course only works if the works are popular.
So the Internet hasn’t heralded the end of the Blockbuster – in fact it has amplified opportunities for global media products – but nor has it constrained the trend to more diversified content and experience. Audiences are at once fragmenting into niches and consolidating around blockbusters. This now seems to typify the New Zealand film and television industry as well – where huge productions such as Lord of the Rings, Avatar and Crouching Tiger have supported both the GDP and the entertainment sector; with government funding for those “telling our stories” fulfilling the demand for more specialized content.