Thursday, September 21, 2006

The long tail and Indian media

Read the book The long tail by Chris Andersen the editor of Wired magazine. The author also had an active blog to test some observations before it went into publication.
The book explains how the abundance of choice caused by the economics of digital distribution and the effectiveness of search and aggregation is bringing markets of niches to the fore and challenging the mass market. The fundamental enablers are
1. Consumers are turning into producers for a lot of content like photos, videos, music and of course blogs leading to democratization of production.
2. The constraints of the physical world like limited capacity and inventory carrying costs do not apply in the digital world. So there can be wider choice to the consumer without the costs of providing that choice. This in probability distribution terms is the long tail.
3. Effective connection of the supply and demand by aggregators like Google, Rhapsody, Amazon , social networking sites like MySpace and blogs.
Now what is happening is that hits are getting smaller. Ratings are getting lower. And the effect is clearly felt in music, books, movies, advertising and information. For instance in a music request service like Rhapsody , almost 95% of its 1 million songs are requested once in a quarter, showing clearly that given more choice, the hits are not the only ones that sell. Long tail as a concept is not radically new, for instance increase in cable channels caused media fragmentation and niche audiences but they still had constraints unlike the abundant scale of digital distribution.
Has this long tail hit India ? Lets look at various categories.
This is where it gets interesting inspite of all the Himesh euphoria. There is one song which became popular without any mass media attention:the BC sutta song by an obscure band called Zeest. Because of the expletives it could have never been aired on mass media anyway. But its rise has been amazing. It started out primarily in engineering hostels where asking for a sutta ( cigarette) is pretty common. It achieved buzz status when crowds started singing loudly during intervals in a cricket match in Mumbai where Sachin was booed. Then further sharing of the song took place in offices and now it plays in some of the popular discs in Bombay and Delhi. There is also this trend of downloading the original Paki or Arabic versions of some inspired songs of Zeher and Gangster amongst youth. Another example is of a foot tapping Tamil number 'Apiddi Podu' which now has pan-Indian appeal again due to sharing in campuses and offices. So Himessh Bhai thoda beware aa.
The first instance of an extended tail not a long tail was the emergence of the multiplex movie. A multiplex had lesser seats per screen but more screens. Thus it needed more movies but it needed lower public to fill capacity. Even though the seats were lower they generated higher revenue per seat. Thus a whole set of multiplex movies was born which operated at a lower budget of Rs. 3-7 Cr. , distributed in multiplexes to recover its money. Sometimes, when you see Rahul Bose in a number of such movies, its not because he suits the role but he suits the economics even better. But there have been no movies which have only been distributed online which became very popular. What we have seen so far is only some movies using so called popular 'youth oriented' blogs to preview and influence popular opinion. But these blogs are still opinions of the writers and lack the sticky anthill like buzz and following or the specificity of subject matter( there are number of blogs in the US only on punk rock for instance) to carry off such opinions.
TV/Video content
Now this is one area where catering to the lowest common denominator has completely stifled creative progress. If saas bahu was not enough , we are now entering new depths of Nari paraya dhan and betiyan: ghar ki lakshmi on Star and Zee respectively. Strategic sameness also pervades news and movie channels. Even the costliest attempt to capture niche audiences, Star One had to become mass based with the TGILC and Nach Baliye. But signs are emerging here too. On a social networking site called , there is a community dedicated to fans of an old DD serial ' Byomkesh Bakshi' of which I am also a member. Over the last few months around 1000 members have written to DD to retelecast the serial and apparently it has finally happened.
In fact if you frequent sites like youtube and Desitorrent you would be amazed to see the long tail that has emerged in video clips and nostalgia content. I have managed to find past episodes of Fauji ( Shahrukhs debut on the small screen) and videos of songs like Aa ja jane jaa ( Sunil Shetty, Somy Ali in Anth) being touted as best rain song of Bollywood with a large number of hits.
In fact the Indian diaspora which is desparate for desi content is one of the key enablers of the long tail. Starved of home food but with good purchasing power and speedy broadband connections they are creating ecosystems which a lot of campus junta from India frequents and then popularizes.
Here the jury is still out. I still believe lot of Indian blogs are egoblogs rather than ecoblogs. Egoblogs are ones where the author is more keen that his opinion gets accepted by a few, whereas ecoblogs are ones where the author wants to know the opinions of others to synthesize. Although blogs have improved the choice of information outlets, most bloggers post their opinions on mass media topics rather than create new ones and specific ones. But we are getting there.
Although these signs are encouraging, Indian media firms will still continue to milk the mass market with Himessh, candy floss and saas bahu for a long time since the economics are still loaded heavily in that direction. But give 2-3 years for broadband connections to grow in India and I could be writing a slightly different post here. Atleast I hope so.


At 9:22 AM, Blogger Shawn said...

Hmm, much food for thought in your post. We're a country of a billion people, a country with a burgeoning middle class thats looking for newer and more interesting ways to spend their sizable disposable income. Currently if you're looking for entertainment there's pretty much ONLY Bollywood movies and music to splurge on. It's high time people started exploring their own personal entertainment niches and demanding more challenging content. As ├Żou've shown, there is a market and a strong desire for entertainment that doesn't fit mass patterns - the sutta song and multiplex small budget movies are great examples.

All of this is especially interesting to me - I manage and represent an up and coming ghazal singer called Indira and we're looking for innovative ways to take her music to the audiences that are receptive - blogs, podcasts, anything we can think of. So any suggestions you have will be very very welcome and appreciated.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Palanivel Raja said...

Have you seen the new India search engine they added all the cool features of popular products like MySpace, YouTube, Ebay, Craigslist, etc. all for free to use and specifically for India. Anyone else try this yet? First to Blend Search, Social Network, Video Sharing and Auctions Into One Seamless Product for Indian Internet Users.

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