Forests, Trees and Long Tails indeed

One of the great things about the Long Tail observation is how much dust it kicks up. I love it. At heart it questions what’s in store for the future of mass entertainment. If radio can get past letting it put on us the defensive I think there’s great conversations to be had around it.

Over at Hear 2.0 – Mark Ramsey weighs in on the Wired Mag article “The Rise and Fall of the Hit” which I originally wrote about here.

Mark takes issue with some of the specific examples in the article.

Overall I don’t think Mark is wrong. But just as he wonders if Chris is “seeing Long Tails behind everything” – I wonder if Mark is glossing over some of what Chris’ ideas might mean for radio – even if Chris’ examples about radio are flawed.

Mark says –

“But wait…just because 60% of TV’s were tuned to Gunsmoke in 1960 and 18% to American Idol in 2006, does that mean the hits are “falling”? Or does it rather mean that the definition of a hit is changing?

I think the definition of a HIT is the same as always – HIT= MOST POPULAR.

What’s changing over time is fewer people are behind whatever is “MOST POPULAR”

Moving forward, the HITS (in general ) just wont command the kind of mass attention they used to. Does this mean their power and influence over culture diminishes? Or does it mean their power remains relative to the non HITS?

Mark seems to imply the later is true. I’m not convinced.

How far down the curve would this idea hold true? If 18% of the audience today is still as good as 60% 30 years ago – what about 8% of the audience 10 years from now?

Is that still going to be as powerful? Either way I don’t thing we’re talking about growth – but treading water.

Thats what the Long Tail throws into chaos – the very model of MASS – the 1 stop shop that the world’s greatest brands (P&G) were built on – the TV INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX Seth Godin talks about – it’s power is diminishing.

There was a time when the #1 radio station in any given city enjoyed double-digit audience shares.

Aren’t shares at MOST #1 stations these days down into single digits?
Isn’t this trend expected to continue?

I don’t know anyone in radio that can say that today’s #1 stations have the same power, influence and reach into the culture they did “back in the day” when they had XX shares.

Since broadcast radio is forced by the sheer economics of the medium to be HIT machines – what does the future of radio look like?

Mark points out that The Pirate movie is a HITthe biggest single day sales record.

Abstracted, it indicates all is well! Wag that indeed!

But placed back into context of several YEARS of diminishing returns for the block-buster movie business doesn’t reverse the trend – they’re still at a NET LOSS on a slew of big budget BOMBS and will end the year (at best) up only slighty over a pathetic last year. Clearly the trend for the block-buster movies business has been moving in the opposite direction – Johnny Depp notwithstanding.

I also don’t think anything in the Long Tail precludes monster hits from EVER happening.

The Long Tail isn’t so much about the DEATH of HITS – but about their marginalization within the larger totality – about the rise of OTHER.

But let’s get it back to radio –

Since broadcast radio is forced by the sheer economics of the medium to be HIT machines – what does the future of radio look like?

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3 Responses to Forests, Trees and Long Tails indeed

  1. Mark Ramsey says:

    Nice job, Jeff! Didn’t know you had this going!

  2. Jeff says:

    Thanks Mark – toe officially in water. ,-)

  3. […] A large part of my interest in all these issues (like the long tail) is that as a fairly young guy (38) I want to examine what broadcast radio is going to look like as we move into the future – MY future. Our Future. […]

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