Since I'd read Chris Anderson's Long Tail, I have been curious on constantly studying the phenomenon in the way Television gets consumed in India. Does the Long Tail exist in the Indian TV business? How does it get impacted every year due to new channels or new modes of distribution?
Latest Indicators : Tail is growing longer!
Shown below is a graph that plots 8 "Tails" for 8 years. The curves look fascinating! The graph shows Ratings for the TOP 100 Programs of those periods. What's absolutely clear is that while the ‘Head’ of the curve is flattening out, the ‘Tail’ is getting extended. The most obscure, the most niche and the most specialist program is likely to find its niche audience today while the benchmarks of a "Hit Program" are falling. As a result, the Tail could be lifting itself up at those niche levels (say, Rank 400-500 or 1000-1100 - not captured in this graph). It should be argued here that since the TV universe itself has grown considerably in these 8 years, the reduced percentage of viewers for the Top 4-5 programs could still mean that more people are watching the top shows in absolute terms.
The reasons for the tail to grow longer are very clear. Anderson argues in his book that the reason why content consumption creates the long tail effect is due to increase in distribution capacities that let more amount of content to be made available. This applies beautifully to the Indian TV scene. Since 2004-05 as Digital TV has been enabled, distribution pipes for the TV industry have grown wider, letting more TV channels pass through. While Analog Cable of the 90s would be on an average allow 70 channels, Digital TV (DTH, Digital Cable, IPTV ) can allow technically 100s of channels to be distributed.
Not surprisingly a host of channels have made an entry into the market. More than 200 since Year 2000! These channels have to offer a differentiated content product to carve a place for themselves acting as a double whammy on the Long Tail - that of increased distribution and specialist content. This makes the tail elongation faster - much to the dismay of General Entertainment Channels (GECs) such as Zee TV and STAR Plus. Viewers, of course, stand to benefit due to newer content types and genres being available on TV.
Implications of Long Tails
- Lower TV ratings for even 'Mass' Channels
- Lesser predictability to new launches
- Higher failure rates. Rather spectacular crashes for big, mega program launches
- Targeted marketing is a need for channel/ program marketing
- Higher Marketing budgets for programs that cut across different segments
- Need for fatter pipeline of content innovations - especially since the failure rate is going up
(Graph details : Common week considered for each of the years - 2002 to 2009) from TAM TV Ratings - info courtesy : indiantelevision.com)