New York television consultant Shelly Palmer attended NAPTE, where he sat in on the presentation by Chris Anderson about The Long Tail. In his blog, Media 3.0 (really), he proceeded to disrespect the whole concept and promised more of the same.
“The Long Tail is a brilliantly written, very compelling description of a power law. It is not an economic reality and it has almost no relevance to the economics of the television business. Although I personally think Chris is brilliant, the conclusions he drew from the historical television data points he presented during his keynote are incorrect. The deck illustrated a profound lack of understanding about television production, distribution and the advertising and subscription revenue that drive the business. (Author’s note: We will be publishing a paper that deconstructs the Long Tail for the online video business in a few weeks.)”
In the same entry, Palmer makes an incredible statement about youTube. “It is not a place,” he notes. “it is an application.” He argues that it’s an application that allows people to post videos on MySpace and suggests that without MySpace, youTube has little value.
Ground control to Shelly: Please return to planet Earth.
Like Chris, I’m eagerly awaiting his “deconstruction” paper, for if this is any indication of its contents, it ought to be a hoot.
First of all, television died when Sony quit making tube-based television sets in 2003. We don’t call them TV sets anymore; they’re now monitors. So Shelly is right when he says the LT has almost no relevance to the economics of the television business. The problem with that statement, however, is the assumption that the television “business” is unaffected by the LT. But there’s more. He also apparently believes it has no bearing on the online video business either, else why “deconstruct” it.
There is a considerable LT play in the online video world, because “television” has always and will always live in the world of instant obsolescence. There is money to be made through archived videos, and that is very much the Long Tail. WKRN-TV, which hosts a news video archive of over 7,000 videos, still gets plenty of views of (ad-supported) videos from stories that aired many months ago. This is the LT in action for a television station.
Shelly looks at youTube and decides that it is an application, not a place. Huh? A broadcaster’s view of youTube sees only two things: pirated video and the youTube blockbusters, like funtwo’s guitar masterpiece or OkGo’s treadmill fun. They point to these, because they have reached mass, and mass is all broadcasters understand.
But the real value of youTube is the Long Tail it produces and the thousands and thousands of channels that exist where postmodern tribes gather, share their work with each other and give and receive feedback from fellow tribe members. Some of these channels are big and some are small, and in the aggregate, they’re enormous. This is why Google bought youTube, not because the occasional video reaches mass.
Shelly also uses the old business school story about the railroads blowing it when flight came along, because they insisted they were in the railroad business, not the transportation business. Applied to television, many observers — Shelly included — say that we’re in the content business, or at least that we need to be. But content creation and distribution are the expensive end of the economics of the Long Tail; aggregation is where it’s at for media companies downstream. This is certainly not the television business, nor is it the content business. We’re in the communications business, which includes content aggregation along with content creation.
I didn’t see Chris’s presentation at NAPTE, but this kind of reaction to it is over-the-top. Broadcasters may find that Shelly’s message tickles their ears, but it does nothing to clarify the realities of media circa 2007. The sad thing is that I really like Shelly, and I’ve referenced his work in mine. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, which is another reason I’m looking forward to his deconstruction paper.