Broadcasting: how the 'Long Tail' applies to television channels

Flicking through the numerous channels on my Sky satellite television system, I am constantly amazed that there can be sufficient numbers of viewers to make most of the channels financially viable. Despite the number of channels on offer, the majority of viewing among the 8 million or so homes that receive their television through the BSkyB system is still accounted for by the combined total for the terrestrial: BBC1; BBC2; ITV1; C4 and C5 plus a handful of other channels such as Sky One.

Surfing across the channels, its apparent that rather than presenting the viewer with a wide choice and diversity of programming, satellite like most commercial broadcasting markets simply delivers more variety of the same thing. A couple of dozen channels all showing pop videos, subscription channels showing Hollywood films previously successful at the box office and themed channels showing repeats from mainstream channels.

How can they all co-exist? Can there really be a sufficiently large enough audience to make these channels financially viable? This must be where theory of the Long Tail kicks-in.

Like the example of video rentals used in Chris Anderson's book, most of the channels that form part of the long tail in broadcasting undertake little if any original programme production themselves. Most only show re-runs or repeats from other networks. When there is original programming, such as on the shopping channels (yes, this is original programming) production costs (and hence values) are kept to an absolute minimum.

Most of the channels in the 'long tail' probably only provide 'top up' grazing rather than core, pre-planned viewing for most of their audience. The main broadcasters are still able to attract event based audiences particulatly around talent shows and reality programmes that are widely covered in other Media.

Much of the 'long tail' audience typically consists of the under 25 age group who are much more indiscriminate and haphazard in their viewing habits than older groups, despite these audiences in most cases having the same number of channels to choose from on their remote control.

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