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March 27, 2005


Jason Scott

Chris, That 31 million hour figure is unbelievable horsehockey. They're estimating 1/4th of all possible hours of all television stations in the world is original programming.

Have they even looked at a TV guide for a station? Assuming we're talking about a network affiliate, that is, one of, say, NBC/CBS/ABC, they produce maybe a couple hours AT MOST to that particular station. Most will run things like The Price is Right, Today Show, and other such syndicates that are duplicated across the country (I realize I'm focusing on American television here, but that's what I know, and focus on what you know.)

So the hundreds of stations in this country, network affiliates, are CONSTANTLY repeating the same programming. And their off-hour syndication stuff (say, The Odd Couple, or WKRP in Cincinatti) are usually very small libraries of static material.

The cable stations are often worse, with very little in the way of original programming available, and what there is often repeated a dozen times across a week.

Sorry, that number is complete and utter crap. Give us another one.

chris anderson


Fair point. But the source is credible: a very respected UCB economist who is now working with Google (indeed, I suspect that the analysis started as a Google white paper). I'll follow up with Hal and see if he has revised his estimates.

Jason Scott

Ah, see, this is where we differ. I never respect anybody until they do something respectable. The salient phrase you're pulling from in that paper is here:

"There are 20,991 television stations in the world, according to the CIA Factbook. If these stations broadcast 16 hours per day, this would equal about 123 million hours total programming. We estimate about ¼ of the programs are “original,” – this is 31 million hours each year. Estimating that one hour of video requires 1.3 GB of storage, then worldwide, program storage would be about 40,000 TB."

That is, at best, a complete and utter whiff. Obviously, the number is not really important to him, because who would estimate numbers this way? It's like deciding how many "stop signs" there are by taking the number of cities in North America, assuming each "city" has 400 intersections, and multiplying, with some sort of 1/4th "slop" calc. Nobody respectable will go for that.

Most content on television, with a few specific exceptions, are pre-generated robot-arm jukeboxes. They have X amount of pre-fab content, and pull from it across a day. Radio stations are even MORE like that.

The key, if one is going to be at all concerned with long-term content access/storage/interaction like you are with this Long Tail thing of yours, is to go at it the reverse approach: Since most television is pre-fab (hell, most MASS MEDIA is pre-fab, i.e. Reuters), just approach the content/fab generators and index/collect their stuff.

Your Long Tail thing is cute, a nice wrist-flick slight of hand of already-known concepts, but presented in a weblog-quotable fashion, and I always appreciate that sort of thing happening in the world. I will delight in my newly-found free time in getting it up on the lift and looking at your hydraulics.


The "Missing 18-34 Male" article was dead wrong. The demos on the young males bounced back soon after that article was written.


Chris > Thanks for your great article and thanks for this blog.
Pascal, Paris - France.

Derek G

1. Television might be "begging to be reinvented", but how many of us can access or afford the kind of bandwidth necessary to enjoy this reinvented television? As I say to myself many times while reading Wired, "Future Splendid Tech X" is all well and good, but who is paying for it? I refuse to live my life in plastic.

2. Media consolidation plays a role in the Long Tail that is well worth noting. On the one hand, consolidation allows a network to rerun popular programming in the short term without clogging current prime-time schedules, e.g. FOX puts marathons of 24 on FX. On the other, it provides exposure to otherwise overlooked programming, e.g. NBC airs Sci-Fi's Battlestar Galactica pilot.

3. Speaking of The Sci-Fi Channel, that network is an example of a handful of non-broadcast networks that have contributed to the Long Tail -- airing cancelled series that might not otherwise have a home.

Chris Anderson


If you'll look at the latest Neilsen figures you'll see that although there was indeed a slight rebound in measured 18-34 male viewership after that article came out, the downward trend quickly resumed. Compared to 2003, 18-34s in the 2004 season were down 4.3% in total and 12% for the networks. In prime time, they were down 6% and 13% respectively. I'm going off their printed report (it's chart 4A on page 11 of the full season report) and I don't think it's online. But if you want more data email me and I'll send you a copy.

Jakob Nielsen

Sounds like more than technology is needed to support long tail TV. Your example with an old show that can't be sold today because of music rights is a good example.

Another example would be contracts that require actors and other content contributors to be paid a percentage of residual sales. Administering that could get expensive for sales at, say, 25 cents per episode.

One trend might be that producers will start to emphasize the need to own 100% of the rights to video content and not sign contracts that require subsequent payments for achival sales.

Specifically for music, this may mean use of less-famous musicians who are willing to perform on a "work for hire" basis (one-time salary). In other words, a double-long-tail effect: the need to make video content more suitable for long-tail archival sales drives better employment opportunities for long-tail musicians.

I can actually imagine a wacky tech solution to the music problem: sell the video with retrofitted music that doesn't have rights entangelments. Then add a meta-data track that specifies the preferred music that was used on the original sound track. Finally, add a feature to the player software to replace the retrofitted music with the original after downloading it from a for-pay service for those fanatic viewers who insist on the original soundtrack. This will probably only work for users who subscribe to an all-you-can-eat music service like Napster To Go. ($1/track would add up to too much for most TV shows.)

Chris Anderson


That idea is not as wacky as you think. Indeed, it's just what independent filmmakers do. They put their dream soundtrack on their film, which they can show without clearing the rights at film festivals thanks to the "festival exemption". They hope that a distributor will pick it up and clear the rights for them. But it isn't picked up and they want to release it independently, they have to retrofit the movie with a new soundtrack of music they do have the rights to. That's what's slowing down the progress of direct-to-DVD services like Netflix First.

But I must say that your "meta-soundtrack" idea is brilliant, if a little impractical today.

Chris Anderson


I got a response from Hal.

He writes: "To get the 1/4 figure, we took the SF Bay Area TV Guide magazine, chose pages at random and looked at how much of the programming on that page was original."
"I was also surprised that the figure was as large as it was. However, note that there are lots of talk shows, sports shows, and news shows, all of which are "one-time" content."

"We didn't count *any* of the syndicated material or anything that was labeled "R" for repeat."

"Weaknesses of our approach: we only used US data (not having access to anything else) and it was only a sample. Of course, we would welcome refinements. As I've often said, "Our numbers could easily be off by a factor of 2, but they are probably accurate to a factor of 10.""

Jason Scott

Chris, I appreciate the effort to check on the numbers.

Imagine if someone came up with how many foot doctors there are worldwide by getting the SF phone book, going to the yellow pages, and then counting everyone under "foot doctor" and assuming that 1/4th of all medical groups must have a foot guy working for them. This is what I have problems with. It's a tad weak-wristed, don't you think?

I think that there's a number of problems with it, most specifically the term "original programming". For example, CNN has "original programming" 24 hours a day.... unless you watch it, and then see how in fact they have something like 10 stories they run in rotation overnight, with the poor mule on overnight having to sound refreshing. If you pulled it from the other way, an RSS feed of the new video stories, it would be negligible.

I would have kept the focus of those numbers to the US, which has a nice reputation of producing lots of stuff, then go from there.

There are 8,760 hours in a year. I would take contention that with the fact that if you come up with 500 "superstations" producing 24 hours of brand new content a day (and NOBODY does that, even the Home Shopping Channel runs infomercials!) then you get 4.3 million hours. Which I still think is insanely high.

Maybe I'm an optimist.

Roger McNamee

I'm not convinced it matters whether the correct number is 31 million hours of original television content per year or 310,000 hours. What matters is that huge amounts of content exist that cannot be properly monetized in the channel model of cable and satellite . . . yet concerns about digital rights management continue to limit how much of this content is available commercially on the internet.

Another major factor in the long tail opportunity for video is the millions of people who have access to cameras and tools for the production of relatively high quality content. The limitations of the internet are encouraging experimentation with shorter program length, new production values, and the like. As long as concerns about DRM drive the internet strategy of major media companies, the new generation of video content creators will have the field to themselves. Left alone for long enough and these guys may develop a brand new industry.

Eli Chapman


We are indeed developing a brand new industry. For today's media prosumers, the biggest long tail opportunity for video is the ability to transform the creative process into an entirely new medium. Instead of just producing linear films and videos, we are leveraging emerging technologies to create digital artifacts during the production process that help us to connect with, listen to, and engage our peers and transform them into participants. For us, the long tail of video is much more than the market for niche linear content products. For us it is about creating a marketplace for non-linear participatory experiences. The existing film and TV production process is rooted in the industrial age and organized like an assembly line where the goal is pumping out one (or occassionally more) linear content product. More than concerns about DRM, it is this very process that it is the incumbant's weakness. We are attacking this weakness by creating a new information age media production process that creates traditional content products while enabling all sorts of new long tail revenue streams. And rather than leave us alone to create this brand new industry, we're always looking for help and welcome participation on all fronts.

Alex Rowland

Chris, the discussion of long-tail TV and video content brings to light an interesting phenomenon that appears to have missed the attention of many in this market. The question I’ve been focused on is “How do we get people down the long tail of video efficiently.” I know you discuss such efforts in your Wired article, but the practical applications of this lesson appear lost in the hustle to produce the next Flickr of video.

The problem with much of this new consumer-created video content (at least at the moment) is that it is interesting as a novelty, but a vast majority of it is really interesting only to a party of one (and I’m talking about the producer, not the ultra-niche consumer.) Given the flood of video publishing tools, it would seem that the volume of content produced will quickly become a field of noise so thick that even the most talented Googlephile would be challenged in their effort to locate interesting stuff quickly and easily.

The problem is that video, like audio, is very difficult to scan quickly for relevance. Tagging will help, but text and photos are scanned far more quickly and easily. This makes the task of simplifying access to relevant material both harder and more important than in other media. In video, to a much greater extent than any other media, consumers must be coaxed down the long tail (contextual schema) rather than just thrown in the mix at the bottom to fend for themselves (pure search). (This is why I believe that Google’s approach to video search will be much less effective than Yahoo!’s - but that’s a longer discussion.)

This content haze has the potential to alienate many potential consumers of Internet video before the market more fully matures. These newbies might find a few nuggets of content that are “most” relevant to them, but in the process discover that the effort involved didn’t justify the result. These consumers won’t return in a hurry.

The bottom line is that Internet video, more than any other media, needs context to deliver a sufficient cost/benefit ratio to the consumer. People will be more apt to watch Internet video if it has been pre-filtered for relevance, plausibility, entertainment value, etc. People still want to watch “channels” of content, they just want to have this content drawn from a larger reservoir, prioritized based on their interests, and delivered on-demand to the device of their choosing. They still want TV to be simple; they just want it to be richer at the same time.

Internet video will be matched to text-based communication (vlogs) and it will be big, but when it comes to TV, people are still going to want to sit back and enjoy the show without having to spend 20 minutes looking for a specific clip. Without bringing more efficiency to the process of locating niche Internet video, the long tail of video will continue to warp in favor of mass-market programming. I think the real challenge/opportunity lies in helping introduce people to the vast quantity of relevant broadcast content that resides in the elbow of the curve and is already being delivered to them over existing cable or satellite connections. Once you’ve shown people that there is other interesting stuff besides CSI on TV right now, they’ll be much more receptive to the next suggested item (be it broadcast or Internet video). This gets consumers to start watching long tail content without spending bubble dollars “driving” them to new content wells.


Who cares about saving TV. It'll be replaced by something just as stupid--the Internet.

Daniel K

As if the networks didn't have enough trouble, movie exhibitors are talking about showing live, hi-def 3d sports events: http://boxoffice.thepodcastnetwork.com/2006/03/26/sweat-drops-the-size-of-basketballs/


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gift ideas

You have posted very useful information here.I was searching for such kind of pints only.Well, the broadcast industry has been trying desperately to get any kind of two-box (TV watching & Internet interactivity) system going for quite a while now with little success - but they have to keep trying - the drain on their audiences via the Internet and DVRs is considerable. Advertisers are certainly looking for this kind of innovation as well so - good on them for coming up with some up-to-date ideas.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

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