The long tail, short attention spans and mediocrity

Posted on 19/05/2011

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Cat with surprised expression 'you blow on my tail okay? Mebbe my ears pop out'

The more I read, the more I forget, but recently one fact began to linger in my head. In “How to make money in the on demand media age“, Oliver and Ohlbaum, a media consultancy, once and for all hammered home how competitive our world is. In the UK, only one in 10 films is a box office success.

One in 10. The average cost of a film is $65 million, more than the GDP of a small island. It seems that it’s not just cinema either. 80% of reality TV show formats fail to make it past the first series. If a lot of people are losing of money because of this, why are they still taking the risk? Can the prize really be worth it?

Clearly, it is. 2% of films make up 80% of box office takings (Economist). Failure to make it big is more common, but with a more connected society, success travels – globally.

Mediocrity in a dynamic, multimedia world is inevitable for two reasons:

1. Competition

For the past 50 years, technology of all kinds has been getting cheaper. Audiovisual equipment especially, has dropped in price and increased in quality, allowing people to film feature-length productions on mobile phones (Colin) and make decent quality films for the cost of a video camera (Clair Witch Project). More people can do it (definitely a good thing) so more people ARE doing it, but as we’ve seen this is not always to a high standard. “You’ve been framed” bought user-generated video to the living room and now YouTube has open it up even further. Paradoxically, making a hit is easier for everyone and yet harder than ever before.

2. More spaces

More spaces but less audience. There are now thousands of TV channels available on sky, more websites than ever before and more screens to allow you to watch whatever you want (I’m thinking TV, iPad, and smartphones). Although there’s more demand for media 24 hours of the day, with so much to choose from you’re more prone to mediocrity than ever before. The internet, like the universe, is expanding minute by minute. Theoretically you now can find anything, assuming you can locate it amidst the ever-growing mass of information online.

“From small acorns grow great oaks”

That said, marketing guru Seth Godin does offer some consolation to the 80% who make up most of our mediocre world. His post about how Google appeared on the scene shows that even the best start are mediocre to start with. It’s their unique positioning, expertise (developed over time) and drive that helped them succeed. Even the big bang that started the universe required a massive build up of gases to make things happen. Mediocrity is just a step along the way to success, (or at least that’s what  keep telling myself…)

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