#5: The World Is Not Enough

By | October 10, 2006

An entirely new economic model for the media and entertainment industries is emerging, observes Chris Anderson in his 2004 Wired magazine article, “The Long Tail.”

Most of us, Anderson states, want more than just the #1 movie at the box office, the #1 song on the Billboard chart and the #1 book on the New York Times bestseller list.

We know we want more than the mainstream fare, and we know that today, we can get it.

Offbeat movie rentals from Netflix, obscure books from Amazon.com, indie music from ITunes, and outrageously specific auctions from Ebay.

That’s why the most successful online entertainment providers are making just as much money from niche purchases as they are from mainstream “hits.”

These online purveyors are combining infinite shelf space and unlimited selection with real time information about buying trends and public opinion. These entertainment websites attract people with their prominent mainstream offerings, and then keep them clicking with the obscure.
They use recommendations – generated by either human editors or genre databases – to drive demand deeper into their huge catalogs.

“Everyone’s taste departs from mainstream somewhere, and the more we explore alternatives, the more we’re drawn to them,” Anderson says.

So the answer to a successful entertainment website seems to boil down to one main factor – “more.” More choices. More information. More options.

Make everything available, Anderson recommends. “Almost anything is worth offering on the off chance it will find a buyer.”

So how might this apply to entertainment information? On a national scale, “more” does seem to make sense. I’m a huge fan of IMDB (The Internet Movie Database), and Rotten Tomatoes, a movie review aggregator. No matter which actor or movie I’m interested in, I can find information about him or her or the movie at IMDB. A few months ago, I watched the 2005 movie “The Island” starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. I enjoyed the movie and its whole “Logan’s Run” vibe, but I had heard it was panned by the critics during its theatrical release. So I went to Rotten Tomatoes and could read more than a dozen archived critics’ reviews.

But I’m eager to know if, on a local scale, an entertainment information website can successfully pander to the niches. Although the reach of the Internet is limitless, the subject matter of a local entertainment site is limited to a geographic area. For example, ctnow.com covers only Connecticut. Metromix.com covers only the Chicago area. SouthFlorida.com covers only the Fort Lauderdale area.

If information is a commodity and niches are where the money is, can local entertainment sites cater to people’s personal tastes and interests with enough content to keep them clicking? Or is “local” the niche?

At ctnow.com, we’re always wrangling with the idea of “audience.” How big or small should our target audience be so we can offer the best service? Should the parameters be based on age, or mainly geography? After reading Anderson’s article, I’m persuaded to go as big as possible, sticking mainly with geography. Anyone living, visiting or preparing to visit Connecticut should be ctnow.com’s audience. To that end, the site should offer as much Connecticut entertainment information as possible.

Following the model presented by Anderson, a local entertainment information website should, ideally:

  • make everything available,
  • allow personalization,
  • be easy to navigate,
  • provide consistent quality with the information,
  • use a combination of human editors and genre guides,
  • promote reader-driven recommendations, and
  • incorporate content that is consistently archived, updated, expanded and fun.

    If there is a niche in the market that lives and breathes local stage performances, than to capture that audience, the local entertainment site should provide listings, performance reviews, photos, video and links to ticket sales to keep those readers coming back. If there are a group of people who want to know about ethnic restaurants in Windham County, the entertainment site should be able to provide an searchable database for restaurants in that county and of that genre.

    I think the local restaurant database, in particular, is a niche that can only get better with “more.” People love going out to eat. Dining is a preference and everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes. A local dining database can distinguish itself with interactivity, offering users more than just “yellow pages” with mapping. Local restaurant listings can be richer and more useful if they included multiple reviews of restaurants by dining critics, reader feedback/ratings, photos of the food, drinks & ambience, website links, online-only coupons, and recommendations for other restaurants in that genre or vicinity. The searchable database should offer consistent information about as many restaurants as possible. It could lead to partnering with other content providers to make the local database of restaurants even larger and more accurate.

    More, it seems, is the key for success, but only if the niche goods offered (local information in this case) are consistently of high quality. If standards can’t be adhered to, consumers from all niches will be turned off, and “more” won’t help.


    Anderson, Chris. (2004). The Long Tail. Wired, 12(10). [ html ]

  • 1 Comment

    Kimberly on October 12, 2006 at 3:44 pm.

    I think your question about is local the niche for CTnow.com or can you delve even more is a very interesting one. On the one hand it would seem you already are targeting a limited scope of people- i.e. those interested in CT… However I think you are right in reassessing who your audience is and expanding it to include pretty much anyone every alive who might even think about CT once… Obvioulsy yo uwill need to stay targeted enough to provide the high level info that actual visitors etc would be looking for- but by building in the deeper pages you mentioned i think you could really appeal to a general interest crowd who might find their way to your site froma completely different path then logging onto CTnow.com. Especially with the linkability of blogs now- say you post something about a recent concert and a blogger picks up the story and inputs that page onto thier page- and there you go- you’ve built a nother “highway” so to speak for people to access your site. One other idea to think about would be to use video or some other form of interactive media to maybe have local artists, or performers talk about why they like CT or what they love about performing at the Bushnell or the Palace in Waterbury- or do podcasts with people talking about their experiences of CT- so that when visitors click on a link to say the Old State House there might be Gov. Rell saying how she loves the stuffed birds on the third floor or something like that. Could be a costly project but might lend some personalization to places people are thinking about visiting…

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