Long Tail Worries

Found an interesting study by Lex Miron from CIBC World Markets that tries to test for the existence of a long tail in interactive media properties using Nielsen Net Ratings (NNR) data. Lex measures user engagement as total number of minutes spent on a site + then looks at the distribution.

These findings alone do not support the existence of a long tail in interactive media. In fact, they support just the opposite: Interactive media is indeed the “land of the large.”

No surprise. I’m not sure anyone has claimed that there is (or should be) a long tail in brands, which is what Lex is measuring.

Long tails are enabled by the diversity in human interests. Most of us will like at least one of the songs on the current top 20 hits list. Thus begins the head of the distribution. From there on, our likes will distribute over a wider and wider universe of music. Hence, the long tail in music consumption. In short, long tail distributions are likely to appear when consumers are faced with a concrete set of product/content choices.

Most large online interactive media brands are diversified. They aggregate large amounts of content to become more attractive destinations for consumers and keep them engaged longer. Choosing between brands operating across content categories is not the same as choosing content within the same category.

Just consider the following. Brands can merge, combining their standing in the usage distribution and altering its shape without altering the underlying set of consumer content choices. It hurts to contemplate songs/artists merging…

About Simeon Simeonov

I'm an entrepreneur, hacker, angel investor and reformed VC. I am currently Founder & CTO of Swoop, a search advertising platform. Through FastIgnite I invest in and work with a few great startups to get more done with less. Learn more, follow @simeons on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn.
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4 Responses to Long Tail Worries

  1. The world of ‘traditional’ marketology, including the whole NNR approach and this researcher’s focus, suffer from a couple of questionable assumptions:

    – Brand (and you correctly question the focus on brand in itself) to them is a BIG thing, only the medium operation (property) is seen as a brand, while in reality there is a milky way of brands that form the long tail. To use your music analogy: to them the record company or label is the brand, while to the consumer the artist is the brand. Even small unknown artists with an audience of their aunt and dog are brands for their audience. And those brands, invisible to the NIelsen tools, command 100% of that audience’s attention.

    – Commanding attention (the chosen metric v/s Chris Anderson’s transactions) is the other flawed perspective, so ‘web 1.0’ and dot-com, so 20-th century! For more than a century non-interactive mass media, in a one-to-many model, have relied on shouting and interrupting to grab attention. Now they are so obsessed with attention that they forget it was never the ultimate objective – it was always the transaction, but those media couldn’t offer advertisers transactions, so they sold eyeballs instead.

    Now that we live and operate in a many-to-many world, interactive media ‘properties’ are well equipped to encourage, enable, register and analyse transactions. Affinity marketing was an early move in that direction, but now Google is making steps towards PPA (pay per action) models and imho the trend is irreversible.

    Actions (including transactions) are real facts, observable and reliably measurable. Attention and eyeballs, albeit measurable, are only (rather unreliable) proxies for possible actions. As an advertiser I am no longer happy to pay for 2M views of a page, where perhaps 20k people were actually seeing what I wanted them to see, and only 200 actually bought something in the end.

    Yes, the Long Tail (capitalisation intentional) is better manifested in transactions than in attention spans (unless you measure that auntie’s attention span on her personal pop idol). Yes, the Long Tail exists and grows longer by the day on interactive media ‘properties’. Before we can even start to manage it, we must learn to measure it correctly (because ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’). A discipline still awaiting its pioneers.

  2. I meant affiliate (marketing), but have written ‘affinity’ andcan’t find an edit function onthis platform. Must get some sleep 🙂

  3. nabeel hyatt says:

    Finding whether there is a long tail is all about whether there is a power law distribution curve to a particular category. In a power law distribution it is accepted that a few brands will dominate, it’s all about whether it’s the 80/20 rule or the 20/80 rule.

    I don’t necessarily agree with Vladimir that Attention is the old metric, and transactions is the new metric. Pageview (and, even older, hits) is the Web 1.0 metric. Attention IS the most important measure of the new economy.. for statistics that clearly counter the above study see here:

    http://nabeel.typepad.com/brinking/2007/02/a_meme_begins_c.html

  4. > “…Pageview (and, even older, hits) is the Web 1.0 metric.
    > Attention IS the most important measure of the new economy.. ”

    I apologise, I must be on some other planet, Nabeel.

    In my books pageviews and hits are measures of attention, nothing more (and pretty inaccurate measures at that). I hope you are not trying to call them transactions (although there is a school that uses the term transaction instead of event)…

    To clarify for anyone else who might misread me: PPA is not PPC and transaction is where value changes hands. It doesn’t have to be cash, but for brutally pragmatic purposes it is ok to call it a sale, when someone is actually (wilfully) taking the marketed product and is paying for that.

    Only hardcore mass ATL marketers can still focus on attention and, sorry, in our galaxy this is not the new economy. Not that attention is unimportant – just because it is an important prerequisite, Marketing 2.0 only starts when it is present, doesn’t need to ‘grab’ it (what a nasty word) or to measure the grabbing success rate. Where I come from we have stopped shouting and started whispering; we measure influence. The best way to measure that is by looking at the desired outcome. Transactions.

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