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Content Long Tail Turns into The Thick Tail

Forrester Research believes that the Long Tail is indeed a strong concept that explains the success of the early Internet eCommerce and its champions -- like eBay and Expedia, which enable consumers to find needles in haystacks.

But, according to Forrester, the rise of Social Computing and Networking is altering the Long Tail.

On the demand side, consumer's paths to purchases are changing. Consumers used to walk a straight path from brand awareness to consideration and then to purchase. But more often, consumers are open to new experiences, by discovering something they don't know -- a song from an unknown artist, as an example.

When shopping offline or online, a third of U.S. teenagers communicate with friends in five different ways, and 74 percent of these teenagers say they are always willing to try or do something new. At the same time, the proportion of consumers who say that advertising helps them with purchase decisions has dropped by 20 percent.

On the supply side, distribution of digital goods is free, or virtually free. In the early days of eCommerce, Amazon successfully challenged high-street giants like Barnes & Noble with central warehouses and continent-wide distribution, but they still chargeed $1.79 for shipping a DVD of The Daily Show. Today, consumers can watch the video for free at ComedyCentral.com.

A new market arises -- Windows Live Spaces, YouTube, Flickr, Second Life -- social media is mushrooming, enabling consumers to be both supplier and customer. This is not just for niche productions anymore.

More than 40 million people saw the video "The Evolution of Dance" on YouTube; bloggers like Loic Le Meur can make a decent living with their sponsored blogs; and the Indie band Arctic Monkeys apparently made it straight to the top of the UK singles chart with just a homemade video -- and no traditional media firm involvement.

Forrester believes that the Thick Tail will accelerate the death of the middle market, and create winners and losers in every industry.

Winners: Google, MSN, and Yahoo! -- The big online three will extend their personalization with group features, by offering local search and discussion forums, for instance, and developing "online gated communities" around shared passions and interests.

They will cash in with razor-sharp targeting of ads via the enormous range of integrated channels -- phone, email, Web, IPTV, digital radio, chat, blogs, etc. -- and by offering advertisers market intelligence via their detailed analytics.

Their growth will only be limited by consumer privacy concerns -- legislators will tighten the rules -- and their ability to develop new features themselves, rather than having to pay premium prices for the next 10 YouTube-style acquisitions.

Losers: Hollywood -- Large film, TV, and music productions will have a harder time breaking even as audiences shift to the more widely available and targeted niche content. By cutting deals with iTunes and Wal-Mart, the studios are dipping their toes into new media, but not in social media.

Time Magazine put "You" on its cover as the person of the year -- will the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences hand an Academy Award to a YouTube clip next year? Highly unlikely. But it won't matter. Consumers are voting with their attention span as they follow the thickening tail, with advertisers and sponsors in close pursuit.

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