The film business has long been one dominated by outliers and power laws. Put simply, a small number of titles account for a large share of the money, attention and success.
Just 10% of movies account for half of the domestic box office gross and just 6% of Hollywood studio movies account for half of all the profits generated.
Some have suggested that the new world of VOD could change this. Gone are the real-world limitations of manufacturing, physical distribution and shelf space and in their place we have an (effectively) infinite space in which all movies can be equally offered to audiences.
This idea was first introduced in a 2004 Wired article entitled “The Long Tail” in which Chris Anderson posits that “…the emerging digital entertainment economy is going to be radically different from today’s mass market. If the 20th-century entertainment industry was about hits, the 21st will be equally about misses“.
With vast audiences having access to large inventories of content, will most people still gravitate towards a small number of top titles, or will most of the views come from the ‘long tail’?
Fortunately for us, our dataset reveals what happened on Netflix.
Does Netflix have a long tail?
In a word, no. Well, it’s fairer to say that it has less of a long tail than box office gross. The top 7% of movies on Netflix accounted for 50% of the views (normalised for time on the platform) in the US.
Not only that, but the difference in success between the top-ranking movie and the second-ranking movie is much larger than the difference between the third and fourth-ranking movies on Netflix and the domestic box office.
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