Is Streaming The Future Long Tail?

Hulu is heading into the original scripted content route. The streaming service will be the first to show the political comedy Battleground which will be followed by two other original shows including the second season of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary series A Day In the Life and a travel show, Up To Speed, by Richard Linklater.

The NBCUniversal/News Corp./Walt Disney Company/Providence joint venture is also planning on raising more revenue to fund more original programming. Hulu’s diversification of its content, including recently adding Spanish language shows to its menu, is definitely a shift almost akin to regular satellite or cable subscriptions – but with the added benefit of viewer choice and control.

And Hulu is not the only one prepping its bouquet with more diverse and original content.

The Bandwagon

If you’re a comedy geek like me, you probably squealed like a little girl when Netflix announced that they would the ones picking up new episodes of the critically acclaimed ratings-failure Arrested Development. It was like God listened to the prayers of every fan who “blue themselves” and blessed us with another chance to see the Bluths in the comedic glory.  Six years of online campaigning and THEY’RE BACK!!

But the Internet is for more than just reviving meme-tastic series that get screwed over by the networks. YouTube has also made the foray into original programming with the creation of content-specific channels filled with videos made by well-known YouTube uploaders and media companies.

The pervading idea is that the video streaming industry is becoming the primordial soup for niche and popular programming – where else can you see repeats of Arrested Development, British shows like Misfits and Spy (you have to see these, they’re awesome), and still look forward to original programs?

The Trend

A few months ago I wrote about cutting the cable cord and moving into the video-streaming domain. The point of that rant was it had become pointless to invest hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in cable or satellite subscriptions when the content variety on services such as Netflix, Hulu and iTunes had made it pointless to continue paying for something you could get for significantly less money.

Why even bother watching or paying for network TV and basic cable?

But the cause for switching to streaming services has gotten much stronger with the announcement by Hulu that it would begin broadcasting an original program on its website and to compatible devices.

Along the same lines, Wired columnist Chris Anderson wrote about the “Long Tail,” the idea that the future of media content will be smaller projects geared towards more niche audiences as opposed large products aimed at appeasing the lowest common denominator – otherwise known as the largest number of people.

The emergence of services like YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix or any media outlet that lets you have what you want when you want is heralding the idea the long tail had arrived. And with YouTube, Netflix and Hulu heading into the original programming field it seems as though TV viewing has finally reached that ideal.

A New Hope

At the end of last year NBC, announced its mid-season schedule and mysteriously left out the critically acclaimed ratings-failure (sound familiar?) Community. NBC has been struggling in general ratings and it has long been speculated that good shows on the network would suffer the brunt of NBC’s desperate bid to gain fresh life by shuffling its schedule.

The usual Internet campaigns began and fans lamented the potential cancellation of a show that was too smart for its own good. Meanwhile, ratings-darlings like Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory continue to exist and assault our sense of humor every night they stay on-air.

Whether Community lives to see another season,one cannot tell. But looking at the progress in the video streaming industry you almost see a ray of sunshine.

Shows like Community are a darling among the small niche crowd who long to escape the doldrums of network programming. With the long-tail production of original programming there is hope that one day we won’t have to campaign to keep great shows on air.

Siya Africa I spent several years studying politics and journalism in South Africa before working in the media industry there. Whilst taking photographs of Nelson Mandela and writing about celebrities visiting the "Mother Land" I decided to make my way to the States, in 2009, and have been a grad student at IU ever since. All your tweets belong to me (courtesy of Julia Roy). Twitter: @siyaafrica

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