Urgency, Limits, Longtail, and Windowing

Ever wonder why you can’t always get Disney’s Cinerella?  Why there is a limited release of Snow White?  Why McDonald’s doesn’t make the McRib sandwich available all of the time?

Well the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, so to keep the cows happy you have to rotate pastures from time to time.

Having just left ZillionTV.TV (“yet another” IPTV play) I find myself contemplating the “dream”.  Every IPTV play seems to dream of everything on demand all of the time.  This is difficult to do because of “Windowing”.  Windowing is why you can’t currently get Columbia Movies on Netflix via Roku or Xbox Live. 

Content moves from value tier, to value tier, and along the way is available at different prices and in different mediums.  The Everything on demand model is not really compatible with this.  When a Movie is in the Theatre it is not on DVD, when it Moves to DVD it is on PPV, but is not yet on Premium Cable, when it leaves PPV and goes to Premium Cable, it is not available to Services like Xbox Live, or Netflix, then when it leaves Premium Cable it comes back to Xbox, iTunes and Netflix.

This all seems really complex and unnecessary, until you look at demand.  I fall back to QVC for examples quite often because they have the psychology of selling down to a science.  QVC offers everything in seemingly limited amounts, this creates a sense of urgency, and prevents procrastinators from delaying a purchase indefinitely.  (with the average QVC shopper being something like 75 years old they need to hurry up or the shopper won’t be around to buy).

The same is true of content.  If everything is always available there is no urgency to grab something because “You don’t know when you might see it again”.  Browsing stacks of used Records at the Tower Records, was killed off by iTunes.  All the music always available.  A model which is killing the Music industry.  With no urgency, you only create demand for the new music.  This is the same with book publishing.  New Release are the only things which fly off the romance section shelves at Barnes and Nobel. An older romance which you haven’t read is likely as good if not better than the one that was just released, much as the Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca are better movies than 90% of what is released these days.  Certainly many old movies are better than the made for TV releases that end up on Xbox Live. 

That all being the case, you don’t go looking for the old stuff unless there is artificial buzz created around it.  “I am Legend” came out and all of a sudden “Omega Man” was popular again.  Sure it was always available, but it wasn’t in stores.  Seeing it on the rack at Best Buy while Will Smith was in the theatre created a renewed interest in the film. 

This artificial sense of urgency drives sales, and the Movie studios know it.  As long as they keep rotating content, and add new formats every so often they can continue to monetize the long tail.  But this only works if you respect their ability to know what will play where, and when to play it.  Doing a willy-nilly implementation with out the deep understanding and the background analytics will lead to a service that seems stale, and has a lower usage than one which rotates its inventory.