Friday, July 31, 2009

Hoop Dreams, Netflix and the long tail

Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis wondered how well the award-winning documentary Hoop Dreams has held up over the years, so he decided to watch and review it again (he still likes it). The film follows the lives of two young basketball players through high school and college. Both are very good players with dreams of making it in the NBA. Neither makes it.

This should not come as a great surprise. Of the many, many players who start out on high school teams, only a small portion play college ball, and of those only a small portion make it to the pros, whether the NBA, the D-league, overseas or elsewhere. Of those, few survive more than a couple of years and only a very select group make the big money that the high school players are dreaming of. That leaves a lot of very good players looking for some other way to make a living.

What we have here, then, is a long-tail distribution. As with athletes, so too for musicians, actors, entrepreneurs, would-be movie moguls, politicians or, for that matter, bloggers. In all these cases, rather than finding a way to "monetize" the long tail, the market has allocated the lion's share to the very top and much of the rest to the almost-top. Not a problem for those of us playing pick-up after work or blogging as a hobby, but a harsh reality check for a 21-year-old on draft day.

The web was supposed to change all that, at least in the media world. And actually, maybe it has to some extent. How did Davis dig up a copy of a decade-old indie documentary, one long since out of the theaters and not available at the local big-chain video store? Netflix, of course.

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