In 2006, Chris Anderson (@chr1sa), then editor of Wired, published a groundbreaking book called “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More”.

The premise of the book is that low-demand products or services can, in aggregate, combine to deliver a lot more business than the few products that sell in large quantities. The Internet allows niche sellers to find their niche audience and customers – and have a viable business. The demand, albeit minimal, goes on and that long level line hovering just above statistical oblivion is the “long tail.” If you can personalize an experience or delivery to this long tail then you have a business where previously there would have been none.

Eight years later, we take for granted that somewhere on the Internet there’s a service or product uniquely tailored or tailorable to our specific needs or interests. We just need to find it.

An obvious example is Netflix. Remember before Netflix, trudging down to the local video store and basically having to choose what was there? Netflix recognized that for all the movie viewers who want the latest blockbusters, there’s a whole bunch of people who actually want to explore quaint British costume dramas, or French-subtitled existential crisis pieces, or the latest Japanese anime or multiple documentaries about, well, you name it. They even went one step further, developing their own content and introducing the concept of binge-watching, watching a show whenever it suits you and never having to wait for the next week’s episode.

Netflix was one of the early innovators to capitalize on the long tail and it continues to have a profound effect on the entertainment industry. Just as Netflix disrupted the video rental model over the past ten years, we get ready for the next wave of disruption as streaming becomes pervasive, entertainment on mobile devices on the go becomes technically feasible and affordable, and a consumer’s ability and expectation to tailor the type and amount of content they prefer goes into hyper-drive.

According to a WSJ article, today YouTube garners more than a billion hours of viewership a day, a ten-fold increase over 5 years, boosted by algorithms that present content personalized to the user’s viewing history and preferences. This is still lower than the 1.25 billion hours Americans watch TV every day, but it’s clearly only a matter of time before the Internet overtakes the tube.

Here are a few ways I believe technology and content will converge to deliver the next wave of entertainment:

  • TV shows will become interactive, whether streaming live or canned. While you are watching the latest episode of Shark Tank, for example, you might be able to question the entrepreneurs in an Instagram or Twitter live video session, and maybe even crowd fund the idea, transferring money from your wallet while munching the popcorn. A couple of years back, we enabled audiences to interact in almost real time with Aamir Khan, the very popular Bollywood actor, host and producer of the TV show, Satyamev Jayate, sharing comments on social media and getting those addressed on live TV. Today, it is common to see reality shows on TV with live voting enabled through mobile apps.
  • As viewership moves to the Internet, the advertising world will need to radically transform itself to stay relevant in the face of the all-powerful “forward” button. Active product placements will be key, and brands will need to develop a serious original content strategy to get audience mind share. Will large consumer brands have a Chief Content Officer in the near future? Don’t bet against it!
  • Advances in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will create a completely new segment of participatory content, where audiences will be part of the show! Imagine the possibilities behind that! How about taking part in the next car caper with the Fast and Furious gang in your Mustang? Or helping Captain America bash a few bad guys with a punch of your own? Sounds crazy? Maybe not!
  • User generated content and metadata will permeate video on the Internet, allowing you to ask your AI assistant to “show me movies shot at my favorite holiday destination” or “play me some Bollywood music featuring a Spanish guitar”. Content will encapsulate not just searchable metadata, but will allow you to order online, learn more, cross reference. You know, pretty much everything you want to do with it!

I do not see the demise of the theater experience, or the 56 inch screen hanging on your wall, any time soon. But, with the arrival of machine learning and sophisticated search capabilities, ultra fast Internet connectivity, plus the intersection of highly interactive and compelling interfaces often derived from the gaming world, the time has come for a new level of personalization in entertainment experience. And to deliver this version 2.0 of the long tail, media and entertainment companies will need to embrace digital transformation. Winter is coming.