Is Netflix cutting off its "long tail"?
Founded on the principle that a vast compendium of films—even the most obscure indie titles—would eventually find their niche audience and thrive, Netflix became a poster child for the new economy where "the future of business is selling less of more"--to borrow the subtitle of WIRED editor Chris Anderson's influential book.
But some indie industry insiders are concerned that recent changes at the company suggest they're now more about the big middle, with the phasing out of ultra-indie titles as they aim to be a major streaming player. In an exclusive story in indieWIRE today, I report on a number of small films (such as "You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk," pictured) that were once on the service, but have since "faded away" as Netflix continues to grow.
Micro-indie companies all reported a significant shift in emphasis at Netflix, so much so that one such entity, Carnivalesque Films, is closing up shop next month. In an email, Carnivalesque's Ashley Sabin (co-director with David Redmon of "Mardi Gras: Made in China" and "Girl Model") told me that the company has been lucky with its titles, writing checks for most of their films. "But alas with the marketplace changing to digital and also the release of our documentary 'Girl Model' we just don't have the time required to make Carnivalesque transition to digital as well," she said. The article also details changes that Netflix made in their "buying metric" that kept Carnivalesque's titles off its service.
Art-house distributors such as Kino Lorber and Music Box Films, along with big indie aggregators like New Video, were quite supportive of the company, however. But what's clear, nonetheless, is that smaller players are being pushed aside.
Carnivalesque's Redmon seemed to sum up the sentiment among many indie filmmakers about Netflix’s long tail strategy going forward. “Suddenly, I guess that tail was cut off,” he says, “because we were at the end of it.”