There's an otherwise rather ordinary individual working at Screen's London offices whose telephone ringtone is a snippet from Captain Beefheart's relatively obscure 1967 debut album Safe As Milk. That's the long tail in action. It's a fair guess the person concerned is one of a statistically small group who serendipitously came across a remastered digital version of the album on iTunes.
It may not be the case with his specific ringtone, but a great deal of music has now been profitably reworked for the mobile telephony market in a way few imagined a couple of years ago. His new-found Beefheart obsession may lead down any number of musical avenues but the possibilities are enormous and music itself is likely to be the big winner.
Film has yet to feel the effect that comes from shifting to an online world, unfettered by shelf space or broadcast schedules. But, like iTunes, the existing movie archive offers the critical mass that turns a technical possibility into a phenomenon, which is why everyone has been hurriedly digitising the back catalogue (See 'Gold in the vaults', p14-17).
The sceptics like to point out that the actual movement has been relatively slow. We were all talking about the long tail two years ago but there's little sign of it wagging yet. The studios have been making great play of licensing deals with download organisations but the actual activity is very small.
We can get any number of big studio movies online but in the time it takes to download, one could have popped down the supermarket and picked up the same title at bargain-basement prices with added bloopers and the original Finnish trailer thrown in.
Depressingly, any suggestion that slow uptake might be due to a lack of demand is disproved by the pirates and pornographers. Downloading is very big business, just not yet in the legitimate business world.
Crime may be a big driver for the expansion of digital exploitation in the coming months. A new Spanish video-on-demand service from Egeda explicitly cites combating piracy as one of its missions, for example.
On the whole, most of the film business has woken up relatively recently to the potential for digitisation. The reluctance has much to do with a desire to not cannibalise existing revenues. Home entertainment formats have proved extraordinarily resilient. After a quarter of a century, the studios only stopped making films available on VHS last summer.
For all the talk of a slowdown, DVD is still an amazing story. A few years back, it was a turbo-charged cash cow churning out huge profits. It might be a more sedate beast these days, but it's still a high performer even in saturated markets and is still growing strongly elsewhere.
The battle between high-definition formats may look like an unnecessary throwback to the VHS-Betamax years, but the wars are producing innovations that will benefit film. The shift to a new era is not a zero-sum game.
Downloading can co-exist with physical formats, as it did in music, building its influence as customer demand changes. Also like music, the business may find unexpected new means of making money - mobile-phone clips, for example. And don't underestimate the power of backlash marketing - vinyl sales have been increasing among music fans, likewise the cinema experience is unique.
In other words, film is sitting pretty. There's a mass of older product available to exploit online, and there's no need to bet the business on immediate success. European telecoms companies, by contrast, had to spend astronomical sums on buying up bits of the broadcast spectrum from governments for all those 3G mobile functions that the public don't use.
The back catalogue can provide the content to drive audiences online and what they do there may revitalise the film business in myriad ways. When you see a scene from Last Year At Marienbad on your colleague's mobile, you'll know the future has arrived.
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