Modern Mediascapes: Niche Marketing & The Long Tail

Alisa Perren’s book Indie Inc., Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood discusses, at length, the impact and position studio company Miramax had within the film industry in the 1990’s. Specifically, Alisa delves into the development of what is known today as “Indie films” and how Miramax was instrumental in the production and creation of a radical new genre of niche/art films that became a part of the “cool cinema” movement; an unprecedented, highly stylized and bohemian form of cinema. Alisa discusses how the 90s-Miramax’s stellar roster of up and coming indie directors, e.g., Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, were at the helm driving this “cool cinema” movement. The works produced by Miramax and its cast of innovative directors were so impressive that it undoubtedly made them the forerunners of the indie film movement, giving them vast power and advantage within the burgeoning niche market of “cool cinema”, whilst enjoying financial success as the rest of the movie studios try haplessly to copy their style. It was Miramax’s ability to understand the untapped potential of a niche market, coupled with their successful marketing campaigns–which according to Perren is most apparant within the campaigns of The Piano (1993) and Pulp Fiction (1994)– that lead to its meteoric rise to prominence within the 90’s.  Perren writes:

“Miramax did what it did best—the company developed a number of creative marketing strategies that enabled the film to cross over from the art house to the multiplex…The Piano was simultaneously depicted as a traditional Hollywood romance, the latest imported heritage drama, the newest iteration of a modernist art film, the product of a unique (female) cinematic vision, and an erotic romance” (Perren, 89).

Perren’s book Indie Inc., Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood aptly captures the practices and logistics that eventually lead the transformation and development of new and unprecedented genres; genres that are, to this day, widely beloved and recognized as unique and modern. Miramax’s ascension to studio prominence was born from a finite understanding of how niche markets operate, a business sense that continues to prove equally prudent and lucrative in today’s mediascape as it did twenty years ago. A prime example of a company devoted to understanding and systematically implementing this concept of niche genres/markets in order to maximize revenue would be Netflix.

Netflix, as of 2009, offers more than 100,000 titles to more than 10 million subscribers. In order to better understand consumer preferences, or perhaps to offer titles in a more convenient fashion, Netflix has created nearly 77,000 micro-genres. Any avid Netflix user has definitely seen these hilariously specific or wildly obscure sub-genres sections with crazy titles such as: “Imaginative Time Travel Movies from the 1980s” or “Violent Nightmare-Vacation Movies” and even “Cool Moustaches”. Does the vast amount of obscure movie titles offered by Netflix, i.e., The Long Tail, merit an equally long and extensive classification system of subgenres? Digital magazine publisher The Atlantic  denounces Netflix’s current, verbose, system of classification and offers their own systemic algorithm, which is reminiscent of the more classic style of genre classification, as a more practical alternative. The Atlantic’s system aims to “decode Netflix’s grammar” when it comes to genre classification and create a database that adequately suits Netflix’s “Long Tail” of titles, minus the outrageous specificity of its current slew of sub-genres. The formula for their algorithm was as follows:

Region + Adjectives + Noun Genre + Based On… + Set In… + From the… + About… + For Age X to Y

Is Netflix crazy for having so many sub-genres? Would The Atlantics algorithm prove viable as an alternative? In this age of on-demands, taste profiles, and personalized consumer experiences, Netflix may be crazy like a fox. In an interview published by Techblog, the company discusses these seemingly endless rows of sub-genres as well as their purpose.

Some of the most recognizable personalization in our service is the collection of “genre” rows. These range from familiar high-level categories like “Comedies” and “Dramas” to highly tailored slices such as “Imaginative Time Travel Movies from the 1980s”. Each row represents 3 layers of personalization: the choice of genre itself, the subset of titles selected within that genre, and the ranking of those titles. Members connect with these rows so well that we measure an increase in member retention by placing the most tailored rows higher on the page instead of lower. As with other personalization elements, freshness and diversity is taken into account when deciding what genres to show from the thousands possible

90s Miramax and modern day Netflix owe their prodigious success to a comprehensive understanding of the way niche markets and niche products operate. It is equally viable, then, that any company seeking to establish oneself within todays modern mediascape can deviate from the path of traditional blockbusters and sequels to pursue smaller scale endeavors within niche markets and still acquire a significant amount of financial and cultural success. In short, Miramax and Netflix proved that you can be a big player by catering to small/specific audiences.

Sources Cited:

Perren, Alisa. Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s. Austin: University of Texas, 2012. Print.



  1. Your post raises a lot of really interesting, at times provocative points. I hope we’ll be able to talk about the parallel you see between Miramax in the 19902 and Netflix in the 2000s and 2010s. At first blush, the two seem quite different, and yet I suspect that one might be able to build a case for it by considering the relationship between genre, distribution rights, marketing and data.

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