Bending the system of media distribution

**For those who have not watched Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra, drop everything you’re doing right now and watch it beginning to end. WARNING: it will change your life forever.

When Avatar: The Last Airbender aired on Nickelodeon in 2005, it quickly developed a strong following – myself included. Not quite anime, not quite cartoon, Avatar brought to audiences a new way of storytelling that reached into the hearts of all. Despite being aired on Viacom’s children’s network (Nickelodeon), Avatar quickly became a niche market online.

Four generations of Avatar. Fan art sourced from Hetallanstella via FanPop, 2014

The Legend of Korra (TLOK) is the highly anticipated sequel to the original series – and it was very successful. It still is very successful. There are thousands of forumsfan artworks, appropriations and fan fictions dedicated to this unique series. So why then has Nickelodeon dropped this highly successful show?

Image sourced from Phoenix_Storm via FanPop, 2013

The answer involves the different economies between legacy media networks, such as Nickelodeon, and online amateur distribution networks. Legacy Media Networks depend on a top hits system, or the ‘blockbuster model’, in order to gain revenue as production costs are too high to take risks with niche markets. The tail end of niche markets therefore, often miss out. Distribution networks however, rely on niche markets for the majority of their revenue. This paradigm has been coined the Long Tail – a market made up of millions of niche markets that have a longer life span on the market than top hits and therefore produce the most revenue. Chris Anderson, who coined The Long Tail term in 2004, argues that this is simply because niche markets allow audiences to gravitate toward their narrow interests – which apparently we love to do (Anderson).

There is a clear shift towards the niche market paradigm. In 2010, M. Night Shyalaman tried (I use that term loosely) to transform the niche product of Avatar into a blockbuster model by teaming up with Nickelodeon Movies to bring Avatar to the big screen. Needless to say, it was widely panned. Meanwhile the original series, The Last Airbender, found most of it’s success online through Netflix and Amazon. Our narrow interests make our niche experience a very personal one – it cannot simply be transformed into a mainstream market and a different experience.

Legacy Media Channels describe themselves as providing ‘quality’ content through a means of gatekeeping (Mitew, 2014) and TLOK has proved that is notion of ‘quality’ isn’t exclusive to them anymore. When TLOK switched to digital, the storyline and production behind each episode remained the same, and if anything, the writers were no longer restricted by these gatekeeper’s bylines and were able to explore the world of Korra more deeply. Once TLOK was online and no longer tied their earthly tethers, the possibilities became limitless.

While Legacy Media networks have monopolised our way of viewing content in the past, we are now in a new era and a new economy. This is the era of distribution networks, where creators are no longer constrained by the gatekeeping of legacy media networks – they are free to share their stories and maintain balance in the creative world.


Anderson, C (2004). The Long Tail, Wired, 12.10. Available at: [Accessed 27 August 2014].

Barr, M (2014). ‘The Legend of Korra’ Will Outlive Nickelodeon’s Short-Sighted Business Decisions.Forbes. Available at: [Accessed 27 August 2014].

Teodor Mitew (2014). The Attention Economy and the Long Tail Effect. 25 August. Available from: [Accessed: 26 August 2014].

Trendacosta, K (2014). Creators of The Legend of Korra Explain the Show’s Not-Cancellation. i09. Available at: [Accessed 28 August 2014].

About intersectionalalien

Hi hello people of earth/space/cyberspace, intersectional alien here. I’m still trying to figure out my place on this earth. I like intersectional feminism, feminism in popular culture, LGBTQ+, refugee rights, veganism, mental health, nihilism, travelling, unlearning institutional conditioning, good tunes and consuming and creating stories.
This entry was posted in DIGC202 (Global Networks) and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Bending the system of media distribution

  1. Lachlan says:

    Always love to read a story on TLok especially when its relevant to the topic of this week at uni. I love how you’ve shown how the way they have shifted this show from the old blockbuster style to using the long tail effect to appeal to their small market to make more revenue in the long run

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