During media convergence presentations, I often find that many of the
industry professionals sitting in the audience begin to squirm
uncomfortably in their seats. Seemingly threatened by this growing
phenomenon, they ask the pointed questions, “What does this ‘convergence’
mean? When will it take place? Where is the money to be made? And how will
it effect our careers?”
I assure them that media convergence is much more of an opportunity
than a threat. Convergence doesn’t replace the traditional forms of media;
it incorporates them. For the producers and artists who embrace this new
opportunity, riches and recognition will follow. For those who are afraid
of it and cling to the traditional models, the opportunity will be lost.
Convergence is the next step in the evolution of media.
What Exactly Is Convergence?
Convergence can best be described as the fusion of all forms of media.
And as it incorporates these various forms, it thus becomes a medium in
and of itself. To illustrate this, imagine convergence media as an
orchestra. Television is represented by the brass section, the internet by
the strings, print media by the woodwinds and so on. Each instrument
represents a beautiful sound on its own, and yet, when it’s layered
together with other instruments, under the successful direction of the
conductor (in this case, the convergence media producer), the result is a
The Convergence Media Producer
While the television producer and the web developer each have their own
team of professionals that enable the delivery of a story, the convergence
media producer builds a team as well. The difference lies in the fact that
the convergence team incorporates all of these teams into one.
One of the most significant hurdles that convergence producers face
lies in the fact that each type of production has a language all its own.
Television professionals have different methods and objectives than their
counterparts on the web. Thus, convergence media requires a skillful
producer who understands the cultures and idiosyncrasies of each industry.
These producers must be capable of handling the varied roles of
translator, facilitator, motivator, and, often times, babysitter.
Let’s be honest, convergence is nothing new. Walt Disney was truly one
of the founding fathers of convergence. Long before the internet was even
a blip on someone’s radar screen, visionaries, like Disney, had the
concept of taking an idea, a story, or even a character and translating it
into all the existing mediums of the time. For Disney, taking a story like
Peter Pan and translating it into film, television, books, radio,
magazines, toys, and amusement park attractions was sheer genius.
But convergence is more than a marketing tool, an ability to utilize
the various ancillary markets. It is a way of thinking, a new way to look
at an intellectual property. The key is not to think of your story as a
television idea or a web idea, but to envision it as an overall concept
that can be translated into a variety of mediums. This willingness to
“think outside the box” can yield not only fantastic financial rewards,
but also a tremendous amount of creative freedom.
Convergence in the 21st Century
What makes convergence in the 21st century different than the work of
the visionaries of the past lies in the assimilation of the interactive
mediums that have been developed over the last decade. Interactivity is a
word that is thrown around carelessly as of late. To put it plainly -
interactivity involves the participation of the audience. The era of
passive viewing is over. The younger generations expect to be involved in
their entertainment. This interactivity will ultimately penetrate all
While interactive television is still just an embryo and the internet
is in its infancy, they are quickly growing up. Exactly where technology
will ultimately direct us is a question that many ponder: Will the TV
swallow the internet or vice versa? Will our homes be smarter than we are?
In truth, how technology evolves over time is almost irrelevant. What is
relevant is how we, as Hollywood storytellers, must maintain the greatest
amount of flexibility to adapt to the continuous evolution of
Fortunately for those of us in Southern California, much of the
cutting-edge technology is being developed here on the West Coast - as a
result, we definitely have an advantage over the rest of the major
broadcast countries. However, they, too, see the potential of convergence
and are quickly climbing on board. Countries such as France, Germany,
Japan, and the UK are leading the way.
It’s time for Hollywood to wake up and smell the opportunity. In
October of 1999, three major conferences were held around the world
revealing just a few of the vast possibilities of media and technology
convergence: Internet World in New York City, the ITU Conference in
Geneva, Switzerland and MIPCOM in Cannes, France. Internet World unveiled
the latest in internet and computer technologies; ITU shared ideas about
the future of telecommunications; and MIPCOM showcased what the world had
to offer in regard to television content. They had very different agendas
and yet, at each of them, convergence was the topic of the day.
All this attention is due to the incredible growth that the internet
has experienced over the past several years. Overnight, “Dot Com” IPOs
have turned young entrepreneurs into digital billionaires. According to
MediaMetrix, there are currently over 200 million internet users worldwide
with that number increasing daily. The number of dollars being spent
online has increased exponentially over the last several years. The
worldwide business-to-consumer e-commerce market surpassed $30 billion in
1999, up from $11 billion in 1998. In 2003, it is predicted that revenue
will surpass $380 billion. The penetration of PC’s into US households just
Internet & the Audience
The internet is a force to be reckoned with. And in truth, it changes
the face of convergence. It makes convergence not just a melting pot of
media, but it allows the audience a chance to stir the mixture.
Consequently, creators of entertainment must not only adapt to changing
mediums, but also to an evolving audience.
Think about it. Interactivity did not begin with the internet nor the
CD-ROM, rather years earlier with the remote control – perhaps one of the
first tools of mass interactivity. Channel surfing began in the 1980s, and
now an entire generation has become accustomed to sitting in the driver’s
seat. The viewer has become the co-producer. Instead of an hour of
traditional programming, the viewer sees content in 3-5 minute segments.
They get what they want and they move on. We must not forget that this is
the Sesame Street generation, raised on short segments compiled to create
an entire program.
This style, of course, tends to create a big headache for the
traditional television producer. But others have embraced it. Some of the
most exciting convergence and interactive programming can be found today
on Nickelodeon and MTV. Audience participation and input can be found
almost every day of the week.
Also, film is often overlooked when the topic of convergence comes up,
but all one has to do is look at the success of The Blair Witch Project to
see the result of taking a film convergent.
For the content producer, all this effort establishes an intimate
relationship with his audience. Interactive media producers know whom
their audience is, how old they are, what they like and don’t like. How?
They ask. They pose a question to the television audience, who, in return,
responds via email, chat, phone, or fax.
Let’s compare this with the traditional television model. In general,
traditional television has been linear, delivered from point A to point B.
A program was produced, then aired to the public, and feedback was
recorded after the program was completed. And yet, no one really knew
exactly how to cater to the feedback. In essence, it was reactionary
programming. A program ranked well with the demographic, and consequently
similar programs were created.
On the other hand, convergence programming takes the linear model and
bends it - creating a closed loop. The convergence producer puts out a
product - the audience views it and responds. “We like this, but we don’t
like that. Perhaps you should add something like this.” And with
convergence, programming can be tailored on the fly, providing the
audience with opportunities to participate in the development of the show
whether it is through the television, phone or the PC.
What Does This Convergence Look Like?
Well, look around. From its inception, MTV was convergent by bringing
music and television together birthing the music video. Nickelodeon
currently allows their internet users to determine programming for the
Friday line-up. Drew Carey made a courageous leap into convergence with
his web cam event last fall. Martha Stewart is still setting standards in
convergence utilizing her network of magazine, TV, newspaper, website,
radio, and books to deliver the Martha Stewart Living entity effectively
to her audience.
Perhaps one of the best examples of media convergence was a project
that I was fortunate to have worked on over the past year. In February
’99, I was asked to take a live global television show “convergent.” What
made it unique, as well as complex, was the fact that over 150
broadcasters from around the world were contributing content for the
24-hour live New Year’s Eve show. From day one, we planned on taking this
project convergent. At least four levels of convergence were planned -
creative content to be delivered via worldwide television, radio,
internet, and giant screen venues. The television show would absorb the
internet; the radio would take from the TV, and venues around the world
would exchange live feeds with each other.
More importantly, we were interactive. Viewers would have the
opportunity to choose their favorite highlights from the show via internet
polling. In essence, they would co-produce the last few hours of the
marathon broadcast. Giving the audience a say adds a new dimension to the
viewing experience. It’s definitely more intimate. After all, that’s what
our advertisers ultimately want … a more intimate relationship with the
With that intimate relationship, amazing financial opportunities are
born! The most obvious being e-commerce. Marketing and distributing
products 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with virtually no overhead is –
to say the least - a relatively inexpensive way to make a significant
amount of money. Whether over the internet, the telephone, or the
television set, e-commerce is emerging as a major driving force of the
21st century. In the not too distant future, the audience will have the
opportunity to watch prime time television programming, see items worn by
their favorite actors, and with a click of the remote, purchase the item
without ever leaving the couch. Though we are still in the very primitive
stages in the development of these concepts, convergence and interactivity
are coming into their own.
The Greatest Revolutions in Media Still Lie Ahead
There is no doubt that, over the next ten years, we will continue to
experiment with the fusion of all mediums. From this point forward, the
television will incorporate the internet, and the internet will
incorporate audio, video, and audience participation. We will see the
existing and future mediums converge on a level not yet imagined.
Ironically, convergence will eventually become the traditional medium -
and the generations to come will never know media without some form of
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