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Media Convergence and Future of Television June 20, 2014

Although the Internet appears to be edging out traditional broadcasting and by extension, the ubiquitous television as the center piece of home entertainment, the need for viable content will keep multimedia platforms interdependent in the evolutionary arena of technology.

Delivery systems, content and advertising are the three factors that television industry stakeholders are grappling with in an increasingly convergent media world where hitherto monopolistic structures of broadcasting are crumbling owing to the rise of multi-platform media and aggressively interactive media consumers who are dictating what they want to watch, when they want to watch and most importantly, how they want to watch.

Convergence of media itself is not a new concept and media observers have talked of it since the 1980s. Nevertheless, the availability of sophisticated communication and viewing devices and better Internet connectivity in recent years has made the convergence a more layered and complex concept that involves the understanding of the technology and economics of content delivery.

New media theorists (Holmes, 2012), however, feel competition from non-broadcast systems of content delivery will not necessarily spell the end of television; rather, with hunger for diverse content driving creativity, there is room for everyone to co-exist in a mutually profitable world.

Theoretical Framework

This review takes off from the pedestal of Marshal McLuhan’s theories of media and his understanding of technology, wherein he famously equated the medium with the message.

Also, against the evolving foreground of media convergence, this review seeks to understand the new media theories propounded in the second electronic new media age (Holmes, 2012) by such theorists as George Gilder, Mark Poster and Sherry Turkle, each of whom declared the end of broadcast and the rise of interactive networks.

Review

In his revolutionary yet controversial book Understanding Media (McLuhan, 1964) Marshal McLuhan wrote: “Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”

McLuhan foresaw that with electricity and automation, the technology of fragmented processes makes “men nomadic gatherers of knowledge, nomadic as never before, informed as never before, free from fragmentary specialism as never before –but also involved in the total social process as never before.”

That observation could not have been truer today than ever before when media consumers are greedily accessing information and entertainment through interconnectivity and aggressive interactivity.

That paradigmatic shift in consumer behavior bolstered as it is by new media directly challenges the cultural imperialism of the television. In Life After Television (Gilder, 1994), George Gilder, who practically pronounced that the death of the television, talks of an age where the “master-slave architecture of television” would be overthrown by networked media where everyone can be a broadcaster.

In The Second Media Age (Poster, 1995), Mark Poster declared that the Internet would be the medium to provide an alternative to the severe technical constraints of the broadcast model, enabling a system of multiple producers, distributors, and consumers.

Poster talks of a post-broadcast age where the traditional audience emerges into an audience that seeks personalization of content, whether through interactive television or bookmarking of Web pages. Thus replacing the mass culture of broadcast and shaking off the built-in passivity of television watching.

In his book The Internet Challenge to Television (Owen, 1999), Bruce Owens made a prophecy of convergence – that through digitization, television, telephone and computers will all converge on the Internet.

What is Convergence?

Although convergence has become a buzz word for the media industry in the last couple of years, the concept was established as early as the early 1980s.

In his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (Jenkins, 2006) Henry Jenkins, describes the late MIT political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool as the prophet of media convergence. Pool’s Technologies of Freedom (1983) was probably the first book to lay out the concept of convergence as a force of change within the media industries (Jenkins, 2006).

Jenkins himself defines convergence as the “flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want.”

Convergence refers to a process, not an endpoint, Jenkins writes; convergence involves both a change in the way media is produced and a change in the way media is consumed.

The Technology of Convergence

Equally concerned with rapid convergence are those in the field of technology itself. In a discursive paper (Adams, 2011), Michael Adams, head of software strategy for Ericsson Solution Area Media talks about the inevitability of HTTP and adaptive streaming becoming the dominant mode of video delivery in cable networks.

Adaptive streaming was developed to provide the best user experience for streaming of content over an unmanaged network, like the Internet. However, such streaming cannot provide a service delivery quality that matches that of MPEG-2 transport systems, that which we see in broadcasting.

Still, Adams says, adaptive streaming is here to stay because of the appearance of popular client devices – tablets, smart phones and PCs – that support only adaptive streaming. Given this reality, cable operators are already moving rapidly to add adaptive streaming capabilities to their content delivery infrastructure, which means, newer set-top boxes in the network will be designed to accept adaptive streaming formats as they become standardized. Eventually, an optimized future version of adaptive streaming will become the dominant mode of video delivery in cable networks.

The path towards convergence was led mainly by the increasing digitization of content, the shift towards Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks, the diffusion of high-speed broadband access, and the availability of multi-media communication and computing devices (Claudia Sarrocco, 2008), according to a report prepared for a Ministerial meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

The OECD paper elaborates that convergence is taking place at different levels: Network convergence – that includes fixed-mobile convergence and ‘three-screen convergence’ (mobile, TV and computer); Service convergence – stemming from network convergence and innovative handsets; Industry/market convergence – that brings  together  in  the  same  field  industries  such  as  information  technology, telecommunication, and media, formerly operating in separate markets; Legislative, institutional and  regulatory convergence; Device convergence – most devices include today a microprocessor, a screen, storage, input device and some kind of network connection; and converged user experience: unique interface between end-users and telecommunications, new media, and computer technologies.

Content Convergence

In the UK television industry, migration to multi-platform has been characterized by the introduction of ‘360-degree commissioning’ and by the development of websites and other digital offerings capitalizing on popular content brands (Doyle, 2010).

A 360-degree strategy implies that, from the earliest stages of conceptualization, content decisions are shaped by the potential to generate consumer value and returns through multiple forms of expression of that content and via a number of distributive outlets (e.g. online, mobile, interactive games and so on) of which conventional television is just one, albeit still a very important one.

A comScore study points out that the need to stay relevant across multiple platforms, gives content creators huge opportunities.

“Content is king. But it doesn’t come in singular form anymore,” the study findings say. Therefore, it is important to stay story-centric and to build content not just for one platform, but develop it with multi-platform distribution in mind; and the best way to optimize content and assets is “to break down the publishing walls.”

Quite dramatically, the study says: “No one wants to have to run down the hall to hear the breaking news, so get rid of the halls.”

The comScore study concludes that at the end of the day, it’s about improving business, about considering production, distribution and business processes in a holistic way.

In a combined research ‘Researching Diversity of Content in a Multi-platform Context’ Katherine Champion, Gillian Doyle and Philip Schlesinger of University of Glasgow (Katherine Champion, and others) say that expansion in distribution capacity, improved search functions and the introduction of a digital return path have created unprecedented opportunities for exploitation of the value within any given universe of media content. Citing different studies, they say that the sheer space available online and via new platforms has led to an exponential increase in the accessibility of content.

New technology is allowing suppliers unprecedented opportunities to get to know their audiences and to match up content more closely to their needs and desires, they say. Because of improved signalling of audience preferences, the ability of content suppliers to trace and cater more effectively to shifting and specific tastes and interests amongst audiences has vastly increased.

Web 2.0 and interactive consumption of media

The development of Web 2.0 as a platform has transformed the nature of interactivity on the Web and opened up a universe of user-generated media (comScore, 2012). Moving away from the passivity induced by television and the one-way downloading of information of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 applications now allow users to become autonomous producers. Blogs, YouTube, Wikipedia, eBay, Flickr, Second Life, and other such online social networking sites enable media users to have a broadcast experience of their own.

The significance of Web 2.0 is that, whereas broadcast generates an instant national or international context of social connection, there are few ways in which individuals can achieve meaningful interaction to make these global connections tangible. The fact that users can now work with the materials of broadcast media as a way of communicating expands the idea that media make possible a public sphere.

Conclusions

Jenkins writes that old media never die and that they don’t even necessarily fade away. “What dies are simply the tools we use to access media content, what media scholars call delivery technologies,” he says.

While industry insiders are frantically redesigning their core content development structures, to cope with changing consumer demands, academics and technology experts understand the challenges in mapping the convergences between the three main domains involved – computerization, media and telecommunications (Holmes, 2012) .

Newer technological entrants to the market every day make it difficult to wrap strategies around holistic approaches, leaving the market in perpetual infancy (Holmes, 2012).

The McPillips and Merlo Media coverage and evolving media business model (McPhillips, Merlo 2008) argues that there would be no revolution or “industry stampede” as many have predicted. Rather, the study says, the industry will experience an evolution as the old and new models first learn to co-exist, until they ultimately converge.

As such, the concept of convergence itself is evolving, with multiple media platforms democratically co-existing in an arena where content still is king.

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Citations:

Adams, M. (2011, April). Will HTTP Adaptive Streaming Become the Dominant Mode of Video Delivery in Cable Networks? Ericsson Review.

Claudia Sarrocco, D. Y. (2008). The Future of the Internet Economy. Seoul, Korea: OECD Secretariat.

comScore. (2012, August 28). Presentations and Whitepapers. Retrieved January 2013, from comScore.com: http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Presentations_and_Whitepapers/2012/How_Multi-Screen_Consumers_Are_Changing_Media_Dynamics

Doyle, G. (2010). From Television to Multi-Platform Less from More or More for Less? Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies , 1-19.

Gilder, G. (1994). Life After Television. Forbes ASAP.

Holmes, D. (2012, June 29). “New Media Theory”. Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. Retrieved Janaury 2013, from http://www.sagepub.com/edwards/study/materials/reference/77593_10.2ref.pdf

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, London: New York University Press.

Katherine Champion, G. D. (n.d.). Researching Diversity of Content in a Multi-platform Context. Quality, Diversity and Innovation: Their Role in the Economic Functioning of the Media Industries . United Kingdom.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man.

Owen, B. (1999). The Internet Challenge to Television. Harvard University Press.

Poster, M. (1995). The Second Media Age. Sage Publications.

McPhillips, Merlo (2008). Media Convergence and the evolving media business model: An overview and strategic opportunities. The Marketing Review, 2008, Vol.8, No.3 Westburn Publishers.

 

Srirekha Chakravarty

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