Notes on the Convergence

I’m in Germany this week – the corporate entity that I’m a small part of is gathering, and I have the opportunity to speak a bit about media convergence. This is the text (roughly) of the talk I am going to give.

Henry Jenkins, the author and leading thinker, in an act of absolute bravery, attempted to define “convergence.” Here’s what he came up with:

“[Convergence is] 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.”

This represents the most complete definition of a term that we’ve used for years, but often at only the most basic levels. But Henry has given us a cornerstone upon which we can start trying to build some plans, products, strategies, and solutions, and we owe him a debt of gratitude. But, we also owe him some closer examination, because he’s talking about us here, and we should ensure that we’re good with what’s he cooked up.

There are three big players in this definition: media platforms (and those who create and market them), media industries, and media audiences.

Let’s start with the platforms.

The absolute truth is that the next generation of television sets that will soon arrive in stores and in homes will connect to the Internet. Many do already, thanks to set-top boxes, gaming systems, and network-able Blu-ray players. This is the big upgrade that I made this year to my own home and I’m totally blown away by it. The experience of browsing a catalog of movies from the Internet, clicking a button, and having it stream (wirelessly!) to the TV is pure magic. It’s one of those things that I know how it works, but remain amazed that it works.

Add to players like Hulu, Boxee, and SkyFire, and we find a very different media space compared to five years ago. The convergence of platforms, I dare say, is complete. Good work, platform owners!

The next item in our list is media industries. More specifically, Henry is calling for the “cooperation between multiple media industries.” That, unfortunately, is not going so well. Thanks to Herculean efforts on the part of companies like Roku (a platform owner), we are able to get content from a good number of providers. But, let’s be honest here: the ability to stream on-demand movies from Netflix is nearly overshadowed by the absolute crap choices it provides. The catalog is throttled by a complex set of ownership rights that seem nearly unbreakable. Anyone who streams a movie from Netflix suddenly finds those red envelopes an annoying anachronism. Media owners, you have a long way to go.

How about those media consumers? They remain the lifeblood of this thing, and it has become crystal clear that they are in fact willing to go anywhere to get content. In fact, many of them have absolutely no problem circumventing the frustrations of the media owners. Lots of very reasonable people, who would never take anything from an actual store without paying for it make daily visits to BitTorrent sites to download movies, which – let us be brutally honest – is stealing. There is a feeling of justification, though, for many of these media consumers because, simply, they don’t see other options, because the media owners can’t sort out a model that makes sense to them.

There is, though, one more point in this definition of convergence that we have been working on, and that is the wonderful phrase “migratory behavior.” Maybe Henry is simply turning a phrase and using migratory as a synonym for move, but really migration is much more than that. It is movement to a more suitable environment. That is, this is movement to gain some benefit. And, more specifically, no animal migrates alone. They migrate in packs.

And that is ultimately what is different and new about this well-worn word, “convergence.” Now we get to have people moving into a media space with their herd. It’s why people want to not only get Netflix on their television, but also YouTube and – most importantly – Facebook and Twitter. People want to surround their content with their people. They want to tell the world what they like and hear back more suggestions. They want to know immediately if something is worth investing their time in.

The converged consumer is coming, and she is not coming alone. As marketers, we are in a wonderful and unique position, with regards to convergence, because we can finally begin to think beyond just plopping some bit of content on one device or another. Rather, now that we really have all three players – media platforms, media owners, and media consumers – in the same space, we can let them interact, grow, and create something that we never would have predicted.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.