To Converge or Not: More than Wording8/23/1998 8:00 PM Eastern
Suddenly, Intel doesn't like "convergence."
The chip-maker's content team -- which has been
underwriting dozens of digital-TV and cable-modem program ventures -- is skittish about
using the term, especially if it suggests bringing TV and the Internet under the same
umbrella. There's apparently some concern that problems on the Web, or merely dismay
about its narrow capabilities, will be translated into digital or interactive-TV
It's an interesting attitude, especially in an
environment that generally extols Internet interactivity as the training wheels for
broadband services, including the next iteration of interactive TV. It's also
awkward, since ventures such as Intertainer (in which Intel holds a very minor stake) look
an awful lot like that old interactive-TV staple, video-on-demand, delivered through cable
But Intel's anti-convergence posture is also
understandable at a company that is pushing "enhanced broadcasting," which does
not necessarily rely on the Internet. From its Intercast product (computer TV plus
customized content on-demand) to its support of the new Advanced TV Enhancement Forum,
Intel is promoting services that don't need the Internet to deliver value-added
Nonetheless, it's fun to watch Intel wiggle free from
its occasional digital-TV ally, Microsoft, which constantly demonstrates its digital-TV
visions in conjunction with its Internet initiatives.
Convergence has long been a sketchy concept, offering
ersatz promises of TV sets and computers blending into a single product, or phones and
video services intersecting. Another new company, TeleWorld Inc., which is developing its
TiVo "personalized TV programming," similarly dances around the convergence
concept. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based start-up talks about "TV broadcasting nearing a
merger with true personalization" and describes its "service and content"
as "enabled by the intersection of new mass-storage, semiconductor and communications
"Intersection." "Merger." They sound
like "convergence" to me.
TiVo's vision -- which will be more fully unveiled to
the cable industry next month -- draws on VOD and VCR experiences. Using a set-top device
that can be hooked into broadcast, cable or satellite transmissions, viewers will be able
to select programs from a customized on-screen guide, use "Extensible Time-Shifting
Architecture" and even pause live broadcasts.
Of course, this could be a traditional advertiser's
"nightmare," exceeding even the commercial zapping that generally goes on in VCR
viewing of time-shifted shows. As TiVo points out, however, the personalization capability
allows even more targeted advertising and interactive electronic commerce into the
broadband space -- just like on the Web (although that precedent is skirted).
At several recent Internet/digital-marketing conferences,
the organizers declared "convergence" verboten -- or at least passé. But
that's an impossibility for insiders who see the migration path and the synergies
that emerge from the proper blend of tools and content.
To underscore these inherent convergences, consider the new
"Video RetrievalWare" from Excalibur Technologies. Excalibur has sold text and
imaging asset-management software for more than a decade. Its latest product is an
Internet protocol-based system, allowing video users (from newsroom producers to
instructional TV archivists) to search analog or digital video resources. Storyboards are
created and edited via a Web server, drawing from traditional video sources.
It's a real collaborative media blend.
Excalibur's image-recognition and tracking system
takes advantage of the tools available on the Internet and in traditional linear media to
create something new.
That's what convergence is really about: not just
shoving different technologies into the same corner and hoping they will work together --
rather, convergence means creating entirely new applications that can exist only in the
The reality of convergence is most vividly demonstrated by
streaming video and audio -- popular software that makes the Web look like slow-motion TV
(for now: faster later). Up to 50 percent of Web users have downloaded streaming software
-- a reminder about the appetite to bring high-impact visual experiences to the Internet.
In fact, fast-growing Web-multimedia sites are often
denoted as "media-rich" applications (a term that Intel happens to adore). These
intense graphics, animation, sound and services -- enhanced, of course, by high-speed
access -- are considered the future of the Internet and of the digital-TV world.
One nontechnical approach to convergence is bringing
together killer applications. Gaming and communities are hot on the Internet right now.
Mpath Interactive, an online-games creator and packager (mplayer.com),
is introducing a new technology that blends gaming with cyber-communities. The combination
enables interactive services ranging from interactive talk shows, entertainment, online
polling and surveys to virtual classrooms and online customer support. Not surprisingly,
GTECH Corp., best known as a lottery-technology vendor, is building communities online,
allowing virtual lottery players to get together in cyberspace.
That's the real convergence: technologies and
applications. And customers, congregating under the right umbrella.
I-Way Patrol columnist Gary Arlen's current sermon
deals with convergence, divergence and emergence. Amen.