Convergence is over. That's right: While companies are scrambling to jump on the "convergence bandwagon," the word itself-which has as many definitions as there are convergence executives-has fallen into the buzzword trash pile, slightly to the left of "interactive," leaning against "enhanced" and burying "push technology."
In my personal dictionary of terms and etiquette for the digital age, "convergence" had three basic definitions:
Con-ver-gence (ken vur' jens) n. 1. (Technical) The application of digital technology facilitating the merger of technology, distribution and content in two-way environments; 2. (Industry) The merging of entertainment, information and retail companies, as well as distribution and technology companies, to create and facilitate consumer relationships; 3. (ViewserT) The on-demand access to information, entertainment and commerce via a wide variety of platforms and devices.
This new wave is a pretty tough ride. Once you think you've got a handle on it, something new comes along. Before you know it, a trend just ends.
Why do I say convergence is over? Because truly, if I look at the technical definition, all of that (merger of technology, distribution and content in two-way environments) has already happened.
Now, it just has to work, whether it is PC/TV in your car or video streaming on your palm device. Thanks to Internet protocol, bandwidth management, cheaper storage and better compression, the "coming together" has happened.
If we look at the second definition of convergence-better known as consolidation and the joining of new media and old media-it continues on. This form of convergence may not be over, but "big" partnerships are in place to control content, distribution and technology.
Old-media brands are in a position to leverage their heritage into the two-way world, and building a new brand from a dot-com position is an expensive proposition. Dot-coms can bring a lot of tech know-how and new thinking to the table. Acquisition and partnerships to reach consumers will be essential.
It is that third definition that provides a hint. That definition really describes a cross-media-access proposition or, if you will, a "divergence." Digital technology and IP now allow a wide and growing variety of addressable electronic devices to receive content.
This presents both opportunity and challenge to media companies. The future of media will belong to those who know how to deliver relevant programming, information and services to where the audience is living.
Entertainment brands and content, in order to succeed in the future scape of digital, can no longer regard themselves as single-platform entities. It is a cross-media game now filled with the opportunity for first-mover advantages.
Looking back historically, should Sports Illustrated have been ESPN? Who will be the first cross-media sports brand? How does a company take advantage of these circumstances? The answer-integration.
We noticed that most of the so-called strategies to move into the new environments were reactive and not well thought-out. We also noticed an almost unbridgeable chasm between the "old" media and "new" media divisions within companies, not to mention those managing company portfolios and making technology decisions.
Reactive strategies can cost a lot, financially and competitively, and they also tend to have an effect on attracting and holding talented employees.
Our response to the future was to establish a framework for managing cross-media opportunities. The framework needed to not only address the internal management of the business, but a dynamic, divergent environment and, perhaps most important, a "democratization of media."
In the digital democracy, the viewer/consumer exercises choice and control, and a high value is placed on "attention seconds"-those three to four seconds you have to grab their attention. We are talking about building relationships, where before, you built an audience for your brand.
The framework considers the brand first and then, from a holistic point of view, it analyzes and develops an overall strategy that integrates solutions in the following areas:
- Portfolio-investments, acquisitions and partnerships.
- Technology decisions-data management and valuation, back-end integration, multiplatform execution.
- Content-rights management-rights segmentation, original, acquired, libraries.
- Content production-the actual expression of content across platforms.
The result is a branded, cross-platform user experience that enables relationships, adds to brand stature and increases revenues.
If all of these were to fall under the auspices of one executive inside a company, it would be what we'd call the chief integration officer-the person who knows what the left and right hands are doing and harmonizes their movements into a complementary result.
Above all, businesses must be willing to think their brand and service propositions anew and, in some cases, to abandon old strategies.
This does not mean abandoning the value, stature and promise of your brand. It does not mean defending your position against the onslaught of the zeros and ones of the digital forces. It does mean extending your position into areas where you know your audience is living.
If you are a broadcast network and you see your numbers dropping because the audience seems to be doing other things, don't scream loudly in hopes that they will hear you miles away in "Broadband Land." Go to where they are, offer service and value and get some able-bodied partners to help you do it.
Although the days on the digital frontier can seem lawless, we have learned that there are at least a few rules to play by. Here are some we have noticed in the last few years:
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
- People don't buy technology: They buy lifestyle. The technology should appear seamless. The personal-video-recorder market provides a good case study. TiVo Inc.-through a character it developed, called "TiVo"-establishes a relationship with the audience. People actually think of that little guy going out, getting shows and recording the programs for them. ReplayTV Inc., on the other hand, initially appeared simply as a technology.
- It better be easy. Expanding on the seamless theme, not everyone is an early adopter. Creating a branded user experience is truly an art. And although you want to maintain an overarching navigational scheme, the experience of content on each device must be specific to the device. This is why a Web page on television is not so appealing, but interactive content optimized for a TV experience works.
- It is an entertainment experience. Who says you can't have fun with data? Any experience on any device should have an element of fun and be fun to use.
RULES OF CONTENT
- Be relevant. Once I was asked what the greatest threat was to the advancement of broadband, interactive TV and the like. While others commented on back end and integration, it is the front end that has to work. It has to be content, applications and services that are relevant to my lifestyle and my circumstances.
- Foster creativity: These devices are essentially new creative pallets. No offense intended, but technologists are not necessarily content creators. Good storytelling can drive all of the mediums forward, but we must innovate in the way we tell those stories according to the devices they are living on.
- Guard your assets. Make sure the entity to which you are licensing your digital-content rights truly knows how to exploit them.
- Rules of privacy: Treat your audience and the information they provide to you with honesty and respect. This promises to be a hot button in the future.
- Rules of marketing: Once you throw technology into the mix, different audiences will buy in at different times. Marketing without consideration of the "technology-adoption curve" is a risky business.
- Rules of extensibility: A good implementation strategy takes the tech future into consideration so that you can "build once and use many" and repurpose assets. Why spend a lot of money on something you have to throw out later?
Convergence is indeed over. The next wave is its exploitation. Successful exploitation will require the savvy management of all of your assets, including your brand.
It may mean leveraging your experience into new territory. It may mean abandoning business models and strategies that have worked in the past. Surely, it is a risk, but managing that risk is the path to reaching an audience and building their loyalties in ways yet unimagined.
Brian Seth Hurst is managing director of convergent media, worldwide at Pittard Sullivan.