Convergence. A word that is been used a lot when talking about media development as it, quite well, explains a paradigm shift that has been taken place ever since new media has been developed and emerged, and seems to be reaching new heights as we speak thanks to ever faster technological advancements. Here I try to break down where it comes from, the different meanings that can be associated with it, and what it means for us; media users and scholars.Starting things off with Media convergence in general. Media convergences could be defined as the “phenomenon involving the interconnection of information and communications technologies, computer networks, and media content.” Fundamentally it is concerned with the “three C’s”— computing, communication, and content. Looking at those three C’s it is obvious that media convergence is a direct consequence of digitalization and therefore also of the web and online world becoming more important. In short: The internet drives media convergence. Why is that the case? Media convergence (the coming together of the three C’s via the internet) ‘forces’ traditional industries into adapting the use of new media. Established work flows, serves, etc. need to be changed and transformed, and new content creation strategies need to emerge. Media does not exist in individual ‘silos’ anymore but is more connected and related amongst each other. The five major elements of media convergence are: Technological convergence, industrial convergence, social convergence, textual convergence, and political convergence.
Technological convergence is probably the most straight forward element and the one that is already been understood the most. We just need to look at the internet, smartphones, computers, smart technology, and basically every single other digital device that is now being used by millions and millions of people all around the world. Thanks to the advancement of technology more people than ever are now able to access media content which was, before, tied to traditional media platforms.Since a diverse array of content is now being accessed through the same devices, media organizations have developed cross-media content. For example, news organizations no longer simply provide just print or audiovisual content but are portals that make material available in forms such as text, video, and podcasts, as well as providing links to other relevant resources, online access to their archives, and opportunities for users to comment on the story or provide links to relevant material.
As a journalist one can also feel the impact of technological convergence as the boundaries between who is reporting and who is consuming are becoming more blurred. Prosumerism continues to peak and young audiences are as active and engaged as it gets which leads to an increasing amount of citizen journalists.
Industrial convergence is very much linked to the principle of mergers and acquisitions. Looking at the media landscape one can see that a lot of the big players consolidate their efforts in order to take on the new challenges that come along with emerging new media paradigms as well new digital media players. While the era of large mergers seemed to have come to a halt, it still does happen occasionally which shows us that convergence never stops. It’s not only big companies joining forces, many times we can also witness how up and coming start-ups are being acquired by established players.
Most mergers and acquisitions can be divided into horizontal and vertical consolidations. Horizontal describes a take over or joining of forces of companies within a similar field (e.g. Disney acquiring 21st century Fox) while vertical focuses on take overs or mergers within different, yet related, areas that might compliment a company’s production cycle / value chain. (e.g. Apple would decide to acquire chip producer Intel).
Social convergence, as the name suggests, is obviously very much about how social media is a game changer for converging media. Social media – this is important – is not only Facebook or Instagram, but every platform that enables two way communication, sharing, and interaction. The initial idea of social media was to move from one-to-many communication to a man-to-many communication and enable and promote participatory audience behavior. Social networks were thought to become user-centered, decentralized and able to adapt to media changes (i.e. convergence) as they happened.Another big part of social convergence in relation to social media is the focus on user generated content (UGC). As mentioned before “Prosumerism” and the “produsers” are on the rise and with it comes the principle of mass collaboration. Again, thanks to media convergence, the tools needed to create content that can be consumed by he masses are becoming cheaper and more affordable as time goes by which enables the average Joe to create good well produced content which makes the distinction between amateurs and professionals more difficult. The question if that is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ needs to be answered by everybody by themselves though as both, benefits and challenges, seem to be attached to this very development.
Changes in the way users produce, distribute, access and re-use information, knowledge and entertainment potentially give rise to increased user autonomy, increased participation and increased diversity.
Textual convergence is very much concerned with how stories are being told. One of the most significant changes in how to approach storytelling in regards to media convergence might be the focus on Transmedia Storytelling. Here stories are being told across multiple platforms. This does not mean that it equals cross media posting though. In fact, it is very much the opposite. It rather focuses on how to tell different aspects of a bigger story by using several media channels while exploiting their feature specific strength to their full extend.
With all he developments in convergence mentioned before it is obvious that policies and politics also have to change and adapt to the potential and threads that convergence brings. Regulatory convergence does not sound as sexy as social or textual convergence, is still crucial for a smooth implementation though. Such regulations can be imposed upon media in regards to the content (NSFW, PG, suitable for children, etc.), the potential impact and how it would be consumed and distributed. With the change in how media is being produced and consumed (see above, produser and prosumerism) regulations also had to change. It appears that adapting to technological convergence is way easier for digital natives than it is for the ones in charge of implementing new policies which, at times, still leads to confusion. Another point that makes regulatory convergence more challenging than before is the fact that the main players in a certain area do not only stick to their core business but start to branch out in order to be part of the convergence culture. Apple is not only selling computers anymore, but also Music in a big a way. Google isn’t all about being a search engine anymore but also a big player in news distribution. All of this leads to law and policy makers being challenged by convergence as their goal is to ensure diverse ownership and content and regulate access based on community standards as as well as meet local content requirements.
Black Box Fallacy
When looking at what has been discussed thus far, media ever converging, leading to new ‘super’ gadgets that include several features of previously individual gadgets (e.g. your smartphone that basically replaced a telephone, music player, camera, calendar, etc.) it is no surprise that, in theory, it has been thought that at one point we, humanity, will create a so called ‘black box’ that will be able to replace every single device we have been using up to its invention. If you are thinking ‘I can’t think of such a device’, think again. Most game consoles, be it the x-box or the playstation, offer you more options than just playing games, they try to take over your whole home entertainment. That’s a step towards the black box right there. However, when looking around an electronics store these days we seem to have even more choices of electronic gadgets than ever before.
This leads us to the black box fallacy. The idea of one single black box replacing all devices remains theoretical. If I want professional pictures, I will go for a high end DSLR camera, if I want great videos, I will go for an appropriate camera, if I want great sound recordings, I go for another gadget. While our smartphone, in theory, could master all those tasks, it doesn’t seem to be enough and high quality seems to be more important than just the potential of replacing several devices with just one.
One of the most cited scholars on media convergence by now might be Henry Jenkins whose book ‘convergence culture’ could be regarded as one of the most influential books on the topic. Many of the examples in this article are derived from Jenkins’ book but it is highly recommended to read the whole book, available here on he Georgetown University websiteas it has even more real life examples in it.