Convergence in Media: What? Why? How?

Convergence - The process of coming together or the state of having come together toward a common point.

What is convergence media?
Media convergence is a theory in communications where every mass medium eventually merges to the point where they are indistinguishable to each other, creating a new medium from the synthesis due to the advent of new communication technologies.

Challenges in convergence
While the industry at large is excited about media convergence, it also has its share of concerns. The most unanimous one being lack of adequate bandwidth. The bandwidth cost is too high and has to be brought down drastically. In Korea, there are half-a-million subscribers who receive 11 channels live on their mobiles. Only when there is enough bandwidth, can the business be ramped up.

The other challenge is educating consumers to use the various new media. The industry will not grow unless the consumer is educated. Apart from reaching consumers at various touch points through convergence of media, companies are also looking at it as a media to cater to individual needs of a consumer. And, for this, the need of the hour is to generate adequate content. Content availability has not kept pace with the changing consumers. Content generators have to generate enough to cater to individual tastes.

Another perspective to the challenges is the industry one & where companies need to be more and more competitive in their marketing and product strategies. For this, they need to constantly innovate newer products and therefore, reallocate more and more resources to research and development. As more companies compete, the gestation period for newer products is decreasing with each product life cycle. For example. Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel observed that in 18 months, the number of transistors on a microprocessor chip doubled with half the size.

Finally, the lack of multiskilled professionals in the newer arenas of business make it difficult for the company's old guard to let go of draconian practices. This ultimately leads to turf wars over domain control.

Market and technology convergence
By plotting time against portability and interactivity and at the same time of selected parameters that might be called the benchmark of technology progress namely moving image, computing, voice communication and games, we can get a historical perspective as well as deduce where the combined technologies are headed. As shown in the chart below, the big three factors of technology (storage, bandwidth and processing power) are all increasing up and to the right.

However, in this case of mapping, the word convergence is never intended to suggest replacement (i.e. everything is moving to one entity, point). All of the elements on the charts are still in existence and apart from VHS and DVD will be around for a good while. We also see 'divergence' of media forms as it morphs across a sea of devices that continue to grow, layer upon layer.

All technology makers and marketers would like to know what the next '?' will be. In the portable domain will we always have separate phone and serious gaming device? We are already seeing the merging of the phone, organiser and media player (4GB phones are already in the market) – given you can dock these portable devices to the larger screen, carry all your content and that they can receive high definition TV, do we need fixed devices at all?

Convergence of Understanding, Practicing and Innovating
Increasingly, one can observe a definitive trend in the convergence of understanding, practicing and innovating in the competitive market place where each participant is eying the largest chunk of the market pie. Understanding the needs of the consumer has taken on a new importance with extreme segmentation and fragmentation in the marketplace.

Identifying this need and innovating a new product or a service to fill this gap in the need has gained prime importance, more so akin to a rasion d'etre for the companies. From high value-high involvement products like home loans and automobiles to low value-low involvement products like detergent powders and toothpastes to soft drinks, companies are increasingly spending big money to understand the patterns and motivations of the consumer for selecting, purchasing and using a certain brand. Even more important, the brand associations that the consumer makes about a certain brand can make or break the brand equity of a company's product and the difference between success and failure of the product in the market.

A constant drive to innovate and come out with better products is reflected in the ever-increasing amounts of R&D spends of the companies. For example, high technology products like Nokia's mobile handsets are made based on a constant feedback on usage and understanding of mobile phones by the customers leading to higher levels of innovation and user-friendliness in the next handset made by Nokia. A new concept on the horizon is co-creating value. This happens between consumer and manufacturer. The manufacturer actively seeks the cooperation of the consumer for creating newer products. For example, Id software, one of the biggest and most popular game manufacturers, roped in the maker of what they believed to be the best fan site of their highly popular game DOOM. For the new DOOM III game, they made him a consultant for level design and game play.

Convergence of Creativity/Design with Technology and Business Sense
It wasn't a long time ago when even the top copysmiths of advertising like Neil French used to write copy for ads and fit them in typesets for printing. Nowadays even a copywriter in a small agency in a small town will type out the copy quickly on the computer and the graphic designer will fit it into the ad's layout and send out the soft copy to the newspaper for printing. Technology innovation from typewriters to computers has made this shift possible. A school student with a typical Pentium desktop computer, has at his disposal, more computing power than NASA had when it send the first man on the moon. The great enabler in this case, technology, is progressing with such rapid pace that the latest, most cuttingedge technology is rendered almost outdated with a few months of its release. Creative visualisers using advanced software like Adobe Photoshop and CorelDraw are daily creating breathtaking graphical masterpieces that would have taken a Leonardo da Vinci months, if not years, to create. Convergence in the technological standards like image formats (jpegs, gifs, etc.), audio-video formats (mpeg, avi, etc.), audio formats (mp3, wma, etc.), and so on, combined with interpolability and compatibility to use, share and transfer this data (USB, flash drives, DVDs and other optical storage) has created a powerful technology-design combo that professionals across the world are using in physical form as well as virtual form (cyberspace – internet). Add to this, the keen entrepreneurial mind of a businessman and you have technology monoliths like the Times Group and others like AOL-Warner, Sony and Apple amongst many others who dominate the commercial landscape. Convergence is changing the way people live their lives on a daily basis.

Convergence of Classroom (Brick & Mortar) with Internet (Click & Portal) and Learning by Doing (Experiential):

Experiential Brick and Portal
Traditional classroom model has been in an evolutionary phase ever since technology innovations have made networking possible. Satellite communications like VSAT have enabled hundreds of thousands of students across the world to virtually attend lectures. University Grants Commission (UGC) has empowered students in India because of this education and technology convergence. In professional courses, the emphasis has always been on practical knowledge rather than just theoretical inputs. The value addition to the professional skills development is far more when students are exposed to theories and their practical applications. Added to this is the new dimension of internet learning. Numerous universities, colleges and institutes, especially in Western Europe and North America are now offering degree courses through the internet. This dissolves all cultural, geographical and social barriers for people who cannot afford the time and/or money to attend full time courses in foreign countries. The effective combination of these three models of learning traditional classrooms, internet and practical experiences, have become necessary for students of today to become successful professionals of tomorrow.

Convergence in media consumption & media buying There was a time when you had simple choices to make – like choosing one newspaper from the 3 or 4 available, one radio station, one television station that broadcasted only in the evenings, couple of magazines from half a dozen available and so on. As the market kept segmenting and fragmenting, we now have thousands of radio stations to choose from with WorldSpace, Star TV itself telecasts more than half a dozen channels round the clock, there are more than a couple of dozen newspapers to choose from, hundreds of magazines to choose from and the story does not end there. With the advent of newer technologies, we now have newer channels of communications like mobile, internet and direct-to-home television along with exponential storage capabilities on optical media like CDs and DVDs.

Today, a typical consumer is bombarded with more than 1,000 messages per day. Marketers are finding newer ways and means to target the consumers. Innovative ways are tried almost every year and their success means the success of the product in the market. Another example of convergence in media consumption is the way in which consumers actively hunt for information. 3G mobile handsets are equipped for high speed internet connections and the user opts to use it in a variety of ways; like checking the online navigation to watch out for traffic jams, weather forecasts, locating the nearest fuel station, hospital or even a restaurant, everything is possible with the mobile handset. It also backs up as a personal information manager (PIM), a music player, camera and portable gaming device. As mentioned earlier, there has been an explosion in the media available today. But there has also been an ownership consolidation taking place in the process. At the top of the pyramid, there are five group companies – WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, Dentsu and Viacom.

More and more media houses are establishing or consolidating their presence across a broad spectrum of media channels. For example, the Bennett Coleman & Co. in India were traditionally a print medium company with the Times of India being their flagship brand. Now they are present in radio with Radio Mirchi, television with Times Now and Zoom, events with 360 degrees, internet with, mobile with 8888 and other such ventures. Combined, they hold a large audience in print, audio-visual and cyber media. This is also advantageous for the marketer as it makes it reasonable and easier for them to implement a complete integrated marketing communications plan across all platforms.

This convergence in media consumption and media buying requires professionals with multifaceted skills to understand and manage such media companies. Convergence in media ownership A massive diversification of media, thanks to the Internet, materialized by millions of websites, fora, blogs and wikis is taking place. That evolution, often labelled citizen journalism or citizen media, makes it possible for practically everybody to be a media creator, owner and actor, instead of a passive user.

Some of the largest media conglomerates include American Media Inc., Bell Globemedia, Bertelsmann, Canwest Global, NBC Universal, Hearst Corporation, Lagardere Media, Liberty Media, News Corporation, Grupo PRISA, Rogers Communications, Sony, Time Warner, The Times Group (distinct from Times Newspapers of News Corportation), Viacom (owned by National Amusements), CBS Corp (also owned by National Amusements), The Walt Disney Company.

Convergence in the interests of dual markets
As more and more companies across industries look at multiple media platforms, especially the digital media, it is also emerging as a revenue-earning model for most of them. Says Kaizad Pardiwala, Vice-President, OgilvyOne (Mumbai), "Indian Idol got more than 55 million votes via SMS between November 2004 and March 2005. At Rs 3 per SMS, that is Rs 16.5 crore. The telecom companies made Rs 11.5 crore and Sony about Rs 5 crore. Also, e-commerce is growing rapidly in India and a host of companies are setting up online shops across portals. In fact, e-commerce, which shows an approximately 100 per cent growth year on year from 2003-2006, is estimated to grow by approximately 95 per cent in 2007." There has also been a shift in terms of media's target consumers. Traditionally, the primary market was the target of media companies. The primary market included television viewers, radio listeners, website surfers, newspaper and magazine readers. While the secondary market includes the marketers, the competing companies and other media as well. There has been a convergence in these two groups as now they both are targeted equally by the media companies.

Media education: need for a paradigm shift
The world today is in the midst of one of the most dramatic technological revolutions in history. It is effecting changes in everything ranging from the ways we work, communicate commerce and spend our leisure time. The technological revolution which is underway centers on computer, information, communication, and multimedia technologies and may be seen to be the beginnings of a knowledge or information society. In such a society education has a central role in every aspect of life. The proliferation of communication-information technologies poses tremendous challenges. It compels educators to rethink their basic tenets and to deploy the media in creative and productive ways. It forces them to restructure ways of learning-teaching to respond constructively and progressively to the technological and social changes that we are now experiencing.

As a consequence of information super highway and communication technologies the media and communication education have undergone almost unbelievable changes. The old lines between disciplines are becoming obsolete. The work of professional communicators is undergoing dramatic change. Resultantly there are likely to be very few belonging to one discipline who might be conversant with all forms of media in the days to come. With such metamorphosis of the professions underway it is a real challenge to prepare students for successful professional careers in the era of convergence and connectivity of the variety of media.

In an era characterised by convergence of technologies the need for skilled media professionals who understand the foundation, both ethical and practical, from which they need to work, becomes even more critical. But without adequate training in new media skills the goal will remain unachievable. This crisis in media requires to be addressed in the class room where young professionals are molded and sculpted. But to meet the needs of the fast growing media industry an ongoing training is vital to ensure that those working in the field too grow and develop. This entails broadening, updating and upgrading the core component of the media education at various levels.

It is a fallacy to assume that educational institutions are soley responsible for the education of media professionals. Any mass communication graduate, no matter how well trained, is at best only at the beginning of a process of development and need be further taken within the work place. One cannot expect graduates entrants in the profession to be fully skilled when they begin to work. Their development as media professionals needs to be seen as an ongoing one.

Though they are launched in institutions of mass communications but eventually find their fulfillment in media organizations. The emergence of a high-tech media professional and a good journalist is indeed only a matter of time and entails much work experience and maturation.

What media students today need is nothing short of a leading-edge education suited to the needs of networked globalised industry. This would involve greater accent on fundamental concepts, values and skills needed to prepare them for communication careers commensurate with unprecedented changes. They need be fully equipped to understand the whole of communication scenario, be able to solve problems and imbibe the ethical and legal implication of media and communication which will let them be comfortable with innovation and working in concert with their peers.

The object of the new media education is to prepare students for leadership roles in their professions and in their communities. With a view to achieving the object of quality media education, the institute of Mass Communications are in dire need of to reconfiguring and updating their curriculum to produce graduates who are prepared for future leadership roles in the media and communication industries and who are able to communicate across disciplines and in multiple media formats. This for providing students with strong core content in critical thinking, research and analysis, information gathering, writing, graphics and design, and law and ethics and the latest media technology and skills.

The new media industries today the world over are at a crossroads. Media organisations are hard-pressed to comply with the highest industrial standards while portraying the essence of a changing society. In context of fast changing societies, media workers who are wanting in lacking adequate skills, and as a result the challenges they pose for media education and training, is not something new. Currently educators and communication professionals are seen to be busy discussing the ethical, economic and enduring issues on mass communication education both globally and locally in universities. Scholars from around the world are increasingly researching on issues such as the changing multicultural society, the popularity of "infotainment" genres, the convergence of media technologies and the effects of internationalisation.

Admittedly, today the core knowledge required by media professionals is undergoing rapid changes reflective of media convergence and the increasing prominence of multimedia. Media students and reporters are seen to be deficient in having a conceptual map of the nature, scope and range of their field of study a well as their industry. One of the reasons for this is that concentration on traditional ideas about journalism is impacting strongly on the journalism industry. It is putting an added accent on the need for classrooms and newsrooms to reflect the social and cultural diversity of modernday societies, alongwith simultaneously meeting the diverse needs within societies. Hence the urgent need for a detailed investigation into the context and direction of media education and training in the new millennium.

Mark Deuze (2002) of the Amsterdam School of Communication Research hold that the media education should be about "keeping the best practices of teaching context and practical skills course on the one hand, and including cultural and critical reflective didactics on the other". Students must not only be made to learn how to write; but also be taught how to think or rather how to reflect critically, analyze, interpret and move beyond basic reportage to the heart of journalism as watchdog.

Even the existing Advertising and Public Relations sequences, while retaining their specialized foci, need grow around the concept of "integrated communication," the strategically converged use of advertising, public relations and marketing concepts and tools.

Several neo-conservative status quoists believe that the more sophisticated and complex technology becomes, the more time it takes to learn how to use it. On the contrary, technology is becoming easier and easier to use. For example, many video cameras today can be used in totally automatic mode (where the shooter only has to worry about shot size and composition and not iris/focus/white balance, etc.) and this means, in a teaching/learning environment, one can worry less about the fine points about what the 'buttons' do and more about what the pictures say and how they work to tell a story. Further, new digital editing programmes are often incredibly easy to learn at a basic level. More and more, journalists are expected to be able to 'do' the technology as well as the journalism. Twenty years ago, reporters didn't need to know the first thing about how a camera works, whereas today more and more reporters are being asked to do basic editing and even their own shooting. For example, there is CBC's VJ (video journalist) phenomenon where reporters do everything.

The media education departments must offer to their students fully computerized reporting and editing classes, and create totally digital classroom and laboratory systems. They must orient themselves to revise their journalism curriculum and always be ready to undergo continual adjustments in response to changes in the profession. Far from print and broadcast sequences running separate as is the case today, students in the two sequences need to plan news coverage together, work together in the labs. Tomorrow, it is quite likely that the sequences might disappear and students will be required to work seamlessly on stories for print, electronic media and the Internet – or whatever systems will exist in the future.

Today, to be able to meet the challenge of the Information Age, it is important to understand how the mass media influence societies and how crucial it is for young people beginning their careers in the Information Age to be able researchers and clear writers. Combined with this grounding in the liberal arts there is the need to evolve a highly professional perspective. While concerning themselves with popular culture and communications theory, the mass communication students need emphasize the professional competencies of information gathering, analysis and writing.

Unless the faculty have substantial experience in the newsroom and regularly return to it and need be active members of professional organizations, proper grooming and training of the students in the new information communication technologies will remain a distant dream.

A major trend in the news media today is convergence. While there are several models, it is not certain which will ultimately prevail. But students of media have to be so equipped by training and field work that they become prospective leaders in the evolving field. Mass communication programs in Universities must respond to this technological revolution by increasing their focus on the computer applications the industry is using.

Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury Director, Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication
And Bhavin Seth Senior Trainee, SIMC, Pune
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Director, Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication
Senapati Bapat Marg, Pune: 4.
Cell: 0-93733-11239/0-98817-26790.
(Former Media Adviser, Textiles Ministry, GOI; The Nippon Foundation; and WHO, India).

Home  |  About Us  |  Awards  | News & Articles  |  Photo Gallery  |  Videos  |  Press Releases  |  Advertise  |  Join ABCI  |  Contact Us
Copyright © 2023. ABCI. All right reserved.
Designed & Website Maintenance by MiracleworX Web Design Company In Mumbai