January 2004

Convergence - reality or delusion?

Convergence - reality or delusion?

The label convergence has again been moving up the agenda in comments from politicians and regulators, most recently as part of the justification given by the chief executive of the new British regulator Ofcom for its creating in place of five former regulators.

It's a concept whose time has come in a technological sense as more and more digital transmission advances at the expense of analogue; after all in technical terms video or audio streams are just packages of Ones and Zeros until they are put into a device that converts them into an analogue form suitable for human ears and eyes.

The problem we have - and we have seen nothing to change the views we voiced in our November 2000 comment about the differences in the way humans react to different media and about the nature of radio as a medium.

In our view, talking of TV in the same terms as radio is just as logical as referring to a bicycle, steam train, supersonic plane and the space shuttle as forms of transport and then allocating the manufactureof the bicycle to Boeing, that of the steam train to the bicycle maker and of the plane and shuttle to the locomotive works.

Different media require different approaches.

To anyone who thinks about the way human beings absorb experiences and are stimulated, it is a no-brainer that different media require different approaches.

Hence, although there is a fashion for conglomerates to own media of all kinds and a perceived synergy, indeed a real synergy when it comes to selling advertising packages to cover a market, where there is conglomerate ownership of different media, we see too many examples of cross-media ownership leading -- we once heard it perceptively described to a senior media executive as "multi-level deskilling" -- to be optimistic about the overall benefits to readers, listeners or viewers or indeed "users" of any kind of media (to use a portmanteau word that can cover traditional media, the Internet, and mobile technology.)

Perhaps to someone whose sole concern is in digits and noughts, be they in data streams or columns in a spreadsheet there really does seem to be convergence simply because all the information at some stage is data - before it becomes words or pictures on a printed page, the same on screen, audio from a speaker, or moving pictures on a screen.

To the audience the perception is different and one, we suggest that shows up speedily in audience size, when there is real competition and one organization assumes Jack can master all trades.

Human senses overlap, they don't converge.

Our view of such people is that, were the operation reversible, their eyes should be put out for a while, then their ears removed, then their tongues, and ideally that for a period they also be made illiterate and lose their senses of touch and smell.

The experience would presumable illustrate effectively the value of the various human senses allied with the degree to which language enhances experience; after that we would consider them perverse in the extreme were they to talk of convergence in those things that humans relate to via those senses.

Convergence, therefore, in our view is a word only applicable in a very narrow sense and one whose utterance by media executives should lead to derision and scorn being heaped upon them.

Back in 2000, we referred to radio as an aural medium. Human ears haven't changed since then and neither, therefore, have the skills that are needed to effectively engage the human imagination and understanding through that which is heard.
The same we would contend is true of films and television, which can engage the human through the visual, aural and, via text, language-related areas of the human brain.

Both the above media are also dependant, in computer terms, on a timeline that is very constrained as opposed to the written word which, augmented or not by diagrams and visual extras, can be taken at tremendously varying speeds - a concentrated slow read for something that needs particular concentration or is best savoured at leisure and a fast speed when the idea is to assimilate an overview speedily.

So how do these converge? Our view is that they don't. They may overlap, which is why it is possible to get away in TV with something that is effectively audio with pictures thrown near it, or in radio with a report that is a track lifted from TV.

In each case, though, there is always something lost in the compromises necessary - detail lost for the radio where no description of elements that the pictures supplement in the TV item or a needless and often annoying description of pictures - "the flames leapt high into the night-sky" syndrome - that detract from a TV report.

Quality or quantity.

The above in many ways boils down to a choice between quality and quantity. If the former is wanted, different approaches are needed for different media and no individual, however talented, can simultaneously produce the best for all media albeit some can sequentially deliver top quality in more than one medium: indeed, in many cases, those who succeed tremendously in one medium fail dismally in another because the very basis of their approach won't translate well.

We see no reason why pressure should not be kept on organizations to deliver quality rather than more pottage. The question is the best way in which this can be done and overall we favour diversity as the best means of keeping on such pressure.

Where possible, in media terms, this seems to us to be best achieved by a mix of funding sources - public -service broadcasting, subscription services and also funding from advertising.

And there again we come to a path where we see the best coming not from convergence but from diversity. Convergence, we suggest, is the equivalent of a diet of baked beans as far as the mind is concerned and should be left strictly to those involved in technology unless excessive flatulence is desired.

What you think? Please E-mail your comments.

Comment index ........ E-Mail us with your comments
Front Page About this site Freelance bulletin
Site audio files Radio Stations Other links Archives Index Comment Pages Your feedback Browsers
players, 38 Creswick Road, Acton, London W3 9HF, UK: