media convergence

media convergence

 phenomenon involving the interlocking of computing and information technology companies, telecommunications networks, and content providers from the publishing worlds of newspapers, magazines, music, radio, television, films, and entertainment software. Media convergence brings together the “three Cs”—computing, communications, and content.

      Convergence has occurred at two primary levels:
● Technologies—creative content has been converted into industry-standard digital forms for delivery through broadband or wireless networks for display on various computer or computer-like devices, from cellular telephones to personal digital assistants (PDAs) to digital video recorders (DVRs) hooked up to televisions.
● Industries—companies across the business spectrum from media to telecommunications to technology have merged or formed strategic alliances in order to develop new business models that can profit from the growing consumer expectation for “on-demand” content.

      Some industry analysts see media convergence as marking the twilight of the “old media” of print and broadcasting and the rise of “new media” associated with digital publishing. Among the major changes associated with digital publishing is the growth of a “flatter” publishing structure that allows one-to-one and many-to-many distributions of content. This development contrasts sharply with the one-to-many distribution that was characteristic of 20th-century mass communications. Digital publishing also has empowered many ordinary individuals to become involved directly or through collaborative efforts in creating new content because of the dramatically reduced barriers to producing and distributing digital content over the Internet.

      While these developments have challenged the business models of old media as they developed in the 20th century, the ability of these companies to adapt to the changing landscape should not be dismissed. Old media, or big media, is very experienced in producing content, attracting and aggregating audiences, and anticipating changes in consumer demands and expectations. Big media companies are also highly capitalized and often enter the new media environment through mergers, acquisitions, and strategic partnerships, as seen with NBC Universal (National Broadcasting Co., Inc.), an American media conglomerate, which formed a partnership with the Microsoft Corporation to develop the MSNBC cable and Internet news service in 1996. Similarly, in 2005 international media entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch (Murdoch, Rupert) acquired MySpace (, an Internet social networking Web site, in order to leverage his News Corporation into an established online community.

Industry trends

Newspapers (newspaper) and magazines
 Virtually all major newspapers and magazines now operate a Web site. It has been an ongoing challenge for these publishing industries to assess the exact impact that an online component has on their business models and their broader operational structures as distributors of news, information, and entertainment.

      In modern societies worldwide, consumers have come to expect access to the latest news from television broadcasts, such as those presented by the Cable News Network (CNN) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), instead of having to wait until the next day to read about it in the newspapers. In addition, various Web sites sprang up in the 1990s to specialize in classified advertisements—for everything from jobs to used items to lonely hearts—in direct competition with newspapers. In order to compete with the growth of television news networks and the Internet, newspapers began to move online in the 1990s. This created something of a feedback loop as consumers came to depend on the newspaper Web sites for current news, and the papers were thus induced to put more resources into competing on the Web; this in turn led to the addition of still more multimedia content, such as photographs, audio, and video, as well as blogs (blog) (essentially editorials) and forums to attract interaction with their readers. None of these moves was of much help, however, because of the loss of newsstand sales and advertising revenues for print copies. Indeed, some in the news industry have predicted that classified advertising eventually will disappear from all newspapers.

      Thus far, the challenges have been less sharply delineated for magazines (magazine), although in both cases it is apparent that, even as geography and scale have diminished in significance as determinants of potential market size and profitability, it is those mastheads with high credibility among consumers (such as The Wall Street Journal (Wall Street Journal, The), The Guardian (Guardian, The), and The Economist (Economist, The)) that have fared best in the convergent online media space.

Music industry
      The arrival of Napster in 1999 marked the emergence of decentralized peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing of music over the Internet. At its peak in 2001, there were as many as 1.5 million people simultaneously sharing files worldwide by using Napster's software, and Napster had embedded in the consciousness of consumers the idea of downloading songs from the Internet—bypassing the purchase of established distribution forms, such as records, tapes, or compact discs (compact disc) (CDs).

 Napster was shut down in 2001 (see cybercrime: File sharing and piracy (cybercrime)) after a successful court injunction was granted to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), but the idea that songs could be downloaded, stored, and shared through networked personal computers had clearly caught on. New P2P illegal file-sharing Web sites popped up about as fast as the RIAA could shut them down, with the association often inadvertently charging children in its attempt to discourage digital sharing. Meanwhile, the music industry generally refused to see any merit in instituting its own digital distribution. It took a technology company, Apple Inc., to take advantage of this pent-up demand by launching an online Web site (the iTunes Store) in 2003 to sell songs, and later videos, for play on the company's iPod portable digital media player, using the company's iTunes music program. By 2006 Apple had sold more than 100 million iPods, and more than 2 billion songs had been downloaded from the iTunes Store, with all of the songs paid for and the royalties returned to record companies and artists.

      Following Apple's lead, other commercial online music services were launched, such as those by and Microsoft. However, the largest record companies generally refused to participate or allowed only a small sample of their record catalogs to be sold online in digital form. One complaint by the music industry was Apple's flat pricing structure, in which all songs were sold for the same price. In 2008 negotiated a deal with most of the major record companies whereby their songs would be priced at different levels according to market considerations.

Radio, television, and movies
 Podcasting (podcast), a neologism from a combination of iPod and broadcasting, refers to digital audiovisual files that are distributed over the Internet, typically to personal computers and portable media devices. Although podcasting existed before Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, few people listened to or viewed such files on portable devices before that time. Public broadcasters, such as the BBC and, in the United States, National Public Radio (NPR), were quick to act on the potential of podcasting in order to extend the audience reach of their radio programming, as it eliminated the time dependency of traditional broadcasting schedules. Soon television shows could be bought for a small fee and watched on iPods, cellular telephones, and other portable devices.

      As access to broadband networks proliferated in the 2000s, the movie (motion picture) industry began experiencing concerns similar to what the music industry had dealt with in the 1990s. Although the film industry also had devoted considerable attention to preventing content from being copied and distributed by unauthorized individuals over the Internet, the great size of movie files, compared with songs, gave the industry more time to adjust to the notion of selling digital versions of their content through regular commercial outlets. In particular, the film and television industries have a longer history of dealing with the recording and renting of their content by the public. In addition, they have experimented with supplying user-requested, or on-demand, content through special broadband networks set up for the purpose. Nevertheless, the scene was complicated by the arrival of YouTube in 2005, a Web site that allows individuals to share videos, some of which have infringed on copyrighted material. In response, in 2007 the American media conglomerate Viacom Inc., which includes various cable and satellite television networks as well as motion-picture studios among its holdings, filed a lawsuit against YouTube and its owners, the search engine company Google Inc. (which had acquired YouTube in 2006), for breach of copyright.

Market fragmentation in the Internet age
      Traditionally, advertisers could rely on reaching a large, stable audience of potential customers through print, radio, and television ads. While such traditional advertising media helped to establish some of the most successful and well-known brands, audience fragmentation in the 21st century complicated the picture, with the nature of different digital content delivery devices, such as cellular telephones and PDAs, often having a dramatic impact on the length of time that any particular message could hold the consumer's attention. While consumers could usually be relied on to wait through 30-second radio and television ads, few people demonstrated that much patience for similar ads on their mobile digital devices or their personal computers.

      More recently, media distribution models have been challenged by the concept of the “long tail,” or the idea that there are actually more total consumers for niche material than there are for the “best sellers.” This marketing phenomenon is demonstrated by the experience of the online bookseller, which collectively sells far more books (book) from the “poor sales” category than it does from the best-seller lists. As the company expanded from sales and delivery of tangible, material goods into electronic delivery of digitized books, music, and films, the long-tail phenomenon continued to be apparent. In the case of such online merchants, the distribution of digital media content has revealed both a greater heterogeneity of consumer preferences than was traditionally assumed and the value of business models associated with making more diverse content available to the consumer. A long-predicted similar broadening of consumer offerings began at the end of the 20th century in television, where the availability of cable and satellite for distributing new television channels greatly expanded the drive to exploit every available niche market, be it for strongman competitions or for poetry readings. A particularly interesting development, sometimes referred to as the golden convergence, has been the battle to control the home-entertainment space in the 21st century. The start of this convergence can be seen in the creation of television channels dedicated to electronic gaming (electronic game) from one side and the inclusion of Internet and television recording and playback features in video game machines from the other side.

      Still another growing battle in the age of the Internet has concerned the sharing of revenue, not just between the technology, communications, and content companies but with all of the people involved in creating and producing the content. Agents for the actors, writers, costume and set designers, and sundry guild members associated with any major production have expressed regrets that they failed to fight for a more equitable distribution of the proceeds from the sale of DVDs containing their clients' works. The trend to distribution of such works through the Internet is now clearer, however. Typically, contracts for the various artistic crafts have not included any form of revenue sharing for the new digital distribution channels. With so much money at stake, all sides have been reluctant to compromise, which has led to bitter confrontations and strikes.

Web 2.0: online communities and social networking (social network)
      The global popularization of the Internet was accompanied by a boom in electronic commerce, or e-commerce. British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee (Berners-Lee, Sir Tim), creator of the World Wide Web, soon argued that this focus on commerce was misplaced, as it assumed that Internet users remained primarily consumers of information and content developed by others for online distribution. He argued that the core design principle of the Internet instead lay in the scope that it offered people to interact with one another, including in collaborations in which they became content creators in their own right.

      The concept of collaborative participation by the general public in the generation of content, a concept that has come to be called Web 2.0, is centrally important to understanding new media in the 21st century. Web 2.0 applications have features that enable communications in a flat structure—rather than through a centralized hierarchy—which has been shown to facilitate user participation, interactivity, collaborative learning, and social networking. Web 2.0 applications also generate positive networking effects from harnessing collective intelligence, so that the quality of participation increases as the numbers participating increase, which in turn attracts more users to the Web sites. On the other hand, growth is sometimes accompanied by the arrival of malicious individuals seeking to disrupt or sabotage such social projects.

      Some leading Web 2.0 sites include Flickr (photography), Wikipedia (online encyclopaedia), YouTube (videos), various aggregated blog Web sites (Blogger, Livejournal, and Technorati), and “personal profile” Web sites (MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, and Bebo). In general, all of these Web sites share certain guiding principles. They are designed with minimal centralized controls, with the focus on users and their interactions with one another. Whenever possible, they employ open-source (open source) software that can be adapted and modified according to changing requirements. Relatively simple and “lightweight” in their design, they have minimal administrative, start-up, and ongoing development costs.

      Online communities attained more prominence in the 1990s as it became apparent that computer-mediated communication had acquired the capacity to enable new forms of community building and participation both in public life and in virtual reality worlds. In the case of the latter, participants sometimes argued that their virtual lives were more interesting and fulfilling than their real lives. While online communities generated new forms of social networking for some—and also raised a range of new issues around the ethics of online communication—by the early 2000s it was apparent that there was a growing bifurcation between these communities and the rest of the Web, where information and content are abundant but the scope for users to interact with Web sites and one another remains highly circumscribed.

      Yochai Benkler, an American legal scholar specializing in Internet law, argues in The Wealth of Networks (2006) that the Internet provides a necessary but not sufficient condition for the rise of what he calls social production. According to Benkler, three further necessary conditions are:

First, nonproprietary strategies.…As the material removed, these basic nonmarket, nonproprietary, motivations and organizational forms should in principle become even more important to the information production system.
Second...the rise of nonmarket production.…The fact that every such effort is available to anyone connected to the network, from anywhere, has led to the emergence of coordinate effects, where the aggregate effect of individual action, even when it is not self-consciously cooperative, produces the coordinate effect of a new and rich information environment.
Third, and likely most the rise of effective, large-scale cooperative efforts—peer production of information, knowledge, and culture. These are typified by the emergence of free and open-source software.

copyright and digital rights management
       copyright law is derived from the principle that neither the creator nor the general public should be able to appropriate all the benefits that flow from the creation of a new, original work. It presumes that original forms of creative expression can belong to individuals, who have both a moral right to ownership and a legal economic right to derive material benefit from the use of their ideas and works by others. On the other hand, copyright laws also recognize that original ideas and works are drawn from and inspired by a preexisting pool of knowledge and works. Thus, there is a need to guarantee that new ideas and works also make their way into the public domain for fair use by others in order to ensure further progress. In order to balance competing claims, copyright law gives control over some rights to the creators and distributors of content and control over other rights to the general public.

      The digitalization of content has challenged traditional copyright laws on two fronts. First, it has enabled nearly cost-free reproduction and large-scale distribution of digital content. Second, existing digital content easily can be remixed and “mashed-up” (combined in various ways) with other content to produce new works. In response to these changes, copyright holders have sought greater protection through legal and technological remedies. The various technological schemes are collectively known as digital rights management (DRM), which include different mechanisms to prevent digital files from being copied or shared over networks. As many critics have observed, DRM schemes are technically complex to apply, often generate interoperability problems between devices, and diminish consumer privacy by requiring complex registration systems. In addition, DRM generates new imbalances between the controllers and users of copyrighted materials, as fair use cannot be embedded in such mechanisms.

      As an alternative to DRM or further tightening of copyright laws and litigation between copyright owners and users, in 2001 Lawrence Lessig, founder of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School in California, founded Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making copyright material more accessible and its terms of access more negotiable in the digital environment. A key aim of Creative Commons was to simplify for creative people across the artistic, educational, scientific, and digital production domains the process of designating in advance, and independently of those who distribute their content as commercial products, how others can use or modify their works. There are four types of Creative Commons licenses: (1) use with attribution; (2) use for noncommercial purposes only; (3) use only of the original work, with no derivative works; and (4) use on a “share alike” basis (the license for the new work shares the same conditions of use as that from which it was derived). These licenses aim to overcome bottlenecks presented by current copyright and intellectual arrangements, such as the locating of initial content creators, the existence of different levels of rights in different domains and for different forms of use, and the restrictions on the abilities of users to negotiate directly with the original creators of copyrighted material.

Terry Flew

Additional Reading
Chris Anderson, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (2006), explores the proposition that, as the cost of distributing digitized books, music, films, and other content approaches zero, cultural consumption in the 21st century will be less constrained by the commercial need to market to mass tastes. Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006), argues that the rise of the Internet and the information economy has meant a growth in nonmarket or social forms of production and greater rewards for collaboration. Tim Berners-Lee and Mark Fischetti, Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor (1999), argues that the Web needs more scope for group creativity and less focus on electronic commerce. Brian Fitzgerald, “Creative Commons: Accessing, Negotiating, and Remixing Online Content,” in Pandip Ninan Thomas and Jan Servaes (eds.), Intellectual Property Rights and Communications in Asia (2006), outlines the nature of creative commons and advocates its further development as a means of managing access to digital content for artists and creative producers. Terry Flew, Understanding Global Media (2007), considers the impact of globalization and convergent technologies on various forms of media, and New Media: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (2005), provides an overview of key issues in the development of new media technologies and different academic approaches to understanding these developments. Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (2004), using the example of open-source software development, argues that copyright and intellectual property laws should be less restrictive.Terry Flew

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Universalium. 2010.

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