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The Convergence Sandwich
by Lindsey Clay, Marketing Director, Thinkbox
Broadcast TV is being liberated by new technology and we in turn are being liberated too...
We've all been told that convergence is coming for very long time. It's one of those terms that everyone nods wisely over but isn't completely clear about what the implications are. Convergence seems to be producing what might be experienced as a whole medium, but is actually composed of distinct and interchangeable layers; the convergence sandwich if you like.
The first layer is the distribution technology itself; for TV we're talking all forms of digital broadcasting - satellite, cable or terrestrial - broadband and, you could argue, DVDs. The second layer then is the hardware on which we consume media, whether that's a newspaper or radio. For TV, anything with a screen is now a distribution outlet and we're seeing convergence within this layer, so that rather than me carry around iPod, Blackberry and mobile phone we can now have just one object to leave in the back of taxis.
But the layer of most interest to consumers, whether that's the Guardian, Xfm or Pirates of the Caribbean, is the content itself.
And when people watch Lost online or Emmerdale on their mobile they call it TV, not video.
So it's clear that now, more than ever before technology enables us to consume content any time, any place, any where. Heavily borrowed from Mark Thompson, we sometimes call this the age of Martini TV.
But even though people now have much more freedom and control over their viewing and however commentators might speculate on the idea of a totally on-demand TV environment, people will always need channels and a schedule. Why? Because people don't want to have to work too hard on their selections. They want a trusted editor to reassure them it won't be wasted time. In the same way as the iPOD hasn't been the death of radio. Choice can be a terrible tyranny sometimes and sometimes you just want someone else to recommend or decide for you. TV is about relaxed entertainment, stories that tend to follow a linear narrative.
You also cannot underestimate the importance of the shared experience. People enjoy TV more with other people. It's a great bonding experience for friends and family both to experience together and to talk about afterwards (and during for that matter). Telly continues to be the most talked about thing after friends and family.
It's not quite the same if you're all watching at different times.
That is especially true of Event TV; appointment-to-view stuff like The final of Britain's Got Talent, the Rugby World Cup Final, the first episode of Neighbours on Five, Cookalong Live with Gordon Ramsay.
This was brought home to me very clearly with the premiere of High School Musical 2 (HSM2) on the Disney Channel. I had one friend who was hosting a HSM2 party for a class full of 7-year-old girls and who suddenly discovered half an hour before it was broadcast that she didn't have that channel in her Sky package. Needless to say she was nearly lynched by 15 feral 7-year-olds. Luckily hysterical tears down the phone to Sky did the trick.
Channels and schedules help people find the content they want and act as the cultural glue that bonds people together. They are almost like a retailer: a destination point or distribution outlet for the content they want.
So although the TV landscape is changing dramatically, one thing has remained the same and that is our desire for more. This is not a new phenomenon. Broadcast linear TV has never been enough for us. We've always looked for opportunities to watch more TV and to enhance the whole viewing experience.
- To have a bigger and better set, or better picture quality or sound.
- To catch up with TV we missed. Soaps, favourite programmes.
- To treat ourselves with TV as a form of personal indulgence. Watching the boxed set of 24 at one sitting.
- To interact and find out more about the things you love
- And ideally some mobility, to take it with you when you go.