Who would have thought newspapers and magazines would start producing their own radio and TV programmes? Who would have thought radio stations would become active online publishers, running popular blogs? Who would have thought the readers, viewers and listeners would rise up and start producing their own media?
The world is like this because we are in an era of convergence, which is been driven by the digital age. Convergence isn’t a “tech thing”, but a revolution that has fundamental implications for media and society. The result is that technology is become increasingly accessible, flattening established hierarchies.
For a big media company, convergence means being able to produce and distribute content more cost-effectively, but it also means heightened competition from smaller media outfits. For small media companies it means that for the first time it’s affordable to produce media in a range of formats, such as video and audio, on a range of devices. For both big media and small media it means increased competition and collaboration from their very own readers.
Henry Jenkins, the author of “Convergence culture”, describes the phenomenon as a place “where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways”.
It’s a phenomenon that is affecting media companies on three levels: Content creation; content distribution; and content consumption.
On the content-creation side, the digital age has made it cheaper and easier for a media company to produce multimedia reportage. In the old days, if a media outfit wanted to do an audio report and get audience, it needed a studio and radio station. Now reporters just need an MP3 recorder and an internet site to publish. It has profound implications for small media companies or specialist print media companies, because they now have the ability to move into this space for the first time ever.
Then there is the convergence of distribution. Because content is now digital — text, audio and video content can be repurposed to appear on a variety of digital devices simultaneously and at very little additional cost. No digital device that is connected to the internet should be safe from publisher’s content. For example, a magazine’s articles should appear not only in print and on a computer, but on cellphones, Ipods, Playstations … any digital device really.
The third area of convergence is that of consumption. It means that the audience is consuming media in a more active way than ever before. Essentially “readers” are being elevated from newspaper letters pages to be micro-publishers in their own right. Bloggers are mini-media owners, even earning online ad revenue. A successful media company is one that recognises this trend and is able to embrace the era of reader power.
But one of the biggest issues of the digital age is going to be that of quality. Just because a reporter can now produce multimedia, does that mean he or she will produce quality video inserts on the level of Carte Blanche or a radio show as good as that of John Perlman?
Yes, the digital age has made it easier and quicker to produce content, but that conversely has meant less processes, less people involved and less checks and balances. It means more content, more noise and more nonsense. Just look at the tons of mediocre digital photographs you have in your own folders. The challenge is now to make sure we get only the good stuff.