Cross-platform: The beauty and the burden of media convergence

With the advancement of media technologies, multiple media channels can now be delivered through the one digital platform (McPhillips & Merlo 2008). This, in its most basic state, is what is referred to in media research as media convergence. Cinzia Dal Zotto and Artur Lugmayr, editors of the Springer Media Convergence Handbook, add:

…the media convergence concept does not only refer to a technological shift but it includes changes within the industrial, cultural and social paradigms of our environment reflecting both media convergence and divergence processes. Indeed media convergence alters relationships between technologies, industries, audiences, genres and markets.

— Cinzia Dal Zotto and Artur Lugmay. Media Convergence Handbook: ‘Media Convergence as Evolutionary Process’. 2016.

These alterations offer enormous creative (and commercial) opportunity to media content producers. They also, arguably, place an extra burden of expectation on the industry. The relationship between the beauty and the burden will be the focus of this post.

Beauty

To make the case for beauty in media convergence, I’d like to use Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) as an example. ARG, in my opinion, is a prime example of how content-producers have recognised the possibilities of media convergence and implicated them in an innovative way. This is important to note. Media convergence offers the possibility of ignoring what some industry commentators call “old media” (Smetzler & Rae 2014; Jenkins 2006) formats, such as broadcast or cinema, assuming that what was once broadcasted (eg. television episodes) can now be released digitally (eg. webisodes). That is one approach. ARGs tend to acknowledge the power of digital platforms to engage audiences and bring them closer to the “old media”-distributed main attraction.

For example, marketers for the television show Lost (Abrams 2004 – 2010) developed The Lost Experience (ABC 2006):

The marketing campaign was designed to unite LOST fans from around the world in an alternative reality game developed as a spin-off from the TV programme. Working closely with the writers behind LOST, The Lost Experience revealed the ‘back-story’ of the Hanso Foundation, the shadowy organization behind the DHARMA Initiative. A combination of TV adverts, fake websites, call-centers, blogs, chocolate bars, video and flash mobs were coordinated to enable users to follow the story of Rachel Blake, an ex-employee of the Hanso Foundation trying to uncover the truth behind the company’s sinister activities.

— Lostpedia.

I personally remember calling a number that appeared in a fake ‘infomercial’ and hearing creepy, engaging recordings about the DHARMA Initiative (a fictional company in the show), packed with clues about websites to visit and the television show itself. Here, the Merriam-Webster definition of convergence holds up well:

The act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity.

— F.C. Mish. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary (10th ed.). 1993

Burden

So what does this mean for media professionals? If a marketing campaign no longer includes only a television advert, poster and radio spot (I acknowledge that this is a simplified description of pre-convergence marketing) but now also includes online videos, games, Flash/Java/HTML content, social media and so on, is there a heavier workload on those in the industry? Or are there simply more jobs?

Well, given the increase in free content and the changing landscape media (un)profitability, the latter question is doubtable and is, perhaps, a discussion for another post. Michael Cremedas and Suzanne Lysak, public communications researchers from Syracuse University, have conducted a study examining the “expectation” of new media skills for contemporary journalists:

This study makes it clear that the web has found its place as a primary news presentation tool in local television newsrooms. In some cases, maintaining the station’s web site is a priority and staff resources are dedicated to that purpose. But many other local newsroom managers find they must perform a balancing act. They have to constantly feed the never-ending web news cycle and yet continue to produce newscasts in a highly charged and competitive atmosphere.

— Michael Cremedas and Suzanna Lysak. ‘‘New Media’’ Skills Competency Expected of TV Reporters and Producers: A Survey. 2011.

This certainly speaks to some level of burden presented by convergence. However, the study also found that advanced web-developing skills are desirable in hiring processes, but certainly not mandatory (Cremedas & Lysak 2011). To offer both an alternative consequence of convergence and some hope for media professionals, I’ll conclude with the words of industry recruiters:

As one news director said of multimedia skills: ‘‘… it’s not a top priority because web-posting skills will be easy for most to acquire. News judgment, presentation skills and writing ability—though less easily measured—are much more important and much harder to find.’’

— Michael Cremedas and Suzanna Lysak. ‘‘New Media’’ Skills Competency Expected of TV Reporters and Producers: A Survey. 2011.


Works Cited

ABC (Director). (2006). The Lost Experience [Motion Picture].

Abrams, J. (Director). (2004 – 2010). Lost [Motion Picture].

Cremedas, M., & Lysak, S. (2011, February 23). ‘‘New Media’’ Skills Competency Expected of TV Reporters and Producers: A Survey. Electronic News, 5(1), 41 – 59.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture : where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

Lugmayr, A., & Zotto, C. D. (2016). Journalism, Broadcasting, and Social Media Aspects of Convergence. Media Convergence Handbook, 1.

McPhillips, S., & Merlo, O. (2008). Media convergence and the evolving media business model: An overview and strategic opportunities. The Marketing Review, 8(3), 237 – 253.

Mish, F. C. (1993). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary (10ed). Springfield: Merriam Webster.

Smeltzer, S., & Rae, I. (2014, February 24). Chalk of Fame: A symbiosis of new and old media. Cultural Studies, 28(4), 611 – 631.


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