Back in 2006, Henry Jenkins’ ‘Convergence Culture’ made ‘convergence’ the go-to buzzword du jour. The du jour extended pretty much to the decade’s end. Cited by futurologists and industry pundits and headlining agency annual conferences, ‘convergence’ felt like a pretty big deal.
At the time, many considered convergence within the context of devices.
When technology transforms, we invariably first think in tangible terms. The physical, tangible, ‘hardware’ – the existence of three dimensions – is easier for us all to get our heads around.
So ‘convergence’ was fairly easy to conceptually process when and where we could touch it. We have all these devices, and they can connect (without wires), and digital information – ‘content’ – can pass between them, giving us choice of what to read and watch, when to do it, and the device to do it on. Convergence was media evolved, ‘new’, non-linear, personal, even ‘intimate’. Convergence was cool.
What’s become cooler still, I believe, is the bigger picture – and less foreseeable – consequence of convergence.
Convergence in the ever-broader sense has become the touching and overlapping of commercial enterprise.
Driven by the bottom line, recognising that survival absolutely is through adaptation, every business is now in everyone else’s business.
Whatever business you’re in, however well business is going today, everyone’s thinking about the pre-emptive pivot. “How can I get a bit of those guys action?; What’s the bigger land grab?”
Where once Amazon was an online book retailer, today they are also a Movie Studio. If Netflix thought like Blockbusters, there wouldn’t be a Netflix. But as their Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos famously commented, “Our goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us”.
Convergence has ushered in the age of ‘Disruptive Innovation’ (as American author Clayton M. Christensen tagged it), where everyone must prepare for digital invaders to breach their now fuzzy-bordered category, and where everyone must in return become a digital invader.
“The biggest threat is new competitors that aren’t yet classified as competitors,” was the recent exasperation of Piotr Ruszowski, CMO of Mondial in Poland.
Playing to Ruszowski’s point, we see TV broadcasters and production companies trying to think like data companies and ad agencies, commissioning programming based on data trails and going after marketing budgets to fund productions. We see ad agencies trying to move into content marketing, going ‘native’, behaving akin to production companies, and we see MCN’s making a play to become the full-service creative hot-shops of tomorrow.
Where Saatchi & Saatchi and BBH once blazed a trail and produced work that quaked the Zeitgeist, one can only speculate who will snatch the baton and become the next firestarters. A strong bet would be the business mash-ups that aren’t even sure how to define themselves, and by extension deliberately swerve easy definition.
Maker Studios is a mash and merge of production company, online video distributor and talent agency. In 2014, when Maker sold to The Mouse for $500m, even the snoozers sat up.
Like Milgram’s 6 degrees of separation, by similarly few degrees, commercially everyone is close to figuring in everyone else’s Venn Diagram. And it’s in the overlaps that the innovations and upsides get truly exciting. Technology + Creativity + Entertainment = Audience + Influence = Money. This is certainly one formula to watch, as the price tag that can be attached to persuasion is considerable.
In the UK, some speculate as to whether Rightster could be the next Maker. “We started as a digital business, and we’ll always be a digital business”, explains Rightster Group’s CEO Ashley MacKenzie. “What I mean by that is that we’re always thinking about what comes next, what kind of business we can become. Legacies can be a straight-jacket. Some companies can be too preoccupied and busy looking backwards, considering where they’ve come from. I’m mostly interested in the journey ahead, in what Rightster can contribute and the new values it can generate.”
No question some businesses are better poised and ready to pounce than others. In counterpoint to MacKenzie’s optimistic stance, I was talking with one client recently who articulated the parallel tracked anxiety and thrill ride with reservation: “The hardest thing”, he said, “is working out whether what’s happening is hype, trend or tsunami.”
The challenge we all face is knowing how to start the right kind of tsunami, and then ride it all the way into shore.