Media convergence or media industry implosion

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Up until the early 20th century; music was published from places like Tin Pan Alley. When wax cylinders and records came along record labels sprang up alongside publishers. The late 19th and 20th centuries also saw other parts of the media industry spring up: magazine publishers, the expansion of book publishers with the paper back and widespread literacy, movie industry and later associated home video and games publishers.

This also drove a massive expansion in content from adult entertainment to manga and animated films. However now, there seems to be a media singularity starting to form where the growth in content generated by different types of media companies are coming out with offerings that stray into each other’s territories.
I believe that this singularity is different to previous transmedia products:

  • Book and game adaptions of films (Star Wars and Star Trek universes)
  • Film adaptions of books and games (comic books are borrowed from heavily in Hollywood at the moment)
  • Recording artists becoming television and film celebrities (The Monkees, The Jackson 5, The Beatles, S-Club 7, The Osmonds, Johnny Cash etc)
  • Talent shows finding recording stars (Britain’s Got Talent, X Factor, American Idol)

The reason why I think that this time things are different is because the outcomes themselves blur the lines of what the products are. The closest that we’ve seen to this  previously was the aborted CD-ROM business. I was struck by the CD-ROM analogy when I heard Gerd Leonhard and others talk about the future of book publishing at Olswang.

Since that has happened movie studio Warner Brothers has experimented packaging up a move as an application and EMI Music’s work with Swedish House Mafia has been particularly noteworthy with their Until One iPad application which is part recording, part book, part social community, part video a la DVD media and has an interactive application to allow you to play with the track elements.

This singularity has a number of implications:

  • At the moment media companies complain that piracy has destroyed their businesses. Now there are various reasons why this an untruthful assumption; but one aspect of particular relevance is that is particularly pertinent is the inelastic nature of consumer’s entertainment budgets that has had to cater for mobile phone bills, satellite TV, internet connections, books, music and movies. The singularity paves the way for a market where the media companies can fight and devour each other in the marketplace a la a Ray Harryhausen monster movie
  • Creating these new applications is out of the skillsets of the talent that these companies sign up: the authors and artists – it provides an additional layer of cost and complexity which is likely to affect profitability. It means that small record labels and publishers wouldn’t be able to compete, but also means that media companies may look vulnerable to technology companies eager to expand into their markets. The converged applications usually have a social aspect in them which means that media companies are responsible for user privacy and moderation
  • Even the very definition of what the media is will be an issue from a legal and regulatory point-of-view. For instance in the UK, books have enjoyed freedom from value-added tax, but when does a book stop becoming a book?

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