Convergence: Traditional Media to Feed from the Net

George Gilder (in Life After Television) and the authors of Television: What if they're right? (Economist, Feb 12th, 1994) have stated that television and the print media will certainly have to "...change or crash," in the face of the impending computer networking explosion. These changes incorporate ideas of convergence with media offering new tools of data delivery and reception, and extend as far as an optimistic idealism in regards to incorporating real-time interactive elements into these instruments, providing the consumer with the decentralizing power to create and publish. For obvious reasons, it has been suggested that this could fundamentally alter the media in a kind of mediamorphosis (as termed by Roger Fidler).

Interestingly, Gilder feels that the "...computer industry is converging with the television industry in the same sense that the automobile converged with the horse...". (Life After Television) This statement refers to the concept that when one medium is superceded by a superior form of information and communications transfer, the original technology will essentially be abolished as a viable tool unless it finds a new outlet. Once home users are presented with greater telecosmic capabilities - mainly electromagnetic and cable broadband transmission methods - television will be unable to compete with global computer networks as a method of mass-media video transmission and reception.

Now, while The Economist reported that active audience interaction during process of television reception was not readily accepted in tests, it appears that content on-demand, multimedia capabilities and adequate indexing are favored more highly - factors that dissolve the real-time-tyrannical broadcasting tradition. With these technologies in place, the medium of television (while perhaps utilizing the same 'box') will be so vastly altered by digital computer technology that it will no longer remain congruent with its universal concept.

MIT's Nicholas Negroponte has prophesized that "soon the television will be indistinguishable from a computer." (The Economist, p.5) This, in conjunction with Arum Netravali's prediction that different monitors will be positioned around the house, all connected to one computer handling all digital signals infers that the DTV, set-top boxes and other consumer appliances will exist as a mere peripherals for the multimedia PC. (The Economist, p.6) In fact, Bill Gates has dismissed the label of "interactive TV" from this concept of convergence, stating that its interactive interface and diversity of content denies television's established necessity to broadcasting only those programs holding a wide interest that act as "...a communal experience, within society and at large." (Life After Television & BBC's John Birt in The Economist, p.6)

The newspaper of Roger Fidler's vision, in a similar vein, will move towards a greater diversity of content by presenting its consumers with magazine features, hyperlinks to related information and supplementary multimedia elements. Employing computer technology in portable 'newspanels' that possessing a resolution and contrast ratio similar to laser-printed paper, Fidler feels that newspapers will thrive, and benefit from a greater ability for indexing, retrieval and real-time reporting. (Digital Darkhorse) These panels will also be employed in a similar manner by the consumers, according to Fidler, since their layout will appear similar, they will be predominantly text-based and navigable by hyperlinks that, from a cognitive point-of-view, bare similarities with the page references that exist on traditional papers. (Digital Darkhorse) While interactivity is to be encouraged, effectively putting the "me" back into media (John Evans of NewsCorp in Digital Darkhorse), and while viewer-specific news will be delivered, sorted and displayed via computational means, the newspaper's word domonetics, its up-to-date and in-depth coverage and its crew's superior news gathering, editing and presenting abilities will enforce the notion that 'content is King' in regards to this variation on the medium.

While both the television and newspaper industries will face massive technological metamorphoses during their convergence with computer networks, television will undergo the greatest baptism of fire. While newspapers may no longer be 'papers' in a literal sense, the fact that their content production, layout, method of user application and interactive forum-based aspects will remain similar infers that the core medium, in essence, will maintain its image and brand identity. Television, on the other hand, will, despite the efforts of large companies to integrate digital features with current televisual technology, will be transformed radically in all aspects of production, distribution and exhibition to a peripheral of the new wave of 'connected' multimedia computers.

Written by Joshua Smith. © 1998

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