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Convergence and Content
By Jerry Flattum - 03/30/2002 - 06:19 AM EST

Two buzzwords for the new millennium are Convergence and Content. Convergence exists on many levels: entertainment and technology, TV and the Internet, handheld computers and cellphones in the form of PDA's (personal digital assistants), and just about any device that can connect with a computer. In telecommunications, the term "unified messaging" represents the convergence of voice mail, email and other communication/data channels that are made available from one source. The goal, it seems, is one-device-fits-all.

In entertainment, convergence has long been a modus operandi (film and music, adaptation of plays and novels to screen, etc.), but even more so in the virtual realm. Content Providers--as they are called in the virtual realm-- let you view, listen and buy CDs and videos, get the news, enter chatrooms, find out what's on TV and in the theaters...you name it.

A major driver of the Information Age (AKA the Digital Age) is Content Management. Content is text, graphics, audio and visual information. Content is also "information" which is in fixed form like CDs, movies, mp3's, content on a website, book listings, archives, and corporate information.

Content management has many variations like Media Asset Management, Digital Rights Management, Digital Content Management, with tie-ins to information management and enterprise management. When a song, CD, mp3, film clip or book becomes a part of a roster, archive or listing, it then falls into the hands of those who manage content. How content managers manage a company's content is crucial to how an individual artist's creation gets marketed and sold. How content providers manage content can mean the difference between superstardom and getting buried in the dungeons of a dingy archive.

A website is an excellent example of how content converges or "morphs" and points the way to the future. A website is a book, a movie, a photograph, a newsletter, a forum, a chatroom, a production studio, a portal...all these things combined.

In the Digital Age, mergermania is happening at nano-speed. Just about everyone has heard about the AOL/Time Warner merger being the biggest in the history of the universe, but this is really only the spark of a cyber-volcano. Even at the smallest level--like a personal website--rarely will you not find at least two sites linked in one way or another.

Like "shape-shifting" corporations, the same chameleon-like identity transformations happen with websites. Napster went from industry terrorist to corporate ally faster than lawyers could close their briefcases. What's happening in music is happening in film, TV and radio as well, where the physical world is morphing into a digital one. Online, Atom Films merged with Shockwave. VH1 on the Internet is in many ways more entertaining than on TV. World music streamed on CyberRadio offers many more choices than terrestrial radio's computerized playlists.

AOL/Time Warner is one of a handful of mega-conglomerates that for all intensive purposes own just about everything there is, including the sun, moon and sky. Virtually every label: Capitol, A&M, Geffen, Columbia, Atlantic, etc., is owned by a parent conglomerate. These conglomerates also own fleets of TV and radio stations, scores of magazines and newspapers, and in the case of Sony, everything from movie studios to DVD players.

The main point of all this convergence talk is to know change is inevitable and happening at lightning speed. Major enterprises go bankrupt seemingly overnight while fledgling start-ups--businesses and bands--suddenly find themselves in the Spotlight of the Week. Bands get lost in a label's shuffle after the exec who signed them decided to transfer to another label six months later. But, chances are bands break up faster than executives disappear. Companies disappear. Lists disappear. Websites disappear. The Internet is a living ghost.

All these types of convergences serve as new outlets and contact points for songwriters/creators, filmmakers, and artists of all types. For instance, web designer/developers, TV producers and numerous Hollywood spin-off production companies produce “Short Films” for the Internet. Game developers are exploring new ways to stream direct to an assortment of handheld/mobile devices. Traditional outlets for songs, films, etc. will converge, morph or disappear.

Holography, Nanotechnology and virtual reality are up and coming. Writing songs to go along with animated avatars, eComics, 3-D animation and other new forms of web entertainment is around the cyber-corner. Short Films are only just beginning to evolve as a new category and once bandwidth is no longer an issue, access to full length feature DVD's and films created solely in the digital domain will be commonplace.

Mp3 is not just a file--it's a force...maybe even a way of life. Compression and encryption technologies will inevitably evolve over the next few years, but digital delivery of music/video will dominate if not eliminate terrestrial delivery methods. No more CDs or videos that sit on a shelf. No more retail outlets. No more manufacturers.

Websites are not isolated beacons shining in the darkness of cyberspace. The quest is to form partnerships, affiliations--a community. Of course, there is competition. But call it "co-competition," or, "strategic partnerships." Such relationships are the key to success and such strategies apply equally to bands and film crews as they do to corporate mergers and global distribution networks. Convergence and the morphing of content will prove critical to the future of entertainment in the 21st century.


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