The convergence of television and Internet has long been heralded, but there have been few successful attempts at bringing together these two vastly different media.
This situation is not helped by the fact that no two media companies agree on what exactly convergence means, as became evident at a conference on the subject this week in Los Angeles.
As one speaker, Todd Tarpley, director of New Media at A&E Television Networks put it: ?The road to convergence is littered with corpses.? He added: ?If the Internet is the fastest growing media in history, then interactive TV is the slowest.?
The Media Convergence Forum, one of the conferences held during the run up to Wednesday?s opening of Internet World, brought together executives from the ?New Media? departments of traditional media companies.
One of the reasons that Internet and TV have not yet merged, is the lack of a sufficient audience, most speakers agreed. Despite the impressive growth figures that are often quoted, the online audience still is far smaller than the television audience.
It is also much more fragmented. ?ABC in a typical 24 hour period attracts 58 million viewers,? said Patricia Vance, senior vice president of ABC Internet Group, ?America Online attracts 11.7 million.?
Not only do more households need to come online before creating TV content for the Web becomes viable, these households must also move to high bandwidth services such as cable modems and digital subscriber line (DSL).
And even if there were enough broadband users to make the creation of high quality online content economically viable, speakers at the Media Convergence Forum disagreed on what content would appeal to customers.
?People don?t want to influence the outcome of ER or Seinfeld. People who watch TV want to watch TV,? said A&E?s Tarpley. He said it is a mistake to attempt to duplicate TV on the Internet.
According to Tarpley, two more limited types of convergence are successful today. The first is cross-promotion: advertising a Web site on TV and vice versa. The second is to extend traditional ?linear? TV content with online content that is well adapted to the Internet, such as email, message boards and online databases.
For instance, A&E?s History Channel is complementing some of its history programming with online searchable databases on historical events.
?So far, most [convergence] strategies have been defensive,? noted Robert Tercek, senior vice president of Digital Media at Columbia Tristar Television. Traditional media companies are concerned about protecting their core business, said Tercek, and this is not likely to change very soon.
Some large media companies will make grand announcements about convergence in the following months, Tercek predicted, but these companies are mainly interested in spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). ?No one has immediate plans for interactive digital TV,? asserted Tercel.
But some adventurous attempts at convergence are being made by new players with no established ?old? media properties. One such company is Digital Entertainment Network, an Internet TV network that hopes to start broadcasting in May. Its target audience: underserved ?Generation Y? demographics such as Hispanic teens and fans of punk music.
?We?re hoping to redefine entertainment on the Internet,? said Mark Collins-Rector, chairman of the company.
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