Never has the media industry converged on anything like it agrees on convergence. The technological convergence of platforms is now well understood and accepted in our industry. Once upon a time, we had single-function devices that were home-based (TV sets), office-based (PC screens) or mobile (phones, Walkmans). Outdoor was outdoor and radio was the wireless, but in a convergent future, everything is wireless (or wi-fi) and your phone/camera/Blackberry/iPod is a portal for radio and video content, either directly available or streamed and downloaded.
It still remains to be seen exactly which devices will carry what functionality. Whoever thought that cameras would be a must-have on your phone? Certainly no one at Kodak. And the debate will rage about whether the MP3 player will become a phone or whether the Blackberry will become a mobile TV, but the convergence of technology is happening. Fast.
What’s still to learn is the consumer understanding that goes with this convergence. Of course, we do know one thing/ it’s all about the content, stupid! The listener or viewer doesn’t watch platforms or listen to technologies; as always, content is king.
But we continue to forget this lesson – just look at the latest round of frenzied City coverage about the sector. Is your platform Freeview or Sky or Virgin Media, triple play or four play (so to speak)? Wrong question. For consumers, what’s on TV is what matters, not what format their TV platform is. The good news is – for those media owners that get this right – the more devices, the more occasions, the more audience. And revenue follows audience, so those media that generate great content across multiple platforms will have a better chance to monetise that content.
So far, so good. But, looking forward, what might advertisers demand in a converged media world, and what might media owners need to consider?
I see two trends. First, is the emerging trend from leading advertisers that puts a premium on the receptivity and context for commercial messages. As platforms converge, it will become more important to ensure your message is received where it can have greatest impact. Ideally, your message will land in the media right where your product is most needed. Right now, this trend is driving growth in interactivity, in branded content and beyond the spot advertising. It’s driving the innovation in old media and the accountability in new media. It drives search, of course, because context and receptivity is at the heart of an internet trawl for that key website. It makes media with access to live programming or editorial content more attractive because it means choosing media that ensures your message lands where it has the best context.
The best examples are strikingly clear – the Orange mobile phone ads in cinema that ask you to turn your phone to silent immediately before the start of a film, the Autoglass replacement windscreen ads when you are listening to your radio in the car looking at a chip in the windscreen, seat belt safety ads on the in-car radio or the Tube film posters just as you come out into the heart of Theatreland.
In a converged world, one trick will be to deliver the appropriate messages in a context that is relevant to the medium and driving equally defining receptiveness by the viewer or listener to change behaviour.
The second trend might be in audience measurement. The IPA Touchpoints study is a great start here, but it’s not a measurement mechanism (yet), let alone one that could lead to a trading currency. However, a converged world – with the consumer accessing the same content off multiple devices – surely calls, ultimately, for a converged audience measurement. I have no doubt this will be technically difficult.
At the moment our audience measurement across media is a non-compatible panoply of set-top devices, diaries and surveys, each employing a wide variety of differing standards and measures, but is it more difficult than putting the content on a plethora of devices in the first place? And with convergence comes the ability to read across sectors, compare costs and quantify audience to determine the optimal schedule – an advertiser’s delight.
So, my hunch is it’s something media owners will need to start to consider: convergent media implies convergent measurement. Like all first steps towards a new measurement system and a new trading currency, it’s scary to contemplate. Scary for media agencies that play off the differences between media, scary for media owners that have their own positions to defend, scary for those advertisers that have delegated away the detailed understanding of station average price and cost per thousand. But, equally, it’s part of an exciting future that will deserve consideration.
So, the converged media future is happening now. How we help advertisers land their messages in this landscape and how we measure our output are two questions a forward-facing media industry needs to answer.
• Andrew Harrison is chief executive of the RadioCentre. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org