Hyperbole no longer

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Convergence got a bad rap from the troubled AOL Time Warner merger, but the phenomenon is making steady progress. Matthew Buckland looks at some of the local successes.

Somewhat of a quiet revolution appears to be taking place in South Africa’s media world. Late last year News 24 launched their 24-hour interactive news channel 59 on DStv. It’s not quite a TV channel and not quite a website.

What we are seeing here is the start of the successful application of this thing called “convergence”.

The now-infamous AOL Time Warner merger was staked on the convergence of the internet (AOL) with television, music and publishing (Time Warner). The visionaries hailed the whirlwind marriage between “new media” (takkies and jeans) and “old media” (ties, trousers and sensible shoes).

But the deal failed to produce many of the prophesised synergies between old and new. The merged company’s share price plunged a massive 75% and internet darling and chief visionary Steve Case, the founder of AOL, was forced to resign. Who the hell were these cocky über-geeks to think they could run an old, successful media empire anyway?

So that’s the context. It’s given convergence a bad name. For many the word has become an exercise in hyperbole. But while convergence may have been down, it is not out. No way — far from it

Like so many other ventures that typified the early internet, it was just a case of too much, too quickly, with a lot of pointless hoopla and a disturbing dollop of hype. And now that sanity has been restored, evidence of the phenomenon’s potential has begun to emerge. South Africa’s own channel 59 is a particularly good example.

The channel is essentially a website on TV. It acts like a website, it looks mostly like a website and it is run via the internet to be in sync with News 24’s website. It’s a company that has brought together web expertise and technology with that of television and satellite technology to create synergies on a technical and content level in the powerful Naspers group. And the result is truly innovative. Newspaper and web content is being delivered now not only through the internet, but on TV too. Who would have thought?

It’s in a medium people are comfortable with, it is easy to operate and has mass appeal. The news is all there on TV at the flick of a button. Unlike the web, every minute you spend reading doesn’t cost money, and you can do it while relaxing in your favourite armchair instead of hunched over a computer in the study.

What News 24 publisher Cobus Heyl likes about the idea is that his readers/viewers are now interacting with the brand not just during office hours (the website), but also in the evening and during weekends (DStv channel).

It’s a realisation of the sentiment expressed by respected US journalism school the Poynter Institute, which defines convergence as “a new voice, a type of journalism not seen before. When one story is published at the same time on multiple platforms, the story has far more reach and impact.”

Other examples of convergence are digital newspapers. These digital anomalies – not quite newspapers, not quite websites – are exact replicas of a print newspaper, with the same layout, fonts, pictures and adverts. They are delivered via the internet and then viewed online or printed out. But only a few South African publications have so far embraced these digital hybrids.

Also, consider this: probably the most successful example of convergence in South Africa is Moneyweb. It’s a media company that has managed to successfully (and overall profitably) take its content to four major mediums: The web, Radio, TV and print.

Now that’s not hyperbole.

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