HBO versus technology

The concept of convergence culture introduced by Henry Jenkins has become an essential element when studying new media. Jenkins asserts “Media convergence is an ongoing process, occurring at various intersections of media technologies, industries, content, and audiences”. In our network society, convergence is one of the key elements that show the interconnectedness among people, cultures, industries, etc.

One the case studies Jenkins examines in the book is the success of American Idol. At the time of extreme fragmentation and proliferation of media, it is extremely challenging to capture the audience’s attention, or much worse, it is difficult to capture the audience. Both industries: the broadcast channel, who has to face competition from cable channel, and major consumer brands, who experiences a loss in consumer rate as a ramification, now have to converge and collaborate in order to achieve an “affective economics” (Jenkins 50). On another hand, as broadcast channel, being the old media, no longer proves to be effective, advertisers have to integrate more “experience-based” and “access-driven” (Jenkins 72) marketing tactics to attract customers and create a “brand community”. Thus, the merging of television, advertisements and the viewers have alter the nature of each sector.

We were fortunate enough to welcome Chris Spencer, Executive Vice President of Creative Services at HBO on our campus last Tuesday. At the end of the talk he discussed the future of HBO and of cable channels in general, which, after having read this chapter, becomes even more interesting to me. Henry Jenkins anticipated the future of broadcast channel against tough competition from cable when this book was first published in 2006. Now, we just had a representative from a cable channel discussing the future of their company. The ‘nemesis’ of this era is no longer another channel, but it is technology itself.  Mr. Spencer referred to HBO GO, the convergence of media and technology, as the future of HBO. It is interesting to see their description: “You can access HBO GO using your computer, iPad, iPhone (3GS and 4s), iPod touch (3rd and 4th generation), Android™ smartphone devices running Android 2.1-4.02, Xbox 360® and select Samsung® Smart TVs. HBO GO is also now available on Kindle Fire.” (Times Warner Bros). Conventional television is no longer a choice given – your TV has to be “smart” in order for you to access this service.

The excitement of gathering in front of the TV for a show premier, the discussion whilst watching the show, the time spent for advertisements during breaks have drastically reduced. With the abundance of devices and platforms that offer show recaps, archives, etc, people do not want to feel obliged to the television anymore. Before we were passive audience; nowadays we have the tools to decide when, what, and how to approach a TV show. As Jenkins quotes Swann: “People will start watching show the way they read books” (Jenkins 75). Do we actually possess this freedom? In the case of HBO GO, it actually has more requirements: the possession of a device that offers such service, subscription to a data plan, another subscription to HBO GO, etc. It is, in fact, an intersection of many industries: media, advertising, wireless services, banking (for online payment) etc. Technology is not a ‘nemesis’ of cable TV, nor cable TV was never that of broadcast TV. It exists so that the latter could innovate and evolve by looking to merge, or to converge with other medium, with other industries.

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