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Bob Reck /Kendall Consulting  (1/23/06): Let's all not forget that it's the customers that drive our markets, in spite of our best intentions. If we put products out there that they don't want, they don't buy. Witness the Edsel and a few other magnificent examples! What customers are looking for is like the perfect shop tool - it's a combination of everything electronic you own, weighs an ounce, costs under $100, has near infinite bandwidth, is format independent, can store petabytes of data, a battery charge lasts for weeks, etc. etc. Oh yes, it has a MTBF measured in thousands of years, is intuitive to use, and doesn't require a one-inch thick manual in nine languages to use.

If you can come close to this "idealized" product, some set of customers will beat a path to your door and you are starting to deal with converged products. Why? Because customers don't want six different remotes on the coffee table, a briefcase and pockets full of electronic "toys". If you talk to the customers, they'll tell you what the logical combinations are. Or you can look at what's "hot" in the market and you'll know. Blackberrys. iPod Videos. Photo-cell phones. Combination remotes that command the whole media center in your home - plus HVAC and lighting. You can keep going.

The argument about convergence or divergence is a weak one. Convergence will win out, because this is what customers want - they tell us this in surveys and in the marketplace. Can you imagine someone complaining they they want separate controls for TV, DVD player, VHS player, stereo amp, Tivo and satellite? What do they gain? Certainly not simplicity or ease of use. When in doubt, talk to the customers!

Al & Laura's Comments: You make a lot of good points and we definitely agree that the customer will decide. But what customers say they want and what they eventually buy may be two different things. You mentioned the Edsel, but the truth is that Ford conducted a lot of research that indicated that potential customers would like the car. When the Edsel actually hit the street and got a lot of negative PR, however, the potential customers rapidly disappeared.

As far as remote controls are concerned, you're probably right. Customers want a single device because it's more convenient. Not necessarily better, but certainly more convenient. Convenience is the one benefit of convergence (shampoo/conditioners, convenience stores, etc.) and when convenience is the most important feature then convergence products will have a market. However, will the computer converge with television as many pundits have predicted? We think not. Will the iPod merge with the cellphone? There are a number of these combination devices on the market, but their sales are small compared to the iPod.

Will consumers use their personal computers as media centers in their home, as Bill Gates and other high-tech honchos have predicted? We think not. As a matter of fact, we have never heard an actual consumer (as opposed to an advertising, marketing or high-tech executive) use the word "media."  You mentioned the Video iPod as a convergence example. But you can't buy a high-capacity iPod without the video feature so that's not really a fair test of convergence vs. divergence.

CK's Comments: I agree that customers want simplicity in both ease of use and less “stuff” to buy and maintain, however with many convergent products we give up quality (many all-in-ones do only one thing truly well) and while the public may voice one way, they act another -- which is why these devices have such a small % of market share. The combination products that Bob cites –like Blackberrys and Photo-cell phones – are divergent products as they've been created from existing categories (wired email became wireless e-mail, mobile phones became mobile- photo phones) and they haven't replaced singular-focused devices since consumers own both photo-cell phones and digital cameras, computers and blackberry's.

I view many of these products as an issue of convenience (e-mail and snapshots on the go), not convergence. My combination cable box and DVR? Now that's an example of convergence as I've actually replaced my DVR and old cable set-top box as a result of its convenience, ease of use and quality. I do like the universal remote control example, but the entire reason we need universal remotes is because we're tying together various singular-focused devices--if we had one device that could get the job done, and done well, we wouldn't need a universal remote.

Lon Taylor/First Insights (1/19/06): I just went to events in the past two days where convergence was a key word during the discussions. The wireless seminar was mostly anti-convergence as they felt the user interface and technology are still in the early stages of development -- besides, who wants to watch videos on a 1” x 1” screen?!

Al & Laura's Comments: We think that's the key point. The novelty factor of portable television captures the imagination, but the reality is that no one is going to want to spend a lot of time watching a small screen, especially now that everyone is into plasma and other types of big TV. Years ago, Sony launch a major marketing campaign to sell small, portable TV sets under the general theme of “Tummy Television.” Few were ever sold.

CK's Comments: I may watch a video, or perhaps even an episode of “ Lost” on my iPod…when I'm on the subway. And I've certainly caught a movie on my computer on the red eye from L.A. to NYC, but these are times when I don't have other alternatives. And since these devices give me myriad ways to consume media, they're examples of divergence since the media itself is available on various platforms (diverged across many, not converged to only one). And since media itself has diverged into new categories of satellite, computer and iPods, each new category has not replaced the former; rather the earlier categories have given rise to the new devices and new brand categories.

Gene DeWitt/DeWitt Media Options (1/19/06): Convergence/Divergence : A False Polarity? The question of whether either convergence or divergence adequately describe current trends in the media may miss the point because the answer may in fact be neither of the above.

The medium traditionally called television and perhaps better expressed today in the word video is crossing platforms and appearing in many different electronic venues, from cellphones to computer monitors. Magazines are producing video streams and, Lord help us, Howard Stern is available in VOD. So, is this divergence or convergence? No. It's simply that delivering video programming on multiple platforms has become quite inexpensive and easy. And given that television, in the U.S. at least, has always been driven by one five letter word (money or greed, take your pick), it is not surprising that all sorts of enterprises are eagerly funding these new expressions of an old medium.

So, is video streaming divergence since it's a new venue for sight, sound and motion? Or is it convergence because we get to watch network programs on our computer screens? Perhaps it's both and that's why it makes a great subject for an either/or debate. However, I'd like to put forth another buzzword to represent what I think is going on---mediamorphosis---to describe the phenomenon in which all media become video and interactive. Why? Because they can and because offering multiple media platforms simultaneously to audiences and advertisers will be very very profitable.

Al & Laura's Comments: There's no question that the technology allows inexpensive video streaming to many different types of devices. And there's no question that this is an attractive concept to both content producers and advertisers. (Witness the enormous amount of PR.) And certainly many people will find these new ways to watch video of interest. The real question is whether mediamorphosis is going to become “mainstream.” Our feeling is no, they won't. The vast majority of television viewing, in our opinion, is going to be on very large screens. At home, in bars, in airline terminals, etc.

CK's Comments: Since we're talking media being available on various devices--TV's, VOD, Computers, iPods, kiosks--to me this is an example of divergence, especially since we're citing various ways for users to access video (all of the devices don't converge into one, rather the video diverges to the various devices, old and new). I do appreciate the concept and the actual term of "mediamorphosis" and think it's great fodder for an article, perhaps even its own debate!

David Berkowitz (Viewpoint Corp.) 1/19/06: You can easily document the media bias toward convergence: searching on AdAge.com, you get 590 results for convergence  vs. 24 for divergence, try Adweek.com and you get 17 results for convergence, 0 for divergence. On Crain's NY's site, it's 50 for convergence, 1 for divergence. Who's willing to buck the trend and give remotely equal play to the two trends? Divergence isn't the counter-trend -- it's what's happening constantly, the rule to the convergence exception. It's time for the press to catch on.

Al & Laura's Comments: Thanks very much. We never thought about searching the web to document the media bias against divergence. We can use your data to try to convince the powers-that-be at The Wall Street Journal and other key media outlets that they should at least consider the possibility that digital technology is diverging rather than converging.

CK's Comments: It seems as goes the media bias, so too goes Mad Ave 's divergence denial--and yet, divergence is where the majority of opportunities exist for new brands and newfound revenues. The lack of fair-balanced press coverage on divergence is what inspired my article on The Media's Myopia.

Michael Marciano (Winsted Journal) 1/19/06: I think the Hollywood-oriented commercial media is strictly about convergence  - - totally Wonder-bread, thoughtless, scripted Golden Globe junk....I think of divergence as being in the realm of Howard Stern and Comedy Central, not to mention some great work being done on Discovery, National Geographic and the Independent Film Channel, but I think even these forward-thinking entities eventually rely on convergence to maintain their audiences.

Al & Laura's Comments: Cable itself is a good example of divergence at work. First there was broadcast TV and now we have cable and satellite, too. What was one technology has now become three. Will the narrow, divergence channels like Discovery and National Geographic ever try to broaden their appeal by moving to other platforms? We think not, but we'll see.

CK's Comments: I often look to cable to spot emerging trends and new audience niches. What I find is the cable networks, and their program lineups, skyrocket when they hold true to the brand promise they forge with their audiences. When they strike success however, many times they greed for a larger audience and move from a narrowly defined offering to a broader premise. And what happens? They dilute their plots, contradict their characters and sink their ratings. They engage neither new audiences, nor maintain loyal viewers.

The most successful and beloved cable networks and programs remain focused on the audiences that buoyed them to success in the first place. Take FX's Nip/Tuck, the well-deserved winner of last year's Golden Globe for Best Drama; their success didn't lead to superior programming that continued to diverge from other dramas, it led to a botched Season 3 where it tried to do too much for too many and now it may not even return for another season – and rumor has it, part of its cast may not return even if it does. Instead of staying narrowly focused, which earned it profitable sponsors, a Golden Globe and loyal viewers, it tried to converge to a much wider audience and lost all of its ground (and lost this loyal viewer, sigh).

Matt Lederman 1/19/06: I'm in complete agreement with the position that a lot of that convergence talk is just hype. That said, I've been paid to write a lot of software over the years that people might call "convergent" like interactive TV, so I'm willing to buy in if someone's paying me. I'm not sure what that makes me, though. The nicest thing I can think of is "mercenary."

Al & Laura's Comments: There's nothing wrong with being a mercenary. You can't argue with the market. If the consumer wants convergence, the consumer will get convergence. We believe, however, the consumer likes simplicity rather than complexity which is a strong reason to believe that convergence devices and convergence concepts will always remain a small part of the market. It's the Swiss Army phenomenon. Many are bought; few are used.

CK's Comments: As consultants we've all been guilty of being mercenaries at one time or another. Sometimes convergent products (or products billed as 'convergent') are a hit with the market, but more times than not the opportunities and revenues lie with divergent brands and brand categories.