Week Seven – Convergence

by

Nightengale, Virginia. “New Media Worlds? Challenges for Convergence”. In Nightengale, Virginia and Tim Dwyer, Eds. New Media Worlds: Challenges for Convergence. Couth Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press, 2007, 19-36.

 Jenkins, Henry. “Buying into American Idol: How We are being Sold on Reality Television”. In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NYU Press, 2006, 59-92.

 Nightengale’s article, “New Media Worlds? Challenges for Convergence”, quotes Jenkins’ definition of Convergence as “a situation in which multiple media systems coexist and where media content flows fluidly across them. Convergence is understood here as an ongoing process or series of intersections between media systems not a fixed relationship”. Nightengale suggests that many media industries, such as television, face a combination of ‘disintermediation’ and ‘deconstruction’ because of their slow responses to the challenges of ‘internetisation’. Nevertheless, linking their offline activities to online ‘enhancements’ is one way in which television has utilized the convergence process to meet these challenges.

I found Jenkins’ example of the reality television series, American Idol to be a particularly interesting example of the issues of convergence. Firstly, the show clearly uses ‘enhancements’ through the building of online communities in internet forums as a way of increasing the popularity of the show. The structure of the program itself is designed to turn casual viewers (“zappers”) into dedicated viewers (“loyals”). ‘Cliff hangers’ are used in each episode and the show itself is a “snowballing phenomenon” with contestants eliminated each week until the show reaches a dramatic climax with the ‘final verdict’ revealed in the Grand Final. Audience participation is another important element of convergence, with weekly voting via mobile phone SMS or ‘phone-in’. This helps to create “love markets” which build strong audience allegiances to individual performers and establishes a fan base for contestants’ ‘post-idol’ careers’. This, in turn, is designed to translate into strong music sales.    

Jenkins suggests that in order to understand American Idol’s success we need to understand the notion of “Affective economics”. Affective economics has both positive and negative implications in that it allows “advertisers to tap the power of collective intelligence and direct it towards their own ends but at the same time allowing consumers to form their own kind of collective bargaining structure that they can use to challenge corporate decisions”. In the case of American Idol, as Heyer discusses, the various entertainment media are brought together creating multiple contacts between brand and consumer through advertising. In many respects, this could be seen as one way in which television has used convergence as a way of expanding its ‘richness’ and ‘reach’.

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