"Here’s my prediction: Almost every dotcom idea from 10 years ago that failed will succeed." - Marc Andreessen
When I got into tech back in 1994, convergence was was the holy grail.
It was borne of the idea that one day the then-immovable boundaries between the following industries would collapse, enabling a new kind of integrated value chain to emerge:
- Motion Pictures
- Consumer Electronics
- Print Media
The promise of this concept led Sony, the inventor of the Walkman, to acquire Columbia Pictures. It led regional phone service provider, Bell Atlantic, seeking to re-factor the communications and entertainment landscape, to pursue a merger with cable TV giant, TCI.
In fact, over the next decade, the 'promised land' of convergence drove a flurry of mergers and acquisitions, reaching its apex when Time Warner merged with AOL.
That many of these deals failed disastrously (in the case of AOL Time Warner) or were never consummated (in the case of Bell Atlantic-TCI) is besides the point.
Poor execution aside, the pursuers of convergence were simply ahead of their time, a truth bounded by the way that:
- Apple has reshaped so many of these industries by vertically integrating them across media, mobile and tablet device form-factors from distribution channel to software platform, apps and media marketplace.
- Comcast has leveraged physical connectivity to so many homes (and a commensurate billing relationship) into owning NBCUniversal, extensive cable channel holdings and a growing telephony business.
- Amazon has emerged as Walmart, Cloud Computing platform and Kindle/tablet maker, rolled into one.
Put another way, as a VC friend of mine once said, "It's as lethal to be too early, as it is to be wrong."
It's this truth that gives folks like Marc Andreesseen the confidence to predict that many of the lamest ideas of the dotcom period will yet be vindicated (I think that he's right on this one), and it's this same truth that was on display at Comic-Con 2011 aka San Diego Comic-Con International.
A Snapshot of how 'Integrated' Media has Become
Consider, a four-day long event that literally envelops the city and county of San Diego, bringing in over 130,000 fans of comic books, horror, animation, manga, games and fantasy, making it the single largest convention in America.
If you want to see how integrated media has become (and can become), ponder an event that provides a unified sandbox for:
- Content Producers to showcase, screen and publicize their new Comic Books, Movie Releases, Cable TV shows, Videogames and Toys;
- Fans to meet cast members, industry luminaries and their favorite artists, and get their autographs; see their latest projects and hear them talk about them; and, oh yeah, dress up as their favorite characters;
- Vendors to sell Books, T-Shirts, Posters, Toys, Artwork, Comics and other industry paraphanelia;
- Artists to present their portoflios for review and potential hire by content producers.
Btw, if you're familiar with the integrated media unit known as a "home page takeover" on a web site, consider what Syfy channel did in taking over an actual, physical restaurant (Maryjane's Coffee Shop in Hard Rock Hotel), and rebranding it for the event as Syfy's CafeDiem, down to the signage, tabletops and menus.
One can only wonder if the boring, staid Oscars and Emmy Awards events were reinvisioned as a like-type festival for producers, fans, vendors and artists alike if, maybe, just maybe, the industry would foment a deeper bond between their audience and their slate of programs/movie releases, not to mention the publicity and promotion food chain.
The Moral of the Story
When I think of the enormous success of Comic-Con (especially relative to the general lameness of the trade show industry in general), and I ponder the recent blowout earnings of both Amazon and Apple, I think about how often conventional wisdom gets things wrong specifically by creating false 'Either/OR' dichotomies.
In the tech business, for the longest time it was not only conventional wisdom, but it was the gospel and hardline religion, that you had to be horizontally organized, and focused on one thing, one discrete line of business, or you were destined to the scrap heap of history.
The truth of the matter is that a lot has to go right, both tactically and culturally, for convergence and integration to work.
But seeing how much of a win (for all types of users) such integrated platforms are across Post-PC (Apple), Commerce (Amazon) and Media (Comic-Con), I think that it's just a matter of time before the next wave - Convergence 2.0 - is born.
After all, where visionary leaders show the way, smart students will follow.
- Ruminations on MacWorld 2011 and the Future of Trade Shows
- The Programmable Fan Site: A New Media/Ad Unit Model
- Apple's Segmentation Strategy (and the Folly of Conventional Wisdom)
- Thoughts on Book Expo America trade show: Rebooting the Book - Part Two