The Blurring Lines of Channel Convergence
The traditional definition of convergence has evolved to mean something much more than the ability to view media across three screens (computer, mobile, television). The term now represents the blurring of the lines between media delivery, social interaction, mobile experiences, and even the physical and digital worlds. Here are nine things that happened in the last year to bring convergence into focus:
1. Distributed social experiences: Facebook's "Like" button and other social plug-ins. The Like button has only been around since April of last year, but it represents the most common way to share content or make a digital endorsement. The Like button paired with other social plug-ins have broken free of the Facebook environment and can now be found in most major web experiences. This allows consumers to bring their Facebook friends with them as they blur the lines between the social network and all other digital experiences.
2. Passive check-ins: Shopkick, Google Latitudes. Services like Shopkick, Google Latitudes and others show the beginnings of a future in which consumers’ devices act on their behalf to alert friends and merchants of their whereabouts automatically. You won’t have to actively check into locations to take advantage of offers, loyalty programs, etc. The future of day-to-day location-based services need to move to this more passive model to maintain viability. Apple even received a patent around disposable apps that are automatically downloaded to your device based on your location.
3. Entertain me now: Netflix. Multipoint entertainment experiences have been around for a number of years, but they'll become the norm as we move forward. This year Netflix made a big push to be available on the widest variety of digital devices (e.g., interactive televisions, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, gaming consoles, smartphones, tablets, etc.). It's really the closest example we have to ubiquitous content delivery, and it sets the standard for similar media experiences going forward.
4. The appification of the television: Apple, Sony, Samsung, Google, Roku. Last year marked the beginning of the “appification” of television. Selected via a variety of app stores and installed on an internet protocol TV, enhanced set-top boxes, tablets and other mobile devices, they bring new forms of interaction to the traditional TV viewing experience and will eventually directly influence TV content.
5. Buy it now: distributed commerce platforms. While 2009 brought few initial experiments in distributed commerce, 2010 delivered full-featured distributed commerce platforms that made it easier for brands to create connected commerce experiences on social networks, mobile, tablets, etc. These platforms will get even more powerful and customized via more robust open graph integration in 2011. Commerce distribution will become the new norm as consumers will be able to shop from all touchpoints (including physical products, signage, etc.).
6. The internet of things: Vail EpicMix. A technology introduced by a Colorado ski resort, Vail EpicMix relies on RFID chips embedded in lift tickets to track its guests on-mountain activities and merge aspects of social networking, location-based services and gamification into the loyalty program of the future.
7. Recognition technologies: IntoNow. In 2010, QR codes, tags and image recognition technology were hot. This year there's IntoNow, an app that recognizes live TV broadcast audio and can use that info to connect you with others watching the same show. Developers are just scratching the surface, but this technology is a very interesting way to make TV shows — and maybe more importantly, commercials — interactive. It’s a way to connect the mobile or tablet experience to what's happening on live or recorded TV.
8. Your reality will be augmented: Word Lens. Many of the augmented reality experiences we've seen over the last couple years have been interesting. But frankly, most have limited utility. Word Lens is a real-time translation app that starts to show the power of mobile devices as digital looking glasses. Imagine the ability to digitally augment or enhance the physical world around you in real time to deliver custom experiences based on your preferences or needs.
9. The birth of a fourth screen: the iPad. It's hard to imagine that the first iPad became available just one year ago. It's amazing that in such a short period of time we've seen the birth of a new computing device that arguably represents the new fourth screen. The iPad is a true convergence device and, in many ways, took the attention off of those other three screens, displacing 7 percent of traditional computer sales.
That’s a lot of change in just 12 months. What do the next 12 months hold? What does convergence look like in three years? The future is fuzzy, but this is for sure: convergence is here. In a big way.