Media convergence means something different on the backend than on the front
Barnaby Chapman, product director of Europe Mediaocean, investigates how far away we really are from the Holy Grail of media convergence – and why there is more than one type…
With Carlos Slim's recent £26.9 million investment in Shazam it's as good a time as any to take a good look at the state of offline/online convergence. Is the holy grail of media convergence just around the corner? Ten years off? Somewhere in between?
To answer the question, it's important to keep in mind that there are actually two types of media convergence - one for agencies, and a second for consumers. And just because convergence is doing well for consumers, that doesn't mean that agencies automatically reap the benefits.
Convergence is certainly pacing well on the consumer-facing end. Shazam, with its success at bridging the consumer experience from TV to digital, is a case in point. So is Twitter's work with targeting Twitter users with brand messages based on users' TV viewership. Same for the trend towards digitally-integrated TV sets that help create a single user experience across channels.
But the growth of consumer-end channel convergence doesn't necessarily mean that agencies are experiencing the same story. That's because, in a way, consumer-end convergence solves a simpler problem than agency-end convergence does. Solving convergence for a user means solving for small parts of users' lives - the part, say, when they want to use mobile devices to learn more about ads that run on TV.
But for agencies, the media experience is the entirety of what an agency does. And so any offering to connect different channels ultimately needs to work with all the business functions that support those channels. That covers a range of activity, from tracking consumer media engagement (to optimise across the channels intelligently) to connecting publishers with agency financial departments (to make sure everyone gets paid).
These are functions that carry across wide swathes of business units - from planning, to buying, to finance, to legal, and more. The more seriously we'd like to enable agencies to embark on media convergence, the more each business function needs to be able to engage with new kinds of media.
If that sounds like a case of thinking too small, consider this example: when a very large agency wants to engage with online publishers and TV networks, that agency needs to deal with invoices from both types of media sellers.
If the fields on each invoice are significantly different, the agency needs to adapt its workflow processes and software - across a global enterprise's workflow for optimising campaigns, paying vendors, and keeping an eye on employees' performance - to adjust for those different invoices. It's not hard to see how the minor differences, multiplied over business functions and employees, can become a huge bottleneck.
That's exactly the story we're seeing play out in digital media right now. For years, digital media has offered consumers a highly interconnected set of media touch points, while providing agencies with a notoriously unstandardised and inefficient infrastructure for actually buying ads.
It's the diametric opposite of traditional media, which has decades' worth of process and efficiency-enhancing software. As a result, digital agencies (or digital teams within agencies) have been, ironically, set up to tolerate a high degree of operational chaos.
Now that agencies are becoming truly cross-channel, and both agencies and digital media sellers want convergence to really happen, we're seeing the start of offerings that enable large media enterprises to handle the work of multiple media channels via a single infrastructure.
That includes the beginnings of a digital GRP to let TV buyers use their standard measurements - built for measuring spots that attract millions of viewers at once - to make apples-to-apples comparisons with online media, that touch one consumer at a time.
It also includes the beginnings of standard engagement protocols (call letters, for instance) that let traditional media buyers engage with online media, without changing the fundamental practices that support their whole operation.
All of these transitions are in the works - to greater and lesser degrees - across agencies and the technologies that support them. But the bottom line for media convergence is this: it's a different story for consumers than it is for the agencies that buy the media of tomorrow. And if you want to take the pulse of media convergence, you need to check both sides of the equation.