I Got Your Convergence

Tom Hymes
All industries love buzzwords that hold the promise of vast financial reward while simultaneously maintaining an aura of mystery and exclusivity. Sometimes a buzzword pertains to something that has already happened and taken hold of the public imagination, but just as often it refers to a movement or trend that exists — and sometimes stubbornly remains — just over the horizon.

For the technocrats who drive the buzz surrounding digital media, that word historically has been "convergence."

It is one of those words that has been around so long that its advocates are now at pains to explain why the damn thing is not yet a reality. I myself use it rarely because I am tired of having to define it as soon as I utter it.

But the word still provides certain oomph when used in an Internet context, and for good reason. It is still perceived to be the future of digital content distribution, with only those who refuse to purchase TVs able to escape its pervasive influence.

Convergence also is referred to as IPTV, an acronym that clumsily combines Internet Protocol with Television to create a new broadcast paradigm that PC Magazine columnist John Dvorak recently describes in the December issue as "the future of just about everything..."

Defining IPTV as "the delivery of television content over the Internet for viewing on a TV," Dvorak's column paints a rosy picture of a near future filled with more creative programming than ever before available at any time of the day or night from anywhere in the world. Many people, he said, confuse watching a TV program on the Internet with IPTV, which is understandable, but they've got it reversed. The brilliance of IPTV is that it will be for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from regular TV.

We are experiencing the baby steps of IPTV right now. Dvorak himself has a video podcast called "Crank Geeks" that is available through the download-and-play mechanism of TiVo, but programming offerings are limited to those selected by the set-top vendor. With real IPTV, according to Dvorak, "anyone at any time can watch anything in the entire world that is deliverable over the Internet."

How long before this brave new world of programming becomes a fixture of our daily lives? It's fun to get people's estimates because they are all over the map, but the fact is, the process is both well underway and it will also be a long time coming. We are going to get there through baby steps, which is probably the best and only way to go.

The only problem with the stately pace of IPTV progress is people's expectations. We are being sold this idea that progress happens at warp speed and I believe it is creating unrealistic expectations. If business models don't fall into place when we expect, or revenues doesn't come in immediately, too many of us tend to write the thing off as a failure. This is a big mistake.

Convergence/IPTV, mobile wireless applications, online ad sales and, yes, even affiliate networks are still in their infancy, and those who think they know everything there is to know about e-commerce need to wake up and take a modesty pill. There may be a lull with respect to pure invention but the road is wide open with respect to innovation, and the future belongs to those who can clear away the cobwebs of disappointment to see a new way to make all the pieces work.

This is of course as true for adult entertainment as it is for mainstream.