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    An event recap written for the Inverge Conference, September 2007.

    InVerge 2007: Anatomy of a Changing Media Culture

    by Sharon Rockey

    What happens when you mash-up "interactive" and "convergence?" You get what Steve Gehlen of IndePlay, Inc. has aptly dubbed "invergence," a term that sums up what's occurring across the board in today's media. When Gehlen read Henry Jenkin's Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and followed it up by reading Wikinomics, it sparked a chain reaction that culminated in a first of its kind event—InVerge 2007.

    Today, with digitized content and a plethora of multi-directional distribution channels, we can interact with media in ways that are changing our old concepts of entertainment, advertising and marketing. The results are a new media culture that makes it harder to distinguish between those who produce and those who were formerly passive consumers.

    To help make sense of it all, Gehlen created a two-day event that brought forward-thinking professionals to the Gerding Theater on September 6-7, 2007 to meet media and marketing experts from Portland, as well as imports from as far away as the Netherlands and Australia. Presenters shared their observations, experiences and predictions about the future of interaction between consumers and content.

    The speaker line-up included Joshua Green of MIT, Bill Barnett of 926 Ventures, Jeff Yapp of MTV, Mark Deuze from Leiden University, Chris Van Dyke from Nau, Renny Gleason from Wieden + Kennedy, to name just a few. Topics ranged from how technology's landscape is altering our culture (and visa-versa) to building brands in the midst of this invergence, and from relinquishing some content control to the consumer to using technology to create communities and a more sustainable world.

    Joshua Green of the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium discussed what he terms the "new media logics" and the cross-over between multiple media platforms -- from movies to videos games to web-based communities filled with new story lines written by fans, to participation and immersion in 3D virtual spaces like where the audience can solve fictional crimes. And while Green noted that fans are now essentially co-producers, sometimes even improving on the producer's work, he reminded us that there will always be a need for professionals in creative fields -- and then showed a butt-ugly Heinz ad to prove his point.

    Mark Deuze, Professor, Journalism and New Media at Leiden University painted a less than rosy picture of convergence and asked what it all really means to those whose livelihoods depend on creating media. Since the culture has gradually pushed back from blind acceptance of so-called experts into more of a collective intelligence, what will the long-term affect be on industry professionals, writers, and other media producers? In just two of his examples, you could glimpse the potential for enabling technology and online social networks to be cause for concern:

    1. A consumer-produced Super Bowl TV commercial for Doritos had a budget of $12.79, and
    2. Now that Fox Interactive Media owns My Space, every story and comment ever posted there can be freely mined and re-purposed for their own use. Period.

    Deuze closed with a reminder that it's people, not technology, that create culture and that the most successful agencies, brands, and producers will still be those that look for, hire, and value talent.

    That message was seconded by Renny Gleeson, Digital Strategies Director for Wieden + Kennedy. Even though he admitted that they are all still trying to figure out how to best work within the changing environment, he stressed that ad agencies will always be vital to clients seeking new ways to connect with and engage consumers.

    Dalen Harrison, CEO of Ensequence, demonstrated a few applications of the latest iteration of the company's interactive TV technology including the recent Nike Zoom interactive TV campaign. While not yet in wide-spread usage, the most compelling indicator for future expansion was, according to Harrison, that Beth Comstock, President, Integrated Media, NBC Universal has earmarked $2B for research into ITV for 2009.

    With the topic heading of "How the FF Button is Squeezing Your Ad Dollar," Bill Barnett of 926 Ventures cautioned advertisers to rethink everything they've learned or ever done in their professional lives. Gone are the days of single-sponsored TV shows like The Texaco Star Theater/ Milton Berle Show. Today, with Tivo and PVRs, advertisers need savvy ways to get their messages across. He cited examples of subtle organic and seamless brand integration such as the resorts showcased as centerpieces in the TV show The Bachelor, or the more blatant product placement like drinking Coke while judging contestants on American Idol.

    While Fox Interactive Media is poised to cherry pick from other people's stories, there's one risk-taking entrepreneur with a more altruistic business model. Ten months before Nau's CEO, Chris Van Dyke opened his first active-wear retail store, he'd already engaged an online audience at the Thought Kitchen, a blog where like-minded people meet to share ideas and experiences that can make positive changes in the world.

    Van Dyke has taken invergence to new levels. In four small-scaled retail locations, referred to as "Webfronts" the Nau brand blends community, technology, and global-wide social activism in unique ways. Customers are encouraged to use the stores as fitting rooms, make their purchases online via self-serve kiosks, and get a 10% discount and free shipping as an incentive. Then from a menu of humanitarian and environmental organizations, they select their favorite to receive 5% of their purchase price. And what about stories? The Nau website invites consumer submissions and if yours is one of three stories selected for publication each month, you receive $1500.

    All the presenters agreed that in today's media culture, engagement and participation are keys to success. As the old and new media continue to collide, Gehlen plans to return next year with Inverge 2008. If it's anything like this year's event, you'll definitely want to participate and engage with the experts who play on the front lines of the media invergence.

    More about InVerge

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