Wednesday, May 13, 2015

CONVERGENCE A list of resources

I'm working on a fresh guide on convergence (and the wider issue of digitisation). Instead of putting all the sources I'll use into one over-long post, or adding yet another links list, you can find here, with summaries and some notes, a list of further resources. Convergence is also dealt with in many journal articles and book chapters!!!

When I put together guides I'm inevitably summarising, reducing, a wide range of material; if you want to look deeper, this (and the Library/classroom resources!) is a good starting point.

Rob Carlton (senior OCR examiner) Medi@CHS blog
Rob is a useful source, as someone involved in the syllabus design for OCR, and his school blog has lots of useful links.

Hendry, Steph (2015) "Two Key Concepts: The Relationship Between Audience and Institution", in Media Magazine, April 2015.

The link above requires a login (ask myself or Librarian). Much of the analysis below is my own, but linked to Hendry's points.

Nice example of how large conglomerates integrate seemingly contrasting brands:
According to one definition, brand = product + personality. Knowing the brand means that the audience can feel reassured when they access a product produced by a familiar, wellloved brand. Consider the ‘personalities’ constructed by two very different institutions: Disney and Marvel. Both are associated with blockbuster film, but our expectations of their products may be quite different.

Disney is wholesome, family-friendly (reflected in mainly U, PG and 12 BBFC ratings) whilst Marvel is harder-edged, arguably more masculine too with its sci-fi, superhero focus, with violence a common, even central, feature. They also offer rather hegemonic fare though: largely patriarchal, hetereo-normative, favouring private enterprise, an American hero saving the world ...
Although the two studios each have a distinct brand image that helps audiences frame their expectations of products from each institution, this is in fact a false distinction: in fact, Marvel Studios is owned by Marvel Entertainment – which is owned by The Walt Disney Company.
Pre-convergence, institutions (production companies, distributors etc) largely conceived of the audience as passive (this also nails the shift from 'web 1.0' to web 2.0):
In the past, this relationship was seen as a power relationship, where most of the power was in the hands of the institutions. This model was based on the idea that the audience was passive and received information from powerful institutions. Whilst it is true that in the 20th century audiences had little obvious impact on media institutions, the history of the mass media in the late 20th/ early 21st centuries is a history of technological changes which have altered audience behaviour. As a result, institutions have had to continually change in order to keep the audience interested.
As TV grew to be a rival (in the US; add another decade for the UK!) to cinema by the 1950s, cinema responded with 3D and other gimmicks, while VHS in the 1980s saw the rise of the multiplex, offering something far removed from home cinema, and more recently the return of 3D, IMAX and, ironically, smaller cinemas and those offering relative luxury (and fewer noisy kids) - often licensed to serve alcohol, and with meals, not just popcorn, the new Everyman cinema in Leeds being a prime example - have attempted to unpick this convergence.

Tablets and smartphones, whilst offering up new revenue streams, have posed a huge challenge to the conglomerates, handing a lot of control over to the audience ('consumer'), boosting piracy and the de-valuing of media content, and acclimatising a generation to viewing low-resolution movies and TV on small screens.
As the digital landscape has developed, audiences’ relationships with institutions have continued to change. Audiences now have more freedom to access media products when they choose, rather than when they are told. Mobile technology allows audiences to carry TV programmes, films, music and all that is on offer on the internet on tablets and smartphones. Modern audiences now expect to be able to communicate directly with institutions, and to be able to construct their own media products for themselves. The ability to download and/or stream films and music on demand has led to a change of attitudes regarding media products; contemporary audiences do not see them as having much monetary
value, since they are so widely and freely available.
Another sign of the accelerating nature of convergence is retailers and online distributors themselves becoming producers, with the likes of Amazon, Google/YouTube and Netflix all becoming significant players, using exclsuive content to drive subscriptions and polish their brands.

Cartwright, Lisa (2002) "Film and the digital in visual studies: film studies in the era of convergence", in Journal of Visual Culture
Hardly an easy read, and quite out of date, but useful to get a sense of how long established the term is. The introduction also stresses the role of media deregulation (loosening restrictions on ownership; vertical inetgration was outlawed until fairly recently in the USA), and the economic and political movements behind this (something we study in A2 Media Studies).

If you are considering Film Studies specifically for university, a read through this would be useful to give you a good idea of the density of theory you may encounter.

As the 20th century drew to a close, we were increasingly likely to encounter the cinema through other media – on television, home video, DVD, or the internet. Media and industry convergences of the late 20th century were enacted in the rise of Home Box Office in the late 1970s, the emergence of home video in the 1980s, and the move from digital special effects to digital editing and projection across the last three decades. Web marketing and access to films online accompanied the rise of corporate conglomerates like Disney-Capital Cities-ABC in 1996, synergetic entities vertically integrated across categories as seemingly disparate as entertainment, information, food and nuclear power, and with a formidable global reach. As New Economist editor Frances Cairncross (1997) announced, distance is dead in the free-market world where corporations build brave new markets with the dissolution of the nation-state and the wiring of the Third World.

Convergence of the media raises important issues for those of us in film studies. We  find  the defining object of our field – film – disintegrating into, or integrating with, other media. Of course, media convergence is not a new phenomenon. Film has never been an autonomous medium or industry. And the potential for global corporate expansion may have been brought to new heights, but was not introduced, by the internet. The film industry’s intersections with television, consumer goods (through product tie-ins), the electrical and lighting industries, and even the make-up and fashion industries since the cinema’s inception in the late 19th century have all been well documented. The difference in the convergence frenzy of the late 1980s and 1990s is that this phenomenon reached a fullness, a potential, captured in the word synergy, a corporate buzz-word describing the exponential-growth effect that occurs with the integration of media and products – and corporate holdings – across industries. The actualization of science-fiction fantasies of convergence faced fewer technological limitations and a climate in which, to cite US circumstances, federal checks on vertical integration were effectively sidestepped with the waves of media deregulation since the Reagan years and fulfilled in the global free-market mentality of the Clinton era. At the level of the technical, convergence became a qualitatively different entity when computers could support those elements previously limited to the media technologies of film and television: high-quality image reproduction and real-time movement, with the latter still not brought up to the level of the cinema and television.

Tyron, Chuck (2009) Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence
The link is for Amazon; the quotes below come from the Project Muse site, which is reprinting a journal review of the book (I haven't read it as yet). I particularly like the point about DVDs: the extras have demystified cinema, and encouraged 'prosumer' and even simply amateur film-making/UGC ("we media" as Gillmor termed it) as a result.
Chuck Tryon's Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence provides readers with an analysis of how new types of media have altered the way viewers interpret, access and interact with the medium of film. Tryon defines this "new" media rather broadly. Some have altered the way viewers can access and watch films—websites such as YouTube and portable movie players, for example. Other media, such as the DVD format and online blogs have expanded the level of access and information. Finally, digital technology has dramatically changed the way films are made and produced. These changes, encompassing the creative, distributive and informative processes of the motion picture experience, combine to create the "convergence" to which the author alludes in the title of the book.
Reinventing Cinema addresses each of these diverse media in turn, using a series of (in the author's words, "case studies") to illustrate how each has altered the ways films are made, watched and interpreted. The conclusion the author presents is that the past decade has inaugurated a revolution of sorts, which has democratized the process of how films are made and watched. No longer is the process of making, viewing and owning films restricted to those involved in the creative process or professional media. Now, anyone can buy almost any film, anyone can make a film relatively cheaply and anyone can set up a website where they can comment on and critique films. The days of the remote and mysterious film auteur and elitist film critic are long gone.
Tryon's narrative outlines how this state of affairs has come about. For example, he begins with a discussion of how DVDs have provided the public with new levels of access to information through the supplementary materials they contain. Subsequent chapters then address how digital technology has changed the way films are made and viewed, the proliferation of blogs, and the popularity of media outlets such as YouTube. Taken together, the chapters provide the reader with a strong sense of the ways viewers' interactions with film have evolved on the creative and interpretive levels.
Tryon's book is generally interesting and well argued and it is clear he is an expert on this topic. The book does an excellent job outlining the evolution of the medium of film in the age of digital technology. This topic in turn speaks to wider themes related to the intersection of technology and society. Tryon also provides readers with some of the more troubling aspects of the digital phenomenon. For example, digital technology allows video to be easily altered, a fact which cannot only undermine a film's authenticity, but reality itself (as in the case of Forrest Gump). Perhaps most troubling is that corporate culture threatens to undermine this democratic revolution, as giant media entities can easily co-opt these new media to serve their own ends. This in fact represents the biggest weakness of the book, for Tryon's positive image of the opportunities presented by digital media lead to a somewhat one-sided discussion that shrouds the influence of corporate conglomerates.
This is not to say that Tryon ignores the influence of corporate culture, for it is certainly part of the discussion. However, his overly positive analysis obscures how corporate media entities have used digital media to further their own ends and undermine the democratizing potential of digital technology. This criticism aside, the book is recommended because it makes an important contribution to our understanding of film and how technology continues to alter the way we perceive and interpret our society.


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