Al Ries is Wrong, Part 1

An industry peer recently insisted that I view an Al Ries video on the subject of Convergence (, and dared me to dispute his contention that high-tech convergence does not work, and never will.
Before I start, let me first go on record stipulating that Al Ries is one of my personal heroes. In the video, his examples and opinions are funny, insightful, provocative, and in many instances – wrong.
“TV / PC convergence will never happen!” I watched Mr. Ries assert with conviction. In a sense, this is true. The PC will not converge with TV, but disinter mediate it. TV, as we know it, eventually disappears, and the PC becomes TV. Think of the computer as the modern day equivalent of the Model T and Broadcast & Cable TV as the horse and buggy. You get the picture.
Broadcast and Cable TV networks are distribution systems, and TV sets are merely receivers. Broadband, when it reaches its true potential, renders both moot, because it combines (converges) content with distribution. The internet becomes the distribution system, and the PC, in whatever iteration – desktop, laptop, wireless, or hand-held – becomes the receiver. What about screen size? Right now, I can plug my computer in to any flat-panel monitor in the house and watch streaming video on a big screen.
So, TV / PC convergence will never happen? It’s already happening. Need proof?
More than a million visitors watched streaming video of March Madness round one b-ball games on their computers during the first two days of this year’s NCAA Division I Tournament, and these numbers would have been far higher with greater delivery capacity.
I can visit AOL’s in2TV and watch episodes of classic favorites like I Spy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Gilligan’s Island, all for FREE, and in Gateway 24″ Widescreen, Digital splendor!
Sony is now offering mini TV episodes on MySpace. The so-called “Minisode Network,” cuts down sitcoms, dramas, and talk shows into 3-5 three-to-five minute chunks (a sad commentary on the state of episodic TV when one can truncate a sixty-minute show into five minutes without viewers missing anything).
Production companies routinely post TV pilots on the web in an effort to generate enough viewer interest to get them placed on network schedules. I ask, “Who needs the networks?
Later, I discovered that TV Guide has a new online video feature, “What to watch on the web,
” and they boast that they have listings for 13,881 shows. After checking it out, I found thousands of shows on the web that I’d love to watch and will never have the time to. Brilliant!
When confronted with these findings, my peer grudgingly admitted that he never watches Sports Center highlights on cable’s ESPN, but watches them religiously at Absolutely loves the videos and hates the pre-roll ads (hasn’t bothered to watch the last 50!). As an aside, and to recap: never watches on TV; never misses online; and, is immune to the push of pre-roll. My peer is not alone. A staggering percentage of internet video viewers either detest pre-roll ads or dismiss them altogether. Anyone in traditional advertising paying attention? Didn’t think so.
In the end, viewers are loyal to shows (content) not networks (distribution). Do I really need TV networks once image quality, image size, and interactive features catch up to my desire for what I want, how I want it, and when I want it via the web? As long as I can find the content, I don’t care how it gets to me.
Here’s how it might work: a production company posts a new webisode on the internet. A fan of the show, I have subscribed to their RSS feed, which alerts me when the new (original) content is available for viewing, and I check it out at my convenience. Interactivity allows me to pause the show at any time to pursue an interest I might have in a featured product. For instance, I could click on the car a character is driving to see a promotional video of the vehicle in action, or browse through a web-based version of the model’s catalog. I might even make an impulse buy, if I have enough dough and need a new car. And then, it’s back to the irregular, unscheduled webcast.
This scenario won’t play out overnight, but it is coming. Once distribution capacity reaches critical mass, the advertising / marketing community figures out a viable business model, and others develop simplified, menu-driven search, TV goes away.
Mr. Ries covers a lot of ground while discussing his 22 Disputable Laws of Convergence and Divergence.* In upcoming blogs, find out why I believe Mr. Ries has confused convergence with synergy and divergence with innovation; and, why he is mistaken about the future of Apple’s iPhone. Hint: one of the iPhone’s key features is an innovation that – by Mr. Ries’ definition – makes it a divergence device and not a convergence device as he insists.
Stay Tuned.
*My apologies … couldn’t resist.

2 comments on “Al Ries is Wrong, Part 1

Short attention spans?

Thomas, well stated, a bit long for this short attention span, but brilliant in your analysis.

One thing I would add – you eluded to it many times, but I am a bitdisappointed that you or Al (I am taking your word for it, I did not watch Al’s piece) did not directly mention audience behavior in all of this and how it will ultimately drive the success or failure of all of this. You mentioned it several times, indirectly coming to the conclusion, but in this humble guy’s opinion, you are giving the technology, the pushers (of content that is – digital or traditional)and the pundits too much credit. Much like mobile, the people will decide the champion, not the manufacturers, the content creators or the medium.

Great piece keep rocking his stuff.

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