Introduction to convergence:
The Gutenberg era is over. A new digital communications technology has emerged. Convergence is presented as a technological force majeure. In the 21st century it seems nearly impossible to follow developments in technology, business or journalism without encountering the word convergence. An electronic superhighway is beginning to girdle the globe as voice; video and data converge, bringing in their wake a new basket of digital, multimedia and interactive communication technologies.
The term convergence has often been used over the last decade to describe the processes through which technologies, such as computers, telephony, and broadcasting have come together to spark the so-called ‘communication revolution’. It brings things together in a common format or in the same space. In common parlance, it means the coalescence and melting of traditionally separated communications. It denotes a general phenomenon- the ongoing effects of digital technology in media and communications. The features of convergence are that it is driven by technology, is a powerful force for change, and is global, prospective and unpredictable.
There is a strong sense of proliferating links within the communications sector, telecommunication companies, print media organizations, internet service providers, and information publishers and suppliers, among many other parts are part of this sector. The traditional boundaries that circumscribed the roles of traditional stakeholders in the news media no longer exist. This revolution has been greatly hyperbolized by a number of influential commentators in industry, government and academia.
Convergence has been most manifest in the digital communications environment with the merging of the computer, television, and telecommunications industries. Those vying for a slice of the market include telephone, cable television, entertainment, broadcasting, and newspaper companies, as well as satellite, software and computer companies. One of the fundamental drivers of this convergence is reader’s demand for access to content anytime, anywhere.
Effects of convergence:
At its most general, convergence is the breaking down of old barriers that once divided communication along several dimensions: between industry and industry; between applications and applications; between producer and consumer; and between country and country. A change is taking place in the consumption of media technologies. Consumption convergence makes a move away from the traditional mode of media consumption. What was once a solitary and singular activity, e.g., early radio listening, has changed into a shared, collective experience not just of media content reception but also in the form of media texts received. What makes consumption convergence unique is that the user is paying attention and is alert to competing media at the one time. With the convergence of media technologies, early research in the field suggests that the use and consumption of media technologies, both old and new, is being irrevocably transformed. Competing newspapers and television stations from alliances to meet a variety of technological, editorial, regulatory and market-based opportunities and challenges. Today, media convergence is sparking a range of social, political, economic and legal disputes because of the conflicting goals of consumers, producers and gatekeepers. With media convergence, new forms of media use have emerged: users can enhance a media encounter by controlling the streams of information and have the ability to interact with not only the media itself, but also the content provider and other users. The implication is that consumers are becoming less and less dependent on any single media type and less and less loyal to any single media type. They can get what they need when they need it from whatever media source is available.
Benefits of convergence:
Media content creators could take advantage of this opportunity to make content that is specifically designed for consumption in a particular context, especially novel or unusual contexts. For content providers, media convergence also implies that creative content will only have to be created once, not several times for the varying media formats. This too, will save content providers time and money in the long run.
For content providers, the switch to convergent media may initially be expensive, as they will have to invest in new equipment. But in the long run, it will open up more possibilities. As of now, television advertisements are usually very elaborate, but the experience is very passive. Viewers cannot simply click on them if they want more information or want to purchase the item being mentioned as they can on the internet. With converged media, it would be possible to integrate both types of advertisement into one, allowing for both elaborate presentations and complex interactions. The addition of informational bits to the media stream, in combination with these all-in-one devices, will allow content to be more customized to the viewer’s needs and wants. The device may have some sort of filtering agent that only displays advertisements that are of interest of the viewers.
Views against convergence:
Convergence created unpredictability. Earlier the behaviour of the media consumers could be predicted with some degree of accuracy. But in the new world of converged media technologies and content, it is far more difficult to predict which of the many media types any demographic will be paying attention to at any given time. The options are far more numerous, which makes for a huge range of permutations.
Convergence brings a further complication; it means the owned/branded content is likely to be sharing space with unbranded or consumer-created content, especially on interactive technologies such as a computer or a cell phone. The consumer-created content may be a text message or an e-mail, blog or instant chat. The fact that consumers themselves can create and distribute media content makes things even more predictable, especially for branded media content. The branded content owners do not just have to compete against each other; they also have to compete for consumer’s time and attention against ordinary consumers who are also creating content. Brands no longer know exactly which sector they are operating in, whom they are competing against and with what tools.
Furthermore, convergence makes life more complicated for publishers because they have to react to other competitors and changing needs and changing media usage of their usage target groups.
Regulation and Legal Aspects:
Convergence presents a challenge for broadcasting policy. Technological change is a feature of the media industries, but shifts in technology and the emergence of new media markets have created new uncertainties. The pace of technological change in media and communications may increase in nearby future. For example, the consequences for broadcasting policy of cheap, ubiquitous, international broadband networks would be far reaching. Technology change has ramifications for many specific areas of media regulation, access to spectrum, the definition of digital television services, ownership and control, and content regulation.
The convergence of the telecommunications networks, media distribution networks, and the internet during the last decade raises important questions about where the locus of control ought to lie with respect to these converged networks, the level of control that governments and others ought to exert, and the relationship between national and international law. To date, regulatory regimes have treated three modes of communication very differently. First, the law has treated the transmission of voice and data over the traditional telephony networks as subject to substantial national regulation and certain international coordination. Second, the law has considered content transmitted over myriad networks as subject to a separate regime of media laws. Third, communications over internet protocol based networks have, in their history, often been left largely unregulated, for a variety of reasons, in an overtly legal sense, but subject to many less formal types of regulation by private and public entities.
The growth of the importance and the scope of the internet, as well as its growing ability to transmit rich data streams across geographic boundaries, present a conundrum for the law by causing a convergence of technologies and challenging the old nation state based regulatory regime.
There are several issues that affect the choice of policies that govern the traditional communications networks and internet protocol-based technologies. Chief among these issues is whether telecommunications and media law and policy should be applied to internet-based technologies as it is; whether the telecommunications and media rules should be adapted to the new environment and then applied to the converged technologies; or whether separate regulatory regimes should exist to cover these two types of networks differently. Changes in communications technology will require policy responses.
The directions and speed of convergence are unclear, but the fact of continuing change in the media and telecommunications industries is certain. Unlike telecommunications, broadcasting policy has been, and continues to be, characterized by highly prescriptive regulation. The legislation concerning the introduction of digital television attempts to mandate specific television formats and services.
Convergence law in India:
The Supreme Court in the case of Secretary of the Ministry of IB v. The Cricket Association of Bengal, for the first time went into the dynamics of electronic media. The case related to the denial of up- linking facility to private broadcasting company, to which the Board of Cricket in India had given right to telecast cricket matches. The decision held in this case laid down the foundation of the autonomy of the broadcasting media in the country. The court declared in clear words that Air Waves are public property and their use is to be in public interest and called upon the Parliament to enact the separate Broadcasting act in the country. The judgement thus forms the genesis of Convergence in country. Subsequently various acts to regulate Cable TV and Broadcasting Bill along with the notification of the Prasar Bharti came to be of much importance. The Broadcasting Bill of 1997 is a step towards providing a regulatory mechanism to supervise the growing broadcasting media.
In December 1998, a group under the chairmanship of the Finance Minister to expeditiously implement the telecom policy 1999 whilst taking into account the increasing convergence between telecom and IT. Accordingly, a group on Telecom and IT convergence was duly constituted under the chairmanship of the Finance Minister by Government of India notification dated December 13, 1999. The group recommended the formulation and implementation of Communication Convergence Bill, 2000 which is still pending in the Parliament.
It can be inferred that convergence is still in its beginning stages and for complete digital convergence to become reality; we’ll need to see technological changes in every stage of the information infrastructure.
Convergence is here to stay and former ‘single media’ publishers have to transform themselves to Information Providers or Entertainment Providers. Media industry is one of the most growing branches but existing players have to adapt to changing needs and to changing media usage and the new players would have to look for co-operations or acquisitions within the traditional business.
There is need for implementing the convergence law considering the vast technological developments taking place in the field and to govern the use of emerging technologies in telecom, information technology, and broadcasting. With technology blurring the lines between telecommunication and broadcasting, a comprehensive law governing both is imperative. Thus the Communication Convergence Bill of 2000 should be brought into effect immediately to regulate the scenario of convergence in the country. Services should be technology agnostic, not hampered by overly expensive charges such as licence fees or other imposts that tilt the playing field in favour of any one technology over the other. Unified licensing, greater flexibility in spectrum allocation and reduction in license fee are all commendable suggestions and need to be considered on a priority basis.
 (1995) 2 SCC 161