The dawning of an interactive era in TV

Pundits are heralding the £97.7bn all-stock takeover by American Online of Time Warner as the coming of age of digital media. The deal has given the UK media the opportunity to build on their predictions for the new century, aired only days ago, revisiting opinions about the future of e-commerce, the role of entertainment in communications, and the like. The timing of the deal could not have been better for them.

The arguments are well known within the creative industries. Headlines on the AOL/Time Warner deal, such as Merging past and future, which headed the Financial Times’ leader column on Tuesday, come across as oversimplistic to those in the communications business with first hand knowledge of both digital media and print.

There is room for both the so-called conventional communications afforded by print-to-film giant Time Warner and the digital networks of AOL. Why else would the big global players such as WPP Group be striving to balance their communications offer, taking in all forms of delivery from identity and print to moving image? How might cross-platform client advisory groups such as Circus hope to make a living if the situation was less complex.

Ad agencies have long been bolting on digital media skills. Meanwhile, deals within the design camp, such as that between Swedish group Icon Medialab and MetaDesign London, show how keen design groups are to build global teams to meet clients’ needs.

But the AOL/Time Warner deal is likely to put a spin on things. Until now, the most successful Internet concerns have tended to be business-to-business, directory-driven or in sectors such as financial services, where transactions can be completed on-line. The media reach of the new conglomerate should place the issue much more squarely in the consumer arena. It could even escalate the process, bringing interactivity into just about every home through the TV screen.

For design the opportunities are great. More website work is a given, but print is far from dead and clients might be encouraged to try out radical ideas as competition between media hots up.

Meanwhile, the nature of consultancy will continue to change as clients have a greater choice of media through which to promote their wares. There’ll be scope for more strategic input from “thinking” design groups, and we can expect to see even more convergence within digital media as TV and film meet Web techniques. Let’s hope it also sees an upturn in fortunes for pure digital design groups – still the Cinderellas of the industry in terms of fees.

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