Houston Public Media has launched a converged website that rolls up two radio stations and a TV station into one single brand and under a new non-profit board called the Houston Public Media Foundation.
It’s a unique case study in media convergence, a strategy that has had shaky success in the newspaper world. Ever since the Tampa Tribune partnered and moved in with a local NBC affiliate in 1999, many media observers have projected the inevitability of media convergence. Inevitable perhaps, but not easily achieved. (In 2012, the company that owned the Tribune and the NBC affiliate put the newspaper up for sale, opting to focus on broadcasting amid declining newspaper revenues.)
Convergence isn’t just moving in together. It takes different forms whether you are talking about management, news production, promotion and content delivery. Rich Gordon’s summary of convergence forms in 2003 is still relevant and gives us a way to analyze how media organizations approach the complexities of media mergers, cooperative agreements and digital transformation.
So to walk you through what Houston Public Media as been going through from the convergence lens (referring to Gordon’s descriptions of each type):
- 2011: Radio and TV CEOs are phased out to make way for one chief in charge of public media (structural/organizational convergence)
- 2013: Elimination of more staff and a new focus on a “multi-platform” arts coverage team (tactical convergence)
- 2014: New merged website and brand under Houston Public Media (presentation/distribution convergence)
For most media organizations, convergence is a way to find cost efficiency, to do more with less. (It’s questionable whether that actually plays out.) The question will be whether this move helps or hinders HPM’s ability to raise funds, since each entity handled that independently. With this latest move, HPM’s management seems confident that one global brand will help all of its properties during its fundraising drives. It will be interesting to see how its members respond.