In the midst of all the conversations regarding “old and new media” and the destructive forces at large (as the new is “unquestionably” bound to unseat and usurp the old), I find myself constantly searching for a better metaphor by which the conversationalists will understand that this is NOT a winner-take-all-battle. I also find that as of late I’ve been often watching History and specifically the series, “How the Earth Was Made.” Unbeknownst to the good people at the channel, they have provided me with a handy metaphor for the evolving media landscape: “the subduction zone.” (I suppose if I were watching Playboy TV, I would have come up with “the seduction zone,” but that’s perhaps a better metaphor for an article on branding).
Okay, so here’s what I think I’ve learned: A subduction zone is a convergent boundary where two tectonic plates collide. These plates are huge (colossal, vast, really REALLY big) dense masses that make up the crust of the earth. These plates basically float on top of liquefied rock and are constantly on the move. When plates collide, one subducts; that is to say, as they meet and push against each other, one of the two is forced beneath the other.
At these subduction zones geologic formations such as mountain ranges, ocean trenches and island arcs are created. Also produced at the zone are geologic events that are extremely disruptive to the status quo, such as earthquakes and volcanoes, of which there have been several recently.
So let’s say for the sake of argument that you have these two plates, television and Internet, and that they are on a trajectory that will create an inevitable collision. Which one wins? Trick question.
The reader will note from the definition above that one plate (one medium) doesn’t obliterate the other (medium) when they collide, but instead together create new geological formations (new media) at the point of impact – albeit replete with some very nasty accompanying phenomena that tend to throw the tried-and-true business models and revenue streams into turmoil. Sound familiar?
The point is, if those in the challenging medium shout and try to bring about the demise of the incumbent media, and those in the incumbent lambast the challengers and vigilantly guard their gates from the barbarians, the realization of the larger opportunities that are forming at the zone can be easily ignored and, unfortunately, lost.
For the skeptical reader, historical evidence to support the viability of this metaphor can be easily found in the current geology of our own environment: the very industry in which we currently stake our claims and our careers.
Our industry’s topography began to form (and is undeniably still forming – think Comcast) when the two tectonic plates of broadcast television and cable television collided approximately 35 years ago. Just look around. The Mariana Islands of early entrant game-changers, TBS and HBO are still very much in active evidence. The behemoth NBC Universal Himalayas and The Walt Disney Company Alps rise up before us to blistering heights. The massive Viacom Mariana Trench and the titanic Time Warner Tibetan Plateau continue to amaze. What was obliterated? What was created?
The bottom-line? We need to be participatory geologists. We need to recognize, explore and harness the awesome power currently being released and begging to be tapped at our industry’s subduction zones. We need to anticipate future geological collisions; ignite a few volcanoes; shake an earthquake or two into motion. As Apple has done, we need to identify and swiftly get to our next “hot spot” in order to create and reap the rewards of a future Hawaiian Island chain. Ah paradise!
(Anthony White is a media marketing and research strategist, forging actionable insights for an evolving media environment. He invites your comments below or he can be reached in his LA office at 310.230.3652 or by e-mail at MediaTwister@aol.com).