During the heyday of the dot.com years, otherwise known as the late 1990s, I spent some time attending many of the "Digital Coast" events which the Los Angeles new media industry frenetically sponsored, events most often framed around a rhetoric of convergence that insisted on the inevitability of a collision between the internet and television, a vision of the future of the screen that in many ways wed the two media tightly together. While the earliest of these events framed television as the bad object to be overcome by all things web-like, a more symbiotic relationship between the two media quickly emerged. 1 Drawing on the tropes of television and the channel surfer, some "convergence" executives began promoting what they called a "lean back interactivity:' which, in their words, provided "little snippets of interactivity to enhance the broadcast experience:'2 Further described as a "minimal interactivity:' this mode was promoted as an "enhancement" to conventional broadcast which offered consumers a wider array of click-and-buy shopping. A "give the buyer what she wants" logic buttressed the move, as Wink Communications CTO and Chairman, Brian Dougherty, maintained that "if the interactivity is so complex ... consumers aren't going to want it:' Corporate CEOs proclaimed that "the really cool digital application turns out to be about TV,' while the Pseudo Web site suggested that the Web just may end up "anointing talk shows as the killer app for next generation, two-way broadband networks:'
Such talk framed the Web as a "better" version of TV, stressing particular aspects of the medium which illustrate its superiority to television while simultaneously linking the two media in a seemingly natural convergence. Here, the rhetoric revolved around notions of personalization and empowerment, focusing, in the words of Rob Tercek, the former VP of Digital Media at Columbia's Tristar Television Group, on the Web as "software that gets familiar with you:' He also insisted that "controlling an audience" is an old idea more suited to broadcast than the niche markets of netcasting, which privilege "a consumer-centric point of view:' Pseudo. com, a now-defunct New York interactive TV company that until recently produced over sixty Web-based television shows a week, promoted their programming as "the next logical step in the development of entertainment media:' describing this "major deconstruction of television into niche programming" as opening up the possibility for "deeper, focused, interactive content tailored to individual interests, style and
taste" (buzzwords courtesy of the old Pseudo Web site.) DEN, the Digital Entertainment Network, another crashed and burned internet TV venture that was LA's answer to Pseudo, included on its Web site a promotional video which presented DEN as a "media revolution" intent on providing "more interactive;' "participatory entertainment:' The clip went on to castigate television's essentially passive format while celebrating "the DEN" as providing "what you want to watch when you want to watch it. It's completely in your control:' Chairman and CEO Jim Ritts championed both the customization the Web would allow as well as DEN's capacity to meld a "click and buy" element to more traditional modes of TV viewing.