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November 22, 2006

The Death of a Buzzword: Synergy and Time Warner

Synergy is one of those nasty buzzwords that people don't want to throw around anymore. That's why convergence and transmedia has become preferrable. Of course, synergy seems to now connote a marketing exercise that lacks artistic merit, something that's just done for pure profit and that has no substance, whereas transmedia is a word used to indicate something that crosses media platforms, that sees companies work together, but that is more than just a superficial alliance.

Earlier this week, The New York Times featured an article from David Carr on the "post-synergy success" of Time Warner, writing that, "even as the concept has been left for dead, it is being put into practice, albiet in diminutive ways, at the current version of the company." The project that Carr refers to? TMZ.

TMZ stands for the "Thirty Mile Zone" of celebrity hunting ground in Los Angeles and is a "happy collaboration" between the Warner Brothers and AOL that has drawn 6.8 million new viewers in the past month, according to data from the Times story. What makes this synergy? The fact that these two branches of the company are working together, that it was created from the failing Celebrity Justice syndicated TV show and now may branch into a TV show once again.

It publishes celebrity gossip in real time, and Carr writes that, "in October, TMZ, a site that did not exist one year earlier, was the No. 1 entertainment news site, with far more trafic than E! Online,, and, a Time Warner site. (Oops, I guesss there is a downside to synergy.)"

Now I take exception to the site being described as "a soap opera serialized in real time." I guess they mean that you are watching people's personal lives on display and can follow it in a serial nature, but the paparazzi and Procter & Gamble Productions don't have that much in common that I know of, although P&G are advertisers on the site.

But, while TMZ is not my cup of tea, I think that it touches on the ability of the Web to do something others don't and to prove that synergistic relationships, even as that buzzword has gotten a negative connotation, are the building blocks of convergence and transmedia approaches. The success of this site shows that there is still power in these types of partnerships. The problem is in the thinking that they work irrespective to how they are executed.

Thinking of synergy as a cure-all was a placebo (just as the concept of complex television does not de facto make a great television show), but that doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Be sure to give Carr's article a look for more info about TMZ.

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