Industry Voices—It’s time we all started speaking the same language (at least when it comes to TV)

TV Response Advisory Board
Alan Wolk - Industry Voices - FierceCable

While much has been made over the lack of uniform standard metrics for everything from online video views to the definition of various audience segments, I’m going to focus on the lack of uniform definition of something I bump up against almost daily: What, exactly, is television?

At least once a week I find myself explaining to a client that the reason Research Company A’s stats on the number of, say, OTT, is so wildly different than Wall Street Analyst G’s report is that they are each relying on wildly different definitions of OTT.

So in the interest of clarity, I’d like to offer a little glossary in the futile hope that it can get everyone on the same page.

Television: All long-form (15 minutes or longer) high production value programming that can be watched on an actual television set, via an entity whose primary purpose is to show video programming. The method of delivery—antenna, cable, satellite or broadband internet—is irrelevant. Ditto whether the entity transmitting it operates on a subscription-based, ad-based, transaction-based or hybrid models. If I’m watching Homeland on my 65-inch HDTV, it shouldn’t matter if I’m watching it live via Fios, off the Showtime app on my Fire TV or via Hulu Live TV. It’s all television.

Linear Television: Any television broadcast that’s watched in real time, regardless of device or delivery system. So, to continue the “Homeland” example, if I’m watching via Hulu Live TV or a Comcast X1 set top box, if it’s 9 p.m. on Sunday and I’m watching “Homeland” via Showtime then it’s linear TV. (This one particularly baffles me. OTT and IP are just delivery systems. Why do so many people, who would not distinguish between CBS watched via an antenna and CBS watched via cable, refuse to call CBS watched live via vMVPD “linear TV”? There are often different ads running, but the actual experience is identical, regardless of delivery system.)

OTT: Television that’s delivered over the open internet, regardless of device. This includes smart TVs, apps, mobile and streaming devices.

CTV: Connected TV is a fairly new category. It’s a subset of OTT and refers to television delivered over the open internet to smart TVs.

Cord Cutting: Giving up a pay TV subscription in favor of any combination of antennas and OTT apps. If you are no longer paying for a bundle of cable channels (but previously were), then you have cut the cord.

Cord Shifting: Giving up a pay TV subscription in favor of any combination of antennas and virtual MVPDs. If you’re still paying someone (often the same company you were getting your set top box service from) for a pay TV bundle, then all you’ve done is shifted the delivery mechanism from cable to broadband. You have not, as many would have it, cut the cord.

Cord Shaving: Reducing the size of your pay TV bill by downsizing to a smaller bundle. In addition to those downsizing from the platinum bundle to the bronze, most MVPDs have a very small, very affordable, very unpublicized bundle that consists of the local broadcast channels and some local cable access. These bundles were originally designed for low-income families, but it’s not as if they ask for your 1040 when you sign up. MVPDs would prefer people switch to these bundles rather than totally cut the cord because they still have a double-play customer whom they can try and upgrade for the rest of their natural born lives.

Cord Nevering: Someone, usually someone under the age of 30, who has never had a pay TV subscription in their own name. It is extremely debatable how much of an issue this is, as anecdotal reports indicate that many (most?) cord nevers are still using their parents log-ins. If pay TV companies start to charge by user, the way mobile phone carriers do, this may no longer be an issue. That said, parents may still keep their kids on their accounts because it’s cheaper to pay for an additional user than an entire new account. Or the kids may get a promotion, get married and decide it’s time for their own subscription. (The industry is certainly hoping so.) We’ll know in about five to 10 years.

Millennials: For many, this is a catch-all term for anyone between the ages of birth and 40. While there are numerous definitions, we’ll go with the one that says Gen Z starts in 1998, as kids born that year were too young to remember 9/11—that jibes with Strauss and Howe’s original definition of Gen X as starting in 1961, as those kids were too young to remember the Kennedy assassination. Thus, the term “millennials” refers only to those people born between the years 1980 and 1998. Not “everyone with a Snapchat account.”

Advertising: In terms of television, advertising includes any and all money a brand pays to a network to promote itself, including branded content, product placement, interactive units and the like, not just traditional “interruptive” advertising.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors--often industry experts or analysts--who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.