It’s well-known that the entertainment industry has its own distinct and secret language. Variety magazine’s slanguage is infamous, in which “mitting” is applause, a “skein” is a TV series, an “oater” is a western, and, most confusing of all for a veteran Internet developer like me, the major TV networks are called “webs.”
I was in a meeting last week with some hard-core video people. No, they weren’t pornographers, rather they were video technology people who live and breathe video tech in all its myriad forms: broadcast, satellite feeds, microwaves, video tape, DVD, high-def, cable, streaming over the Internet, you name it.
They had their own jargon as well, beyond Varietyese. There were the countless technology acronyms and obscure formats, but there was also a hefty dose of outright code words for everyday familiar terms. They used the word “linear” to mean plain old “cable TV”, for example.
Most confusing of all was they way they used the term “broadband” whenever they were listing all of the different channels by which video can be delivered (as in “We can provide you with a feed via linear, [list of incomprehensible acronyms], broadband, you name it.”)
What did that mean? Is there some kind of broadband delivery channel that is distinct from dial-up channels?
To a (world wide) web person like me, “broadband” is a very particular term referring to DSL, cable modems, and other high-speed types of Internet connections. Broadband is, to me, the same basic animal as, say, a dial-up Internet connection, just faster. I only use the term to distinguish between types of Internet connections, not to refer to an essential type of data transmission channel. I figured they must have been talking about something else, some fancy new kind of cable service that we New Yorkers don’t know about yet.
Turned out they simply meant “the Web”. To the broadcast industry, the Web might as well have not existed when it was still in the dial-up era. If you couldn’t stream video over it, it was useless to them. But when broadband arrived, suddenly the Web became a viable distribution channel to them. Suddenly it became relevant. So instead of calling it “the Web” like everyone else, they call it “broadband” because that’s what we web people were all excited about when they finally took notice of us (and, of course, since they already call the TV networks “webs” they needed another term anyway).
The Old Guard
According to old-school cable industry player Leo Hinderly, the web is primarily a content distribution medium for the content currently owned by the broadcast industy. John Batelle’s critique of Hinderly’s profound naivete is spot-on. It’s not just a stereotype — sometimes it really does look like the TV people just don’t get the Internet at all.
We Internet people are pretty snobby about our field. We often proclaim that the TV people are going to go extinct as the anytime/anywhere net supplants the central-control broadcast model. Still, the entertainment industry in all its forms is smart and scrappy. The movie industry survived and flourished despite the advent of television, the VCR, and DVD. The TV networks in particular have a proven record of defeating adversity. They survived cable, big time, by controlling it instead of opposing it.
These lumbering giants just might eventually figure out a way to exercise some significant control over the internet as well: the dot-coms lay the groundwork today, and the broadcasters sweep in and take control later. Don’t write them off.