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Words are all I have

The English language is a beautiful thing and it is the lingua franca of this industry, and every other. I, for one, am unsurprisingly grateful for that.

Because we’re in a relatively new industry a number of terms have been introduced that didn’t really exist before; digital, streaming, downloading, online, etc, and many other languages have adopted them rather than invent their own. Several previously serviceable words or phrases; catch-up, linear, on-demand, convergence, have also been co-opted as industry terms with particular meanings. And that’s before we mention the tortuous acronyms usually, though not always, derived from English words.

But it isn’t that confusing, is it? Two recent stories – both, ironically from English sources – would argue confusion reigns and leads to misinterpretation both accidental and, perhaps, wilful.

Anything to do with Netflix tends to be widely reported and so it was with a study from UK regulator Ofcom that said only 31 per cent of UK viewers use the service to watch ‘original’ series with, therefore, the majority using it to view old films and ‘US shows’.  That seems counter intuitive; Netflix has spent millions on original shows like House of Cards and, previously, assumption and anecdote had indicated this was the key to their remarkable subscription growth. But, look a little closer, and Ofcom admits that respondents may not have clearly understood the difference between old ‘US shows’ and new, original, ones like House of Cards or Better Call Saul. As they might say in Franglais; ‘non merde, Sherlock…’  So, the results might be really quite wrong and unhelpful. Maybe it was just a kite flown to try and encourage Netflix to tell us about their viewing data themselves.

Meanwhile, the BBC – bastion of the English-speaking world – is tying itself in Gordian knots as it tries to ‘clarify’ who needs to pay a license fee when watching the Beeb online. Another recent story had the Licensing Authority – that’s the arms length organisation by which the BBC distances itself from the bailiffs and custodial sentences – declaiming student’s ‘misunderstanding’ of terms relating to online TV. It set out to clarify that if anyone watches any TV ‘live’ online, or records it from a live feed, then they need a licence. It thinks students make a lot of mistakes misinterpreting catch-up, live, downloading, and recording. For clarity it recommends they turn to tvlicensing.co.uk/student-tv-licence? There it says you can only use TV receiving equipment that works off its own batteries if you don’t want to pay. It means a battery powered television set (no, me neither), it doesn’t mean a laptop. Now, why doesn’t it make that clearer?

Anyway, to make things clearer, the BBC a few days later introduced a new trick play for iPlayer; Live Restart. So, you can go on iPlayer one minute after a show began, choose restart and, hey presto, you’re watching catch-up. But, in order to ‘restart’, you need to be in the live stream, even if only for a few seconds. Gotcha. All clear? In an acronym I gather that’s in circulation in the student body: WTF?

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