Watch your language.

By Nigel Walley – MD of Decipher @nwalley

There is a dreadful habit taking hold in in the new media community – the practice of using adjectives as nouns. Words like ‘digital’, ‘social’ and ‘native’ get bandied around, as though their use confers membership of an elite group. At least ‘social’ media and ‘native’ advertising accurately describe a specific group of media products. The word ‘digital’ though, is much more troubling, particularly in the way it gets used to differentiate from ‘television’.

The idea of the ‘TV vs digital split’ has become so fundamental in the media industry that it is almost impossible to shake it off. But the converged TV landscape that is currently emerging is complicated and our understanding of it is damaged by poor terminology.

In the very early days of the web, TV and digital media were separate things. But TV signals turned digital 5 years ago and now the impact of IP based delivery is everywhere. Most connected TVs manage to combine broadcast channels, IP streams, recording and on-demand. New platforms like SkyQ take this further, building a ‘connected home’ TV experience on the back of a consumer’s own broadband system. This means every screen we deal with is by definition ‘digital’, and is part of the wider landscape of ‘television’. It’s all TV and it’s all digital.

On top of this, new advertising products are being constructed that can follow viewers between screens, or can aggregate viewing and ad consumption across them. The idea that we can carve out part of the converged advertising experience and call it ‘television’ and another part and call it ‘digital’ is now absurd. The phrase ‘TV and digital’ highlights ignorance of the landscape and should be banned by the industry.

While the number of media owners and agencies still structured around the old ‘TV vs digital’ paradigm is reducing, the dreadful use of inaccurate terminology is deeply embedded in both agency and sales house culture. To a certain extent they are complicit in its use. The concern is that we are breeding a generation of media professionals who only understand the video landscape through this faulty language. Most troubling is that many seem unaware of the current level of innovation in the TV landscape.

As an industry which likes to style itself as ‘media professionals’, we should not allow ourselves this level of bumbling inaccuracy around our products and their use. Its hard to imagine any other profession doing it – a surgeon who is a bit fuzzy about veins vs arteries anyone? In 2018 we need to get back to a precision in our professional language. We need to use words that actually describe the media products we are selling and the context in which they are consumed.

The reason this matters is that the next generation of converged advertising products are still being built. In 2018 we need to be part of the debate by which these new formats emerge. We need robust debate between agencies, media owners and platforms on pricing, packaging, data structures and reporting of these formats. Some of these discussions will be difficult, but to be included will require a level of technical knowledge, and language precision missing from most media discussions.

Agencies in particular, need to be able to point out to media owners where there are still significant flaws or omissions in the converged media landscape. They need to be able to call out places where vested interests are not allowing innovation to flourish. Most importantly, they need to be able to explain all of this to clients. But to do this, they need to understand it and be able to talk about it accurately.

The main advertising industry trade bodies need to address this educational gulf quickly, or they will be held responsible for the chaos. However, these bodies are often structured around the outdated ‘TV vs digital’ fault lines themselves. We are going to struggle to get rid of the TV vs digital idea, when we have a separate trade body for each, both arguing over who represents TV on the web. But someone has to champion the process.

In 2018 we need technical literacy – everyone in the industry needs to understand what is being built. We need accurate terminology – as our products get more complex, we need agreed descriptions and explanations that make sense. Most of all, as professional we need curiosity – if you don’t understand, don’t use a glib phrase to describe something. Ask someone to explain.