Acronym A Go-Go

Nigel Walley – March 2009

I received an email this week from a contact who works in the TV industry in Australia asking my opinion on something to do with what he called ‘PDRs’?   Now I had to stop and think what on earth he was talking about. Eventually I went back to him to check my assumption that PDR meant ‘personal digital recorders’.   These are, of course, what we would call a personal video recorder (PVR) or, if you believe Sky, a digital video recorder (DVR) or, if you follow Tess Alp’s of Thinkbox’s mantra, a ‘digital television recorder’ (DTR) or, if you are the Dixon’s web site, a little bit of all of them, without explaining the difference.

Now when this acronym fiasco started we were only really dealing with two options – PVR and DVR.  Decipher made the assumption that a personal video recorder – a PVR – was something that behaved like Tivo in the US, learning about your likes and dislikes and recommending programmes to make a truly ‘personal’ service.  A digital video recorder – a DVR – was a more simple device which just did exactly what you told it to do.   I know  that Thinkbox were concerned that neither of these acronyms contained the word television.  As the main cheerleaders for the UK broadcast ad sales market, Thinkbox’s Tess Alps wanted to make sure that telly was central to the idea, and began to promote DTR.  In fact she has been banging heads around the industry to make us all use the same DTR acronym.  Strangely, among some consumers, the name of the original box in the market, Sky+, is becoming a bit of a generic term for the device. It is not uncommon to hear people say ‘I Sky Plussed it’ when they have recorded something. We have even heard people with a Freeview PVR say the same thing.  On Decipher’s behalf I can say that we really don’t care which acronym is used, as long as all providers in the industry coalesce around it.

The confusion about what to call this device is typical of the TV industry shooting itself in the foot over new technology introductions.  Compared to the internet, the TV industry always struggles to get quick, mass acceptance of new technology introductions, particularly within the creative communities.  Their inability to agree to industry wide naming conventions goes a long way to explain this.   A great example is the advent of catch-up TV on-demand.  Half the platforms called it catch-up TV, while BT Vision and Tiscali / Homechoice decided to call it ReplayTV.  Nonsensical.  Thankfully, Tiscali has now changed sides, and called it catch-up. However, BT Vision currently is still sticking to the Replay idea.

This just highlights how the TV industry has a crying need for shared terms, descriptions, icons and signage around its new functionality. However getting the different platforms (Sky, Virgin, BT Vision, Freeview and FreeSat) to agree about something, is liking herding really belligerant cats. What tends to happen is that the platform that gets to market with a new feature first, gets to establish names and presentational conventions. Hopefully, the rest then adopt these, however the catch-up example shows that this isn’t always the case.

The area crying out for co-ordination at the moment is future advertising formats. As on-demand and PVR capability roll out onto every platform, the potential for new ad formats to be delivered is multiplying. Red buttons, green buttons and yellow buttons are being called into play by different platforms, each of who are emphasising a different set of formats in their development plans.  For agencies and brand clients trying to work through this, it will be a nightmare, unless some group can broker a more co-ordinated approach.  As we saw with early red button campaigns, unless agencies are given standard formats and terminology across all platforms, they just don’t come on board and its impossible to drive volume.  This might be the time for a bit more of Tess’ head banging.


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