January 31, 2017

Buzzwords, an End-to-End Companion

There has to be some sort of mathematical correlation between the speed of innovation within an industry, and the speed in which buzzwords lose their relevance, become distorted, or die altogether. We love buzzwords – especially with regard to complex ideas, because they imply a lot of specific meaning without taking up a lot of brain space, but here’s the thing: taking a buzzword at face value can create a pretty misleading picture about what something actually accomplishes – which can cause a lot of trouble when budgets and deadlines are on the line. 

The fuzzy nature of some buzzwords is not just a matter of lazy interpretation. It’s also commonplace for a marketing effort to spin the meaning of a popular buzzword to suit a specific agenda. That may make for an inspired campaign, but it doesn’t do much for consistency of meaning. For example, “reengineered” began life as a buzzword back in 1990, in a Harvard Business Review article written by Michael Hammer, a former MIT professor. His specific definition of “reengineering” focused on streamlining business workflows – eliminating process waste instead of simply automating steps that provide no value. Since then, the term has been co-opted for so many purposes that it’s barely a buzzword. Today, it just means “new and improved.” At this point, fast-food companies have even “reengineered” their menu. 

Buzzwords are useful attention-getters, but without specific context, how a word is interpreted can be all over the map. It is easy for the definition of some trendy or commonly accepted terms within our own industry to be distorted in order to shoehorn them to marketing objectives or product goals.  Perhaps we need to reengineer our approach to how we interpret some terms, and maybe even throw out a few.

“End-to-End” – to what end?

About a year ago we wrote this blog about what the term “end-to-end” really means, and how it’s actually peddled in the marketplace. Ultimately, whenever the term is used, it should be viewed as an invitation for scrutiny. It cannot be assumed that it actually means “every step is included.” What are the end-points in question? Within the context of a video workflow, does the solution truly encompass the entire soup-to-nuts process, from ingest to delivery to playback? Or, is it merely solving for one step in the larger workflow? 

To make the term even more suspect, in many respects the “end-to-end” solution is actually just an amalgam of vendors, which doesn’t deliver the process efficiencies or cost savings implied by the term. Whenever you see “end-to-end,” hold it accountable to your standards to ensure that it’s aligned with what your business needs it to mean. Not all end-to-end solutions are created equal.

Is “OTT” still “over” anything? 

“Over-The-Top” – where did the term come from? Well, in the First World War, “over the top” was a strategy by British soldiers to charge up and over trenches dug into the battlefield. For us, it refers to a business model of delivering content online, “over the top” of traditional cable subscriptions, without the use of a multiple-system operator (MSO) for controlling or distributing the content. When viewed within the context of the initial stare-downs between new internet content startups and traditional broadcasters, it’s easy to see how such an aggressive term became a cool way to differentiate a delivery model.

But is it really the right term anymore? OTT offerings are working more closely with major broadcast companies than ever before, to deliver video on demand (VOD) in a universe of multi-platform “on any device” expectations. For many, success is now being realized by reaching customers “through” platforms and techniques developed by the broadcast industry and not “over” them. Sure, you could argue that because the service has a separate charge that it’s still “OTT,” but that’s a really loose interpretation of the original standalone intent of OTT as an industry buzz-term. The market is getting noisier with every new OTT launch, making it harder for a new brand to get noticed. If an OTT business wants to maintain an audience, then quality of experience and speed to market are as critical as a strong monetization strategy. These are factors that drive up the cost of entry, and a strong OTT-broadcast alliance can mitigate that. The lines are not just blurring between broadcast and OTT – they are being erased.  We’re going to need a new term here pretty soon.

“Multi-platform” is now an ante

Okay: “multi-platform” means that your service works on different devices in some form, so for the literalist there might not be much to argue about. But in an experience-driven industry like video content delivery, does it even mean much anymore? The breadth and scope of an offering’s device ecosystem is just one part of the picture. What does playback look like? Do I have to do something different with each device? Will discrepancies in quality make your multi-platform claims a moot point? If I access your content from more than one device, will my other devices stay abreast of any changes I make? Some of those concerns can be solved for by switching to a word like “cross-platform,” but not all.

The obvious comparison to “multi-platform” is “multi-channel,” which is so similar it can almost be an exercise in semantics – but there is a relevant point: In service industries, for example, there is plenty of conversation about the evolution from disparate multi-channel support into a more holistic “omni-channel experience.” In it, no longer does it matter how a customer chooses to interact (phone, chat, text, social media, etc.), a consistently high quality of service is delivered that meets or exceeds a customer’s expectation. Likewise, when we see “works on any device” in terms of video delivery, we might be thinking in terms of multiple devices; but what customers really expect is “omni-platform” quality – a consistent playback and user experience that’s familiar, trusted, and extraordinary – no matter how/when/where it’s consumed. “Multi-platform” is a word that needs to be held to an increasingly high standard.

When the buzz wears off, “Caveat Emptor” still applies

“Buyer Beware” is definitely a great-granddad of all business terms, and within a complex technology field like ours it applies more than ever. The true meaning of many buzzwords we rely upon is most certainly personal, but it’s really our expectations – and the expectations of our customers – that supply a lot of the context. With a clear understanding of what we want the end-user experience to look like, we can ask the right questions, move in the right directions, and align with providers that are really going to bring our vision into focus.