Commentary By Steve Effros Watch Your Language Nope, not talking about obscenity or indecency or the whole Imus thing, here. I’m talking about how we describe and explain the issues that confront us as an industry. The new head of the National Association of Broadcasters, David Rehr, in his first anniversary address to his troops at the NAB convention, said he’s intent on "reinventing" the identity of the broadcast industry in Washington. He wants to change the dynamic of the various debates they have with the cable industry by changing the rhetoric. Rehr made some valid points. The main one is that the words we use to describe an issue or the things we offer often have a direct effect on how our position is perceived, or the product is accepted. Of course he is right, and his revelation is nothing new. He used as an example the effort by radio broadcasters to promote "in-band on-channel radio." It went nowhere until they changed the moniker to "HD radio." Unfortunately, what he didn’t mention was that the new name is really not accurate and intentionally confuses things with HDTV, but the underlying point was right. The public didn’t "get it" until the right terminology was found. Cable knows all this. "Pay Per View" versus "Video on Demand." "VOIP" versus "Cable Phone," and the like. In the regulatory setting, we are even more acutely aware of it. The fight over "free TV" has never been accurately portrayed. The public has always paid for that television through advertising, but you have to admit… the name worked! The same has been true in the "net neutrality" debate. It’s not really about unfettered access to the Internet, but that rallying cry has certainly attracted a lot of adherents who, when you talk to them at any length, show that they don’t actually understand the issue or the facts. But they were attracted by the rhetoric. So now the broadcasters have decided they have to change the words of their debates in an effort to get more traction than they have gotten so far. The issues: multicast must carry and "downconversion" of digital broadcast signals. OK, you have to admit, neither of those is a zinger in terms of selling ideas. But the NAB alternatives don’t really sound much better. They want to accuse the cable industry of "stripping" signals from the public. One problem that immediately comes to mind with that image is that there are few if any of those multicast signals in existence! We can’t be stripping something that they’re not even wearing… the Emperor already has no clothes! What he’s trying to get is a government mandate that the public should like his new clothes, and be required to look at them or at least pay for their delivery before they’re even made! Nice trick if you can do it, but leaving the First Amendment issues aside, I don’t think that language is going to save the issue for them. Explaining the technical rationale as to why cable should be prevented from being able to deliver television signals so our customers can actually see them on their existing television sets is going to be even worse to encapsulate in one new word. Rehr is even suggesting that the term "free, over-the-air broadcasting" is due for a change. I certainly agree with him there! Maybe they could think up an honest description this time. But again, his point is well taken. We have to watch our language as we try to explain our issues. The rhetoric and jargon does matter. Watch your language.

The Daily


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