Every year I attend CableLabs’ dog-and-pony show designed to explain the murky world of high tech to reporters, and every year I come away more confused than the year before. It’s not so much the topics that are confusing, it’s the jargon that makes me bleary-eyed. What is it with the cable industry and its acronyms? They try not to do it. The engineering and technical experts start by mapping out the business in simple, unencumbered terms that most laypeople can at least partially understand. But they just can’t help themselves. Pretty soon, they’re talking IP, ATCS, ATVEF, AWP, ISDN, CMTS and CMTRI. The more excited they get, the more acronyms they use. Of course, the engineers aren’t the only ones guilty of this. The entire cable industry is complicit. The problem is, the jargon has not always played well with consumers. How else to explain the dismal development of PPV? And don’t get me started on ARPU — that stands for average revenue per unit. The cable industry got busted big time in the 1990s for dehumanizing its customers by calling them subscribers. Now they’re simply reduced to units. I realize consumers may be buying more than one product from their cable operator and that financial accounting, being what it is today, has forced that acronym on the industry. But the term makes it easier for operators to distance themselves from the people who are buying their technology — oops, services, I mean. Cable World editor at large Shirley Brady writes a regular column dedicated to “developments in VOD, SVOD, HSD, HDTV, DVR, VoIP and more.” Little wonder that it’s called “Alphabet Soup.” It’s to her credit she can keep it all straight. But those acronyms are just the tip of the iceberg. CableLabs gave reporters a 43-page glossary to help us understand the language spoken at the daylong conference held in Boulder, Colo., a couple of weeks ago. I know their hearts were in the right place. But consider this definition: “Classifier: A set of criteria used for packet matching according to the TCP, UDP, IP, LLC and/or 802.1P/Q packet fields. A classifier maps each packet to a Service Flow. A Downstream Classifier is used by the CMTS to assign packets to downstream service flows. An Upstream Classifier is used by the CM to assign packets to upstream packet flows.” Or this: “DVB-J: DVB-J refers to the Java platform as defined as part of the DVB-MHP 1.0.1 [9]. For the OCAP 1.0 implementation, DVB-J is part of the execution engine.” Or one of my favorites: “Tunnel Mode: An IPsec (ESP or HA) mode that is applied to an IP tunnel, where an outer IP packet header (of an intermediate destination) is added on top of the original, inner IP header. In this case, the ESP or AH transform treats the inner IP header as if it were part of the packet payload. When the packet reaches the intermediate destination, the tunnel terminates and both the outer IP packet header and the IPsec ESP or AH transform are taken out.” Much of the industry’s uber-jargon never leaves the inner circle of the engineering community, but other acronyms have begun to permeate the general public. The cable industry too often sells technology rather than service, and that can be dangerous. Is VOD any better than PPV? The technology is surely superior, but can the industry sell it more effectively? How does a customer service rep who already has five calls backed up in his or her queue describe SVOD in 30 seconds or less in a way that makes the customer truly understand it and want it? Every business is peppered with jargon and acronyms. It’s inevitable. But the cable industry should be careful about how much inner-circle language is used to describe products and services offered to the general public. It can be confusing for those people who are in the business and already understand it. Imagine Joe Sixpack, who just wants to watch his TV, trying to grasp it all. I would argue he doesn’t care whether his high-definition signal is 480i, 720p or 1080i. He just wants a good, clear picture and wants his cable operator to deliver it to him — toot sweet, by the way. In the meantime, I’m studying my CableLabs glossary. Someday, I hope to go to one of those presentations and understand what is being said without having to refer to it several times an hour. TTFN.

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