The OTT Lexicon For 2023: Part 1 - Is Our Terminology Getting A Bit OTT?

The world of streaming is defined by acronyms like SVOD, AVOD, FAST, OTT and more. But this leaves gaps and confusion in what is included in our OTT services. For example, what does a service like BBC iPlayer include? What is watching the World Cup on RAIPlay called? Do we clearly capture live video streaming in our standard terminology?

There is currently a morass of terminology in play, some of it enlightening, some of it confusing, and maybe it’s all become a bit “OTT”. As we begin what is bound to be another record-setting year for streaming, it seemed appropriate to start out with a review of how we describe ourselves in the streaming industry.

Inspiration

This article was inspired by experiences at an industry event I attended at the end of 2022. These experiences confirmed that there is a relatively high level of confusion about the terminology we use in the streaming media industry, even among some of the leading managers and practitioners.

The first experience involved watching a presentation describing the differences between FAST and Linear TV, where one of the differences between the two was identified as there being “no need for infrastructure” for FAST. As a streaming executive involved mostly in the “infrastructure” side of the streaming industry, I felt this was an interesting, and perhaps confusing, perspective. This subject was discussed in detail over dinner with industry friends, who like me had worked in the traditional broadcast industry before moving to work in streaming.

But that same dinner revealed that my friends, who are leading practitioners in our industry, had not heard of the term “BVOD”. This also resulted in a heated and enjoyable conversation as we discussed all the acronyms we use to describe different types of media delivery. As an editor focused on the streaming media industry, I was reminded that not everyone working in the industry reads the reports that our industry produces about itself, and not everyone uses the same terminology or understands the terms others are using to describe the space we are working in.

Following this conversation, I started to pay more attention to how streaming services were described in the media and industry articles. And it is confusing. FAST vs. AVOD vs. BVOD is just one simple example – a broadcaster’s OTT service can easily be described as any of these 3 terms. SVOD services on the other hand, now include Live and Linear content, so why is it VOD? Even advertising is being included in subscription-based services. The lines are blurring.

On top of this, from a technology perspective, some important terms appear to be over-generalized to the point that they always need further clarification – like Edge and Head-End – or that are emerging in an already congested space and could do with some positioning against their peers – like HbbTV and DVB.

So, with this inspiration from my friends and industry colleagues, I decided to address the terminology confusion that I’ve observed (and can sometimes feel myself), to at least serve as a reference point for fellow industry participants and analysts. Even if, as consumers, we can argue that we don’t really pay much attention to how content types and streaming services are classified when we turn on our choice of streaming device, and simply think to “watch Netflix” or “see what’s on BBC 1”.

Terminology

We use a long list of terms today in our industry. But as the streaming industry evolves, and streaming services become “multi-everything” (i.e., platforms, content types, business models), some of these terms can become confusing and even misleading. Let’s start with the following list:

SVOD. AVOD. BVOD. FAST. Catch-up. OTT. Streaming. Linear. Live. Pay-TV. Free-to-air-TV.

Now let’s consider the following services and think about how we would categorize them:

Netflix. Amazon Prime. DAZN. Peacock. ITVX. BBC iPlayer. Hulu. Tennis TV.

Netflix and Prime have always been thought of as SVOD, yet Prime includes a lot of live content, and Netflix is launching live streaming. Should they both be called SVOD?

DAZN is a live sports streamer, that also produces DAZN Originals and has linear content on its platform. DAZN is primarily a subscription service, but why would we call it SVOD?

Peacock and ITVX are ad-supported platforms, with premium ad-free tiers. But they include linear, live and VOD content. Would we use the term FAST to describe any of their content? Are they AVOD? Is their premium tier SVOD, even if it includes linear and live content?

Hulu is a subscription-based, ad-supported service. So is it SVOD or AVOD? But it includes Linear channels as well as VOD, so what do we call that?

BBC iPlayer is license-fee funded, so no ads and no subscriptions. It has been labelled as BVOD (Broadcaster VOD) in most analyses (along with other Broadcaster OTT services that are ad-supported), yet it includes its linear channels and plenty of live events. So what should it be called?

Tennis TV is the ATP Tennis Tour’s D2C offering that includes live and recorded content for tennis fans, that are not part of rights packages in various markets. Highlights packages and some VOD content is free, while live content requires a subscription. So how do we describe this?

This line of thinking caused me to come up with a primary observation which is that, particularly from a broadcaster’s perspective, the terminology we use is very limiting, and specifically does not help us describe Live video streaming. The name “VOD” is almost synonymous with “streaming” and yet, as every one of these examples shows, VOD is always only one part of the content available on the platforms. And, more to the point, as we look to the future of streaming it is highly likely that live content and linear content will both be major aspects of how streaming services will grow and drive revenues for media companies in the future.

The development of FAST channels is a case in point. Two years ago, we had not described free, ad-supported, linear streaming services as “FAST”, but they still existed. They were the same as the linear channels that many people would watch over-the-air or in a free-to-air TV subscription. Every national broadcaster’s channels – literally all the household names you can think of per country – that have ad-supported business models and that were already supplying their linear channels as part of their free streaming services were arguably delivering FAST channels. It’s why the debate between colleagues who have been in the broadcast industry so long and yet have also worked in streaming for many years turned quite heated and entertaining as we discussed the concept of FAST vs Linear (and it’s why, to unpick some real nuances between linear and FAST, there will be a follow-up article on this subject). In the end, FAST may well replace the word “Linear”, but before we go there, I have tried to create a way of considering all these names.

A New OTT Lexicon

The lexicon of OTT, in other words the vocabulary we use, could use some clarification to create order from the slightly or strongly confusing situation we can find ourselves in as we discuss the various types of services in the market. The following approach to defining OTT services helps us map content types and business model types into a set of service types that can be offered. With this model we can see how all 9 types of services available in the market are offered, in different ways by different providers. 

Figure 1: A new Lexicon for streaming services.

Figure 1: A new Lexicon for streaming services.

The terminology used above to describe the 9 Service types might not be the most gripping. “FAST” and “VOD” are certainly helpful in that they are simple to say and easy to remember. But they disguise the idea of Live video, which is a key area expected to drive much more value in the media industry over time. We should be able to easily describe how live, linear, and on-demand content features in a streaming service. It would help us all communicate about our streaming industry more easily.

Television

And finally, I’d like to make a bid for TV or television, to remain in our vocabulary, and if it doesn’t then I’d like to see it replaced by something that could become as utilitarian and ubiquitous in the industry to cover all types of content we view. “Television” is from the Greek word “tele” meaning “far” and the Latin “visio” meaning “sight”. This word’s first recorded use was in 1900 in a paper presented by Constantin Perskyi at the first International Congress of Electricity during the World Fair in Paris. Over time “television” has come to be synonymous with the device in the living room or the content provided by broadcasters. But, whether we are streaming a video to our IP-connected device in the living room, our garden, or on the bus, or whether we are receiving it via satellite to a dish or via a transmitter to an antenna, it is still “content being seen from afar”.

So, while 2023 is bound to contain a host of innovations and new breakthroughs for the world of streaming, we can also remind ourselves that we are continuing to build on the long heritage of television which has its origins well over 100 years ago. 

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