We Call It “Television”

There’s an interesting discussion going on in one of the LinkedIn Groups that I belong to, and I find that I’ve been thinking a lot about it for the past few days. The topic of the conversation is that the industry has not settled on what to call this new and rapidly developing technology landscape that delivers video entertainment to us at home and on the go. Some of the terms in use are Smart TV, Connected TV, TV Everywhere, Interactive TV, and Social TV. Can’t we just settle on one term and move forward?

Well, the hard fact is that unless you own about 80% of the market share, you don’t get to name the catgory. The consumers might come up with one on their own, but the Balkanization of the terminology is likely to continue for a long time. Look at the devices that we connect to the Internet to get video content onto our TVs; I prefer to call them “network media players” but you’ll see them called “set-top boxes”, “digital media receivers”, or a bunch of other terms. About the only recent case that I can think of where the industry quickly standardized on a term was the ill-advised “LED TV” which created far more confusion for consumers than clarity.

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But just because it’s difficult to get unanimous support for a term doesn’t mean that I won’t try anyway. I’m guided by a great quote from Esther Dyson, who once said of artificial intelligence, “that’s what we call it until we can do it” (or something like that; I can’t find the source.) The point is that we need names for new technologies until they get assimilated or they wither up and drop off the technology tree, but after that, the new term is extraneous. How many of us mention that we watch “color TV” these days? It was a big deal when I was in elementary school, but it’s just TV now. Or how many people still make the distinction that they watched “cable TV” or “satellite TV” last night? Heck, I doubt many people even make a distinction about high definition anymore.

So what do we call this brave new world that lets us view moving images on demand, spanning both time and space so that they can reach us in our living rooms or on our computers, tablets, or even telephones? I don’t know what we call it now, but I’m pretty sure that we’ll end up calling it “television”.