A Digital Glossary

Hannah Eaves June 8, 2010

Hammering out contracts with Link TV’s acquisitions team and our lawyers over the past six months, I’ve begun to realize that many terms we use in day-to-day business are often not fully understood by the community at large, or even by ourselves in some cases. These terms and concepts might seem basic, but one should not assume that everyone understands their exact meaning and, more importantly, their consequences. Filmmakers should certainly have a good grasp of many of these ideas before they sign a contract or hire a web developer. That said, this is a highly simplified guide only, and anyone with a little tech savvy would have a million caveats and exceptions to add. But keep this glossary in mind the next time you find yourself explaining the difference between streaming and download rights–something that seems so simple can lead to major miscommunication issues down the line.

There are many subtleties here, but let’s keep this basic. Streaming video plays sequentially in a browser window like Firefox or Internet Explorer, in a player, on a website. Hulu, for example, offers streaming video. It might play in an application, too, such as Boxee, in a similar manner. You can often jump to the end of the video from the outset of playing it back. There is a variation on this called progressive download. This generally means that the video file is stored locally, or cached, on the end user’s system, generally hidden in a temporary folder, starting when the user presses play, which makes it more vulnerable. But generally, unlike downloads, you know you’re watching a streaming video when you’re not prompted to download or store a file anywhere.

This is not the same as streaming, not by a far stretch. Generally if you are signing download rights, it means that the user can save the file to their own computer or mobile device, and then transfer it to other devices freely. It plays back in the device’s player (say, iTunes or Quicktime). Some services such as the iTunes Store offer copy-protected downloads, a system referred to as DRM (Digital Rights Management). But agreeing to allow download rights is generally a more expansive rights allowance than streaming. Podcasts are downloads which can be freely emailed and shared in other ways, through applications. Unprotected downloaded files can be used to create DVDs, for instance. However, just because you’re offering a download, doesn’t mean you’re allowing such a use. Look at a website’s Terms of Use to see what they are allowing users to do with downloads. Usually it is limited to personal and noncommercial use only. So just because you’ve granted download rights doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have recourse if pirating occurs.

Embed Code, Embed Rights
An embed code is a small snippet of code that can be pasted by a blog or website into a post or page which will allow a player with a video in it to appear on that site. The player may not have the same controls or “look” as the player on the site where you’ve copied the code. YouTube is the most well-known site to offer embed codes of its videos, although major content sites like Hulu also offer embeds for some of its videos. Usually the same embed code is offered within the embedded player itself, so if a video on site A has been embedded on site B, someone can copy it from site B onto site C, etc, etc. Some services, like Vimeo and Brightcove, do allow more control. Keep in mind that only a very small percentage of viewers will have their own blog or site and be sophisticated enough to use an embed code. (Are you?). However, be aware that by allowing embedding on YouTube (you will have clicked on the button “Share your video with the world [recommended]”), you are allowing other sites to access and play back your video via the YouTube API (see below for “API”). For example, if someone posts a link to your YouTube video on Facebook, it will embed the video on Facebook automatically, so that viewers can watch the video without going to YouTube. Likewise, anyone can build web or other applications using the YouTube API, so if you’ve allowed embedding your video may appear on other sites automatically. It will still play off of the YouTube servers and have a YouTube watermark, but it may play within an unfamiliar player, not YouTube’s, and look much like it’s this other site’s content. If the viewer clicks on the video, they will be taken to its page on YouTube.

This is the practice of limiting playback of video to specific geographic regions. Ask someone in Canada about their Hulu experience some time. There isn’t one. Hulu geofilters all their content so that it’s available to US audiences only. The filmmakers out there will recognize that this is a reflection of the international distribution system, where content is sold to different platforms (broadcast, cable and satellite TV, online, DVD, etc.) region by region. That’s usually the reason for geofiltering, however in some cases it occurs because a filmmaker or station won’t have cleared footage or music rights for countries outside their own. A classic case has been the inability for Adam Curtis to broadcast his BBC documentary series, including The Power of Nightmares, in the U.S. Like anything else in the online world, geofiltering can be overcome by wily netizens, depending on how aggressively they are pursued by the site being circumvented. A quick Google search for “Hulu Canada” comes up with a list of articles about Hulu circumvention, and the site’s aggressive shutdown policies.

API (Application Programming Interface)
If a website releases an API, it means that it’s allowing external companies and developers to access either its technology or its content, and in many cases both. Whoever would like to make an application generally applies for a key to access the API, and each API has its own rules of use. An application could be an iPhone app, a website, or perhaps a media center app. For example, NPR has an open API, and for a while did not develop its own iPhone app, but allowed many others to pop up on the market, created by fans and commercial enterprises alike, made available for free. YouTube and Netflix both have APIs–it’s in their interest to get their content out in as many ways as possible, and if people are willing to do that without them having to pay for it, so much the better. In Netflix’s case, its content is tied into membership, so it’s not like they’re offering their videos outside of the Watch Instantly system, it’s just that they allow sites to easily link to that environment. Some APIs have a commercial element, often just geared to covering the cost of pushing information to the apps being built. Often this will be in the form of a daily query limit, with any queries above, say, 10,000 a day, incurring a cost. Different companies insist on varying degrees of control over what can be built using their APIs, and what the context for their content must be. If you have granted download and embed rights, these functions may be offered to 3rd party sites and applications through an API.

HTML is the core programming language for websites, and HTML5 is a new standard being developed. One of the main goals of the new version of HTML5 is to remove reliance on 3rd party plug-ins like Flash and Microsoft Silverlight for rich media (think animation and video) support. The most important new piece for videomakers is the inclusion of elements for

Ladder of engagement
This is a piece of industry jargon that describes the path you want your audience to take in its growing loyalty to your film and work in general. At the top of the ladder is your ultimate goal–say, a donation to your project. Each rung of the ladder is a level of engagement that shows an ever increasing personal investment in your project. Rung one might be reading an article. Rung two might then be visiting your website, three would be telling a friend about your project, four would be “liking” you on Facebook and following you on Twitter, five would be sharing your site with their own social networking community, six would be emailing out information about your film, seven might be going to a screening, eight would be writing to a congressperson about the issues covered in your film, nine might be hosting a screening and ten might be making a donation. Each step shows greater involvement and commitment to your project. Your goal in this scenario is to guide your audience up this ladder from passive observer to active advocate.

Content Management System (CMS)
While some smaller sites are built with basic tools like iWeb, or more complicated pieces of software like Dreamweaver or Flash, most larger sites are based on a Content Management System built or installed by a web development firm. CMS-based sites have become more accessible with the growing use of blogging platforms like Wordpress as the framework for building actual sites. Unlike sites built with tools like iWeb, Dreamweaver or Flash, where items on individual pages can be edited and moved around at will, most pages on a CMS-based site are created by template. This means that often the web editor or content editor can’t change the layout of individual pages, they enter text and images in a database system which then dynamically draws pages based on entries in the database. This is why, if you are building a site using a CMS, you should be careful to fully think through the navigation and page layouts as changes down the line may involve expensive web development work. It’s also why, if your film has a space on your broadcaster’s website, it might not be easy for them to acquiesce to requests move things around for your film or program.

Content Delivery Network (CDN)
While the images, text and data of a website may be stored on your own web servers (or the space you’ve bought through a hosting service) it’s often inadvisable to have your videos play off of those same servers, especially if your site is video-rich. A CDN is a 3rd party service you might use to host your videos, particularly if you don’t want to simply rely on embed codes from YouTube or Vimeo. CDNs are competitive and use different technologies to make sure your videos play smoothly no matter where they’re being accessed around the world –this is another good reason to use a CDN rather than your own servers. If you play video off your own servers it could potentially slow down your site, and also slow down the experience for users in other countries, where the data has to travel a long distance. In addition, you might own your own hardware for this, which ages. Using an external CDN means that when your CDN upgrades, so do you.