December 21, 2006
(Almost) Every Man's Dream
By Jim Barthold
Alan Weinkrantz positions himself as an everyman. He's not ... although there's no reason to be harsh about it. Because the public relations executive lives in San Antonio, he got an opportunity to trial AT&T's U-Verse IPTV service. Because he's accustomed to dealing with the media, he took the initiative to start a blog - www.3screens.net
- to detail his experiences.
So far, according to what he sees, AT&T will be a competitive threat to cable. Weinkrantz is also not every man in that he continues to have Time Warner Cable service so he can compare the two - including the high definition service AT&T is now delivering.
"I'm watching this on an IP network, and that's pretty cool," he said, pointing out that the AT&T HD service delivers a good picture and 5:1 audio.
"It genuinely works," said Weinkrantz, who is savvy enough to know how the service is being delivered - again, not something every man would know. "They're shoving this stuff down a phone line. Their signal is going to a DSLAM about four blocks from me."
Since he's been doing this since May when the free service trial - that's right, he's paying for Time Warner, but he's getting AT&T for free - started, Weinkrantz has formed relationships with the AT&T folks who are installing and maintaining his service - an everyman feat - and "some of the executives at AT&T that I've visited with" - a non-everyman accomplishment.
Because it's his goal to compare AT&T's performance in the TV space, he doesn't reveal what he learns in conversations with his executive buddies.
"I do know about advanced stuff that's coming. I don't write about it, I don't talk about it, I don't share it," he said. On the other hand, he does tell about the experiences everyone would have in getting the service. "I've been able to watch how they're deploying the service. On my HDTV install, I had five trucks," he said.
That's because AT&T has deep pockets, right? Nah, they're training the troops to go out among the plebs and conquer.
Getting into training
"It doesn't take a crew of 10 people to do this, but they're bringing people to watch the install, so they're doing a lot of training," he said. "There was one guy from California who came to the install because he's handling deployment and logistics in California, and they like to do real-world installs," he said.
Weinkrantz invites others to see what's going on in his world, opening his doors for anyone who wants to drop by, ignore the unmade beds and dirty dishes, and admire the HDTV signal. That's a side issue. The main point of all his work and the blog and everything else, he said, is to provide an everyman perspective on a big phone company's efforts to level the cable playing field.
"I'm an IPTV end user, consumer, blogger and an advocate. We now have a choice, and all I'm trying to do is take the role of sitting at my home, having a choice. The phone company has to earn my business," he said.
So far, it has.
"People ask if it's a better signal, better quality picture, and the answer is it's not better; it's pretty much the same, (and) it's not fair to compare it," he said. "The challenge is what types of services and product offerings you can offer the consumer that you can't offer on cable other than pure programming and pricing. There's a lot more interactivity; hopefully one day more user-generated content; hopefully one day community building; hopefully one day more global programming."
That's a chest full of hope
That's a lot of hope, but it's also enough that it should scare those cable execs who don't consider AT&T a threat. What's happening in San Antonio, at least according to one everyman tester, is a new way of delivering and watching television. More importantly, it's working.
"I'm looking at what you can do with IPTV that you can't do with cable," he continued. "Today what's better is the interface; it's the fast channel changing, some of the programming features; there is more content, especially HD, because they're using switched video."
Of course there are mistakes and problems that a veteran cable company shouldn't - or if you prefer, wouldn't - make.
"There are some limitations still, but to AT&T's credit they've managed the expectation of the end user," he said.
So far he's concluded, "I don't think Time Warner Cable is going to go out of business anytime next week," he said. "I'm not anti-anything; I'm pro-consumer and I'm just trying to think, 'pretty cool, different; be a little patient and let them take their time.'"
And, no matter how you shake the chicken bones, that attitude, multiplied by several millions of true everymen (and women), should make for an interesting 2007. - Jim Bartholdhttp://www.cable360.net/ct/video/21309.html