Am pleased to report that I received a very nice demo. The sales rep working the U-verse area at that time had a lot of patience and spent a lot of time delivering good quality personal attention. Couldn’t really ask for a much better effort from the rep, but I decided to take Alan’s advice that the best way to experience the product is to just grab the remote and play. So I did. It wasn’t busy and the rep let me bang on it for as long as I wanted.
A chance to try out a product with a lot of buzz combined with an opportunity to get some insight from a quality sales representative (AT&T should be proud) left me with the impression that the visit was time well spent. I recommend it if you are in or around San Antonio and interested in U-verse.
As I was mentally revisiting my in store experience later that evening I thought that perhaps it would be something that others outside of San Antonio would like to share in without having to physically make the trip. There’s a decent Flash demo of an imaginary U-verse home on the U-verse site, but I could never find any video of the actual U-verse TV experience so I decided to go back the next day with my trusty Sony DSR PDX 10 and see if I could jack in to the video out of the STB and record the U-verse GUI in action to DVCAM.
Upon arrival that next day I saw that the rep working this time was the same one I met the day before. The rep recognized me and after a friendly greeting I explained that I would like to share my U-verse experience with friends and family outside of San Antonio who might be interested in what U-verse is really all about. In other words, capture to tape uncut and unedited something similar to the same experimentation that I was able to do the day before.
The rep wasn’t sure if this was even technically possible given their current in store setup so I pulled out the U-verse STB from against the wall to take a look at where I might be able to plug in to. The receiver they were using was one of their DVR‘s and after a quick examination I found that there was a S-video jack feeding one of their very nice plasmas mounted on the wall. Since there is no HD yet (due for this fall), their S-video setup made some sense. Didn’t easily see an available (or any) 1394 jack on the box, but there was an available composite out so I hooked in to there.
Presto, U-verse video to the deck.
While I was doing this my rep and another that was working that day had a short conversation and informed me that they better ask permission first before I went any further. I cringed slightly when I heard this — the mind quickly filling with scenes of the soul crushing maze of bureaucracy that could possibly be a part of any official approval process. Still, AT&T is signing their check so putting their company’s interests first was likely a smart move on their part. In the sometimes peculiar world of large corporations risk taking employees on the front lines have been known to be shown the door on occasion as part of a quickly unfolding CYA chain of events. Stuff happens. And it does roll downhill. And if any of it got on these conscientious and courteous U-verse representatives it could take me a couple lifetimes to work off any bad karma associated with getting them canned over such an unimportant little video. So, no worries. Please clear it with whoever you need to.
My rep produced a cell phone and thus began our approval adventure.
After a couple calls and callbacks a person unidentified to me relayed to the rep that they couldn’t let me plug in to the STB because if something happened to my Sony AT&T didn’t want to be liable. I said I understand but am willing to waive any claim to any damage that might happen to my equipment. Not to mention the fact that I had already plugged in to the STB and U-verse video was feeding the deck with no apparent smoke, shorts or brown outs in the neighborhood.
Something to think about here — it probably sounded good at the time but the person behind this response might want to tweak it just a smidge. One of the primary functions of that composite video jack on the back of many set top boxes is to send video to other devices, just like my Sony. Should consumers really be alarmed that connecting to the composite jack of their U-verse STB may damage their equipment? Of course not. It was likely just a very nice, spur of the moment, political way of telling me to go away. Pretty smooth actually. Kudos to the higher up who got blindsided with the request and pulled that response out of the air…or somewhere close to there.
But I wasn’t quite ready to give up so easy.
With my concession and a friendly request, my very cool rep made another phone call…then another phone call that led to…well, you get the idea. The rep was traveling that metaphoric maze, each turn sucking a little more passion out of the experience. Finally a gentleman in business casual attire emerged from the back of the building somewhere with the official word that they couldn’t let me record my U-verse experience.
I politely asked why not and he said something to the effect of, and I am paraphrasing here, that they weren’t going to let a video out there that they didn’t control. His response was well crafted and graciously delivered, making some good points along the way. I suggested that I understood that mindset when they had people under NDA‘s before rollout, but now that U-verse is in the stores, being shown at local neighborhood U-verse parties, and being installed in people’s homes nothing we were going to share on tape straight out of the box was anything people couldn’t freely see elsewhere. The key point here being we were taking the feed straight out of the box. Not like we were trying to shoot a cheesy, low budget demo with some poor lighting and shaky camera work. Just raw, boring to most normal people, video of the U-verse GUI as the user experiences it. Think of it as a virtual U-verse party for the global neighborhood.
At this point it was becoming clear that the project was only seconds away from a complete crash and burn so I tried a couple more desperate stabs at persuasion by strategically dropping buzzwords like Viral, but that may have made matters worse only serving to increase the negative momentum spiral that now engulfed the video.
Ultimately, my charm (or lack of it) proved to be ineffective.
Let me stop here for a moment to stress the fact that everyone I encountered at the store was extremely friendly, professional, laid back and frankly pretty cool in their handling of the situation. The corporate brass apparently just didn’t dig the idea. I understand and am not sure I really blame them. If I’m in their shoes, maybe I take the same position. I would like to think I am braver than that, but until it is your job on the line and you get hit with a request like this from an unidentified guy in a t-shirt and shorts with his camera you can’t really say for sure how you would handle it.
The only thing is, do you really have to be that brave anymore to go viral? Seems smart and relatively safe with little downside. If the video did mutate into some kind of monstrosity in a popular mashup somewhere, most people are smart enough to figure out official corporate communications from some guy on the Internet.
The head scratching irony of this whole affair is that the only reason I was in the store in the first place was because of the open, social and viral aspect of Alan’s blog and not the result of any official corporate commercials or other traditional media placements AT&T may have made. I don’t even need my HP 12C to calculate their ROI on what they had to spend to get me in their store.
In the end though, nobody wanted to be the designated fall guy for this video so I thanked the representatives for their time and patience and we parted with genuine smiles and friendly handshakes. I really like San Antonio and the way people do business here.
I have some thoughts to share on the U-verse product, but that is for another post. In the meantime though, I can’t help but think that when someone with U-verse in their home, or heaven forbid even AT&T itself, puts a U-verse GUI video on YouTube or Blip.tv or their own website, there might just be some out of town early adopters, geeks and industry people who would be interested in viewing.
But, then again, how would you control it?