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Television 2.0: Where is the Real Innovation?

The recently placed sign hung in front of AT&T's Cingular retail store at Sonterra Park in San Antonio, Texas proclaims "We�ve Just Re-Invented TV!" It's a bold statement, for sure, coming from a company that openly admits to industry analysts that it is still a novice player in the home entertainment delivery business.

Visitors who enter the store can experience the 'AT&T U-verse' television service (that's based-upon new Microsoft IPTV technology), and the 'AT&T HomeZone' television service (based upon the Echostar Dish satellite technology). The demonstrations are side-by-side in the store, presumably to let consumers compare each service to their current pay-TV service offering.

It's an interesting strategy, and I'm wondering if this scenario really helps to make a decision, or it actually baffles non-technical consumers. My point: from what I understand, the San Antonio pay-TV market is considered very saturated -- those who want or can afford a pay-TV service already have it.

So, what's the intent of forcing a three- or four-way comparison between differing Pay-TV options (cable, satellite, AT&T satellite, AT&T IPTV)? I�m also wondering, during a dual demonstration, does the AT&T brand names add to the confusion, or help to differentiate the service?

Try and imagine that you're an un-informed consumer, seeing this all for the very first time. It must be somewhat daunting. Clearly, there are apparent contradictory opinions regarding what is the best service launch strategy for the telcos, who are often delivering the last-to-market pay-TV offering. Christine Heckart, general manager of marketing for Microsoft TV, has stated repeatedly during interviews that consumers initially won't want something different -- they will "just want basic TV features."

And yet, in contrast, the AT&T sign says that it has already "Re-invented TV," and so even the most informed pundits are wondering who has got it right. More importantly, if meaningful innovation were applied to the television experience, then what would be substantively different? Coincidentally, Alan Weinkrantz, who has a blog describing his experiences using the AT&T U-verse service, asked me if I would write a guest column on this topic, and I agreed.

At first I thought that I would approach this issue from the perspective of a traditional telco senior executive, but that wasn't really thought-provoking. So, instead, I took a very different approach -- my column is therefore entitled "How Steve Jobs Would Re-Imagine IPTV."

In summary, there's already been enough vague commentary about the 'promise' of IPTV, and it's now time to deliver something truly imaginative. Incidentally, I'd really like to apply my own creative passion to this cause, and contribute some unique ideas and suggestions. Contact me if you are a communication or entertainment service provider who is ready and willing to really tackle this product marketing challenge with an open mind.

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