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In the NXTcomm spotlight: Dan York, AT&T
By Carol Wilson

Jun 21, 2007 12:00 AM

Dan York is head of programming for AT&T’s Project Lightspeed and has been directing many of AT&T’s content acquisition efforts. He spoke with Telephony’s Editor-at-Large Carol Wilson.

On the process of acquiring content: Job 1 for us over the last two years has been to build a competitive and differentiated content offering for our IPTV service, U-verse. We have had a thrilling couple of years as we negotiated and executed more than 150 different licensing agreements. We have more than 400 services today, including more high-definition services than our cable competitors. It is more than two dozen, depending on which market you are in. We have more than 25 if you count all current markets—the total varies with local channels. Plus, we have a growing video-on-demand offering, a sports offering—all providing increased choice for AT&T customers.

On what’s next: The next phase for us is to build out our content offering across the other two platforms: PC and wireless. On wireless, we have Cingular Video, MediaNet, HBO Mobile, and we will soon be delivering MediaFlow content to customers. On broadband, we are the No. 1 [ISP], and we have a variety of products: the AT&T Yahoo! portal, Worldnet service, BellSouth portals and the AT&T Blue Room.

Over the future, we look to better synchronize all those for our customers. With all these platforms being IP-based, the overriding strategy will be to have content, control, integration, applications and digital lifestyle delivered over all three platforms.

On differing ways of video distribution: The growth of Internet video delivery is a force for all multivideo program distributors—and that’s us, cable and satellite—offering a managed video service. We have much more scale with high-speed Internet than with video, and we have an Internet video service, so the opportunity is much greater for us. U-verse is in more than 15 markets today. We will continue to expand the service over the next couple of years, offering it to 19 million homes by the end of next year. We are getting great feedback from our customers on the service.

Building a consistent offering and experience for the customer is an objective of ours. Notwithstanding that, today’s current offerings are compelling in their own way. HomeZone is a ground breaking converged service. While others talk about bringing Internet content to the TV screen, we have been offering HomeZone converged box for several months.

On user-created content: Another advantage of being IP-based is that we can bridge the gap between closed networks and the Internet, including UCG and a greater high-def offering. With UCG, we see opportunities with cross-platform efforts. Consumers can use our leading mobile service to capture video and deliver it to other devices.

The content will flow in both directions, not only from PCs into the network but also from their mobile devices. But it’s very early in the UCG market. If anybody tells you exactly what the appetite is going to be for UCG on 100-inch screens, well, I don’t think anybody knows exactly.

On the hardest part of developing a video service: We have had to significantly compress the deal cycle that network groups, [sports] leagues and studios typically operate under. It’s not uncommon for a network group to take well over a year to do a renewal. We’ve signed more than 150 contracts in a year and a half.

On what’s beyond video: When it comes to advanced applications, we are just getting started. We have a leading search application and a range of interactive applications that are going to be available in future releases.

On differentiating from cable: There is no single silver bullet in our approach. Every household and every consumer within the household has certain benefits. We want to build a platform that is flexible and accommodates their interests. The differentiation point will include high def, price, fast channel change and the value in the bundle. Those types of interactive services—voting, community-based opportunities—are on our road map as well.

On protecting ad revenues in the digital video recorder realm: I think advertisers as well as distributors will have to find creative solutions to accommodate the desires of the marketplace, and that includes greater control, storage in different places and access in different places. In the end, there is no denying the technology and the benefits it can bring to consumers, and I think the marketplace and the regulatory part of it has to find a way to adhere to those forces.

On helping consumers find content: Using IP, consumers can search key words and pull titles based on that. That is a level of search and control and functionality that other video services don’t have. You can put in an actor’s name and get all the programs the actor is in, in the schedule. Or you can use the name of the director or a key word search. There is much more flexibility in finding content.

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