Over a month ago, I made a curious discovery about my AT&T Uverse system at home, and I blogged about that poor customer experience here. For reasons AT&T still can't explain, I cannot fastforward through commercials during the Sunday morning "first run" of Penguins of Madagascar on Nickelodeon.
At first discovery, I thought something was wrong with my DVR. So, having quite a bit of experience in enhanced/digital TV technologies, I started troubleshooting. And, I started replicating the issue. And, I documented the issue in video here, posted it to YouTube. And I made attempts to engage both support and social media reps for AT&T.
Eventually, pointing AT&T social media super rep "ChrisZ" at my blog post attracted the attention. More on that later.
In my testing, I found out that with ~20 regularly scheduled programs a week, ONLY the Penguins of Madagascar doesn't allow me to fastforward. Most interestingly, this condition only exists for first-run (new episodes), and seems to expire after a set period of time.
In a month of testing, I can't figure out if it is in fact time-based or play-based, but at some point, the no-fastforward condition expires and I can fastforward through the commercials in the episodes.
This morning, I'm getting a fresh reminder of this experience. And, here is the problem. My children (6 and 8 yrs old) are forced to watch television ads for sugary cereals, aged-up programming featuring snarky kids exhibiting smart-assed behavior, and various jenky toys that I have no desire to purchase for my kids. This repeating situation begs the question, with as much money as a person spends on television, do you REALY have control over your television services?
Am I really in control of my DVR, or is that conditional based on programming agreements between large media companies and multiple system providers (cable, telecom companies)?
I'm not a journalist. This blog is about consumer advocacy. I tend to advocate (grins) for startups doing things that are good in my own estimates. And, I tend to document and share (gripe) about experiences where I think big brands are trying to mess with consumers. I've been hard on Comcast in the past. Their service was unreliable, their hardware and firmware is paleo and jenky. I've discovered entirely unfair hardware charges from Comcast and a lot of poor customer service practices. But, I don't have an axe to grind. I know that because my day job is developing and managing consumer marketing and customer experiences, I have a good instinct for which questions to ask, what is "right" and what is "wrong". And, if I'm experiencing an issue, at least 10 people are as well, but they just don't have the time or know-how to find people online and get answers.
That said, back to the AT&T Uverse issue at hand. Here is the last exchange with the person(s) managing the AT&T social media presence of "ChrisZ":
On Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 1:55 PM, Email Response AT&T <firstname.lastname@example.org- mail.com> wrote:
I did get with a peer here. We do not prevent DVR functionality with Penguins of Madagascar.
My peer did say "if you max out the streams then it is possible to lose pause buffer; thus, this will not allow him to fast forward." So, depending on how many streams are active at once live TV and recordings, will effect the show.
To truly address the issue, we would need to know more information (questions below) and possibly mirror your DVR to verify the recordings.
How many streams were going at once? H
ow many recordings was taking place?
What was the show he was recording, was it SD or HD?
At this time frame and per my IT peer, we do not disable the DVR functionality.
Get back to me with the answering if you can.
ChrisZ – ATT Social Media Manager
myAT&T Social Media Team
Check out our support center: http://support.att.com/
And here is my response:
Chris,This email isn't holding up. I'm replicating this issue right now. You can see a past example here. I'm recording in HD, one stream, one recording at this hour. And, I don't lose my buffer Sunday night while I'm watching TV on three streams of HD.You've shared the explanation from IT. I want comments from product marketing people and programming people. In fact, I want someone from AT&T advertising partnerships to tell me that they explicitly do NOT sell the disabling of the DVR ffwd feature to programming partners and advertiser.Thanks.
Why do I care about this?
Because consumer choice and control was something beaten into me from the beginning of my professional career. If you supply hardware and connectivity, you can restrict what people download, but providing conditional access to DVR controls is altering the consumers controls over "how" they consume content. And, if DVR functionality is conditional based on protecting a business model, that needs to be out in the open for consumer considerations.
And, I don't want my kids to be forced to sit through television advertisements to watch Penguins of Madagascar. I watch ads for adults, because I'm in that business and I study and appreciate the work of my peers. But, my kids can't delineate between ads and programming, and they don't "get it" when an ad tells them what to do, eat, buy, watch... they're too young for TV ads, and I have a DVR for this explicit reason.
Right now, it feels like AT&T is messing with parental decisions right now. That's not good. Parents need to be aware of this situation.