U-Verse and our small businesses. Sometimes more choice isn’t better.

Yes, we all hate Time Warner, but trust me, you’ll hate AT&T just as much. I got the sales pitch for U-Verse on Friday morning while waiting in line for the new iPhone. After spending almost 4 hours in line, the person in front of me got the last iPhone (but that’s another story).

As the Dayton Daily points out- the price differences between AT&T and Time Warner aren’t very big. So why switch? There are technological differences between the two, and technically, since AT&T is doing IPTV (Internet Protocol Television: where you are basically connecting to a website instead of a digital stream) you will be closer to the future of TV- however, neither is really achieving what you really want- which is a lot more like an ala carte solution- still locking you into “bundles” instead of real “choices.”

Here is the announcement from the Dayton Business Journal:

AT&T launches TV, Internet and phone bundle – Dayton Business Journal:
AT&T (NYSE:T) announced the immediate availability of its AT&T U-verse programming package, which will include bundles of television, high-speed Internet and phone services, offering residents a choice against Time Warner, which also offers service bundles in the area.

The regional launch comes on the heels of Senate Bill 117, signed last year by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. The bill, a statewide video franchising reform, made it possible for AT&T and other telephone companies to jump into markets and offer their own version of bundled services over fiber-enhanced versions of their existing infrastructures.

ATT&T officials have said they are confident enough in the company’s offerings they are waiving the installation fee and offering customers a 30-day money-back guarantee to jump start the competition with Time Warner.

“With the launch of AT&T U-verse TV, Miami Valley customers are finally getting a better choice to break free from cable,” said Amanda Harris, AT&T general manager for Ohio, in a news release.

But, here is where things start to suck for locally based businesses: we just split the market into yet another smaller piece which limits our ability to market cost effectively. Huh, you say?

Television advertising is one of the most powerful ways to reach consumers. It’s one of the reasons big national advertisers spend lots of money on TV. In the old days, you could reach every television viewer by buying a “roadblock” spot on all three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC. On some evenings you could reach 60% or more of the country.

As we’ve fractionalized TV into the “broadcast” stations of the big three plus FOX and CW here in Dayton- and then added the hundreds of channels of cable- it got harder to reach just the Dayton market – by buying TV on broadcast and cable. At one point, Time Warner had a connection to almost 80% of the market- then came satellite. Next thing you knew- TW was down to 65% of the market and dropping. satellite didn’t allow local commercial insertion. Those people were lost to companies like Morris Furniture, Elder Beerman and the screaming car salesmen.

Now, with AT&T splitting off even more of the viewership- we could end up with even fewer ways to reach targeted audiences through the niche channels that cable provides. Want to reach teens- you buy MTV and Comedy Central- but now, you have to buy on TW and ATT. Get my point.

As other players come in, it will be harder and harder for non-national advertisers to buy television ads cost effectively.

Of course, the ideal system is a true IPTV system, where we buy actual viewers instead of stations or programs: for example, I want to deliver my message to all males watching TV on Wednesday night, if they are between 24 and 36, have a college degree and an interest in PS3 games- for a sale I’m going to have on Thursday. I would place a buy for that spot, it would be fed to the cable boxes of every male fitting that category- and if they turn on their TV and watch the ad, I pay for it.

That’s a few years off- but in the meantime, local advertisers are going to have to get a lot more creative and hope that all of you prefer to buy local.

In the meantime- I’ll keep my $11 basic cable (which gets me public access and the local stations without an antenna), and my $6 a month Netflix account. Paying for TV is so last century anyway.

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