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June 20, 2013

Weber's World: AT&T U-verse Launch & Landmarks

By Bob Wallace, VP of Content

Word is that the face of and force behind AT&T U-verse, Jeff Weber (News - Alert), has been replaced by a new exec as president of content and advertising.  This, coupled with the fact that Weber has assumed “a special project role” with the company gives us an opportunity to reflect on Weber’s survive-and-thrive accomplishments during his tenure.

If your memory only goes back a handful of years, you know Jeff Weber as president of content and advertising for AT&T’s (News - Alert) U-verse TV offering. But should your memory predate this period, you likely know this executive as the force that helped change the firm from a voice and data services provider to a broadband entertainment powerhouse.

AT&T confirmed that Aaron Slater has been appointed to Weber’s position. The company did not provide a reason for the change or elaborate as to what this means for the present and future of the U-verse package and other related assets. AT&T did not discuss Weber’s new responsibilities.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Early Obstacles

As the face of U-verse throughout the industry – editorial types like me, industry analysts and financial folks – it’s a tall task to overestimate Weber’s contribution to the AT&T package. When AT&T launched U-verse TV in late 2006, Weber was there. He helped work through challenges in early deployment and with business partner Microsoft (News - Alert) TV, which provided the core middleware. (Microsoft recently sold the software to Ericsson.)

The show did go on, and at every relevant show I can recall for the following years, Weber was there updating all present on the service with sneak peeks into what was next. What he didn’t do was perhaps as important as what he did do in this capacity. He didn’t blow smoke, dodge questions, overhype/overpromise or hide from those seeking to learn about the service as it evolved.

A Joy Ride?

U-verse TV wasn’t a cake walk for Weber as the company used a fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) approach that relied on copper-based DSL to deliver the IP service from the node to the consumer residence. Early on, that limited what AT&T could get to consumers -- only one full HD channel. Later, that was expanded to two simultaneous channels, but it was an early issue for Weber and AT&T.

The next speed bump was the deployment of a multi-room DVR capability for U-verse. Again, Weber and AT&T faced technological channels, not business ones. Home networking was in its infancy at the time and consumers with TVs in multiple rooms sought this convenient feature. HD sets were plentiful and affordable in fast-growing numbers in the U.S.

Though it appeared the feature missed its availability date, multi-room DVR deployed in a timely manner and without causing consumer unrest.

The Resource

Weber was on the firing line in the industry all along the U-verse evolution timeline. He was a more than popular speaker, always willing to field questions -- minus the all-too-common non-answers or redirects made famous by Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichik.

The difference here was that people sought out Weber for information, insight and perspective, while the media attend Belichik “speaking events” because they have to. Calling Weber an ambassador makes it seem as if he was talk without walk, which was hardly the case.

To his credit, I never saw Weber become impatient, annoyed or reluctant to work with those outside AT&T and he never blamed or ripped a business partner for anything related to U-verse. The even-keeled executive kept calm (and composed) and carried on. In the process, he fast became an icon at TV, telecom and broadband economy industry events of all sizes, and even ones afield of TV.

Beyond Tech to Business

Weber worked alongside Microsoft and other partners to make U-verse TV more robust through the addition of features, functionality and applications as they became available in software. At the same time, he addressed the business aspects of growing the service for content companies and advertisers setting the stage for his most recent position at AT&T.

Before his content and advertising post, Weber held senior spots in video products and services development and strategy.

I’ve been told by service providers of all shapes and sizes that dealing with content companies is mind-numbing at best and requires an epic amount of patience and perseverance, especially for non-cable companies who are newer to the industry.

I’d venture an educated guess that this environment led to Weber being named president of content and advertising for AT&T. Advertising is draining in another way when you consider that U-verse didn’t have the geographic footprint for many years to attract national accounts. But the service competes with at least one heavily entrenched cable operator and one or more longtime satellite providers in each market.

The Bottom Line

For those of you whose memory goes back eight years, did you ever think that when SBC bought AT&T in 2005 (after once long-distance wire-line phone co. AT&T had bought cable TV company TCI and sold it to Comcast (News - Alert)) that the resulting entity, still named AT&T, would ever become a power player in entertainment?

Regardless, you can credit Weber for helping making this a robust reality.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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