Down the DirecTV Rabbit Hole
It all started when we wanted to upgrade our last couple of TVs to HD. I knew that DirecTV was about to roll out a bunch of new HD channels by year-end. My old Tivos were grinding to a halt after years of service (and some swapped hard drives). DirecTV's new HD channels would be in MPEG-4 format, and the only way to get them was to get new receivers and new HD DVRs.
But, when my installers got all this new stuff set up, we had some problems. We have a complicated setup, and I won't go into the details. But, the complexity of everything we wanted to do required me to do some research on how other people had solved problems similar to mine. A quick search brought me to DBStalk.
This online community of DBS (direct broadcast satellite) devotees was a treasure trove of information. I got sucked in and wanted to learn everything I could about my new HD equipment, how to get OTA (over the air) HD signals, and how to share all this between the various TVs in my house.
I wish that the information in these forums was more accessible. There is some basic search, but you have to do a lot of poking around to find some real information. Luckily, some dedicated participants maintain some FAQ documents that compile a lot of the best tips and tricks.
But, the thing that blew me away was the Cutting Edge program. As is detailed in this article from HDTV magazine that covers the evolution of the HR20-700 HD DVR over its first year of deployment, the Cutting Edge program is a beta test program run by people outside of DirecTV. It's run by the lead participants of the DBStalk site.
DirecTV cooperates with thes users for the deployment and support of beta software releases that unlock new features of their products. They have beta versions of software for all of their current receivers. This has led to them bringing out new general releases about once every two months with lots of new features rolling out over the past year.
Most recently, I downloaded a beta test version of a new DirecTV On Demand video on demand capability. This service works great and will be rolling out nationally soon. But, I am blown away that a big company like DirecTV can be so aggressive in embracing its user base and its most committed customers. This is helping DirecTV get more functionality out faster and keeps me even more loyal. I can't imagine Comcast doing this (or Verizon).
The lesson for any company, big or small, is to get close to your customers, encourage them to communicate with each other, and listen carefully. Find a way to harness their enthusiasm so you can continue to improve your product.