People

Capital Honors for New Hall of Famers

The Cable Center to honor 20th anniversary class in Washington, D.C., on April 26 4/17/2017 2:59 PM Eastern
Cable Hall of Fame 2017 Honorees (from left, by row): Steve Burke; Jill Campbell; Frank Drendl, (recipient of the Bresnan Ethics in Business Award); David Chase (accepting for HBO's "The Sopranos"); Michael T. Fries; Ken Lowe; David Zaslav

Washington — There will be a lot of new wrinkles surrounding the Cable Hall of Fame’s 2017 induction ceremony, set for Washington, D.C.’s Grand Hyatt on April 26.

For one thing, the 20th annual ceremony will no longer coincide with INTX, the annual convention of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, which had also been set for the nation’s capital before the trade group opted to “sunset” the event last year. For another, The Cable Center for the first time this year will honor a television series — HBO’s groundbreaking 1999-2007 mob-and-family drama The Sopranos — as a member of its class of enshrinees. Accepting will be the show’s creator, David Chase.

Other inductees are: Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal; Jill Campbell, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Cox Communications; Michael T. Fries, CEO of Liberty Global; Ken Lowe, chairman, president and CEO, Scripps Networks Interactive; and David Zaslav, president and CEO, Discovery Communications. Honorees were chosen for their leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation in media.

Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News and host of MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, will serve as master of ceremonies.

“This year’s Cable Hall of Fame honorees are truly the best of the best,” Michael Willner, president and CEO of Penthera Partners and chairman of The Cable Center’s board of directors, said in a statement. “They are leaders of some of the most influential companies in the world, and have shaped the industry’s operations, programming and our society. We are thrilled to induct our first series into the Cable Hall of Fame as well. The Sopranos was the seminal series that proved television was more than the broadcasting networks alone, and we are excited to pay tribute to the impact it had on the growth and success of our industry.”

Also to be honored in Washington is CommScope founder Frank Drendel, the 2017 recipient of the Bresnan Ethics in Business Award.

Since 1998, 121 men and women have been inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame, the Denver-based Cable Center said.

“It is an honor to welcome these individuals into the Cable Hall of Fame, and to recognize our first television program,” Cable Center CEO Jana Henthorn said in a statement. “The passion, drive and thought leadership displayed by all of the honorees has steered our industry into the international powerhouse it is today, and we look forward to celebrating their achievements at the Cable Hall of Fame celebration.”

Profiles provided courtesy of The Cable Center.

Steve Burke
CEO, NBCUniversal

As the son of broadcasting mogul Dan Burke, and brother to Bill Burke, co-founder of Argos Pictures, you could say that Steve Burke has the media business in his DNA. In fact, Burke has credited his father as one of his greatest influences

“He taught me, by example, you can have a successful career without sacrificing your family life,” Burke said.

Burke knows about success. A career trajectory beginning with 12 years at The Walt Disney Co., where he advanced to president and chief operating officer of Euro Disney; and culminating with chief operating officer of Comcast, gave him the necessary skills to take the helm as CEO of NBCUniversal when Comcast acquired it in 2011. He has innumerable accomplishments overseeing the film, television and theme park companies that comprise NBCUniversal. The NBCU portfolio carries some of the most popular programs on television today. On the theme park side, Burke has fans of the Harry Potter franchise under his spell with attractions in Orlando, Fla.; Los Angeles; and Japan.

Burke credits this success in part to NBCUniversal’s culture, which he fostered. “We have some of the best people in the industry working at NBC, our cable channels, Universal film, our theme parks and more. We also have a culture where people genuinely feel like they are part of a team.”

Burke’s management philosophy? Think like an owner, not a renter.

“When you have a company as big as ours, you need to have talented executives who treat their part of the company as if it was their own,” he said. “We allow them to confront problems and make decisions that are at times unpopular, but are for the long term good of the business.”

He learned this from his other mentor, Comcast founder Ralph Roberts. “He was someone who built for the long-term. He was a wonderful man who made every room he was in more productive because of his presence.”

Throughout Burke’s long career, his family has anchored him. “The most important thing in my life by far is my wife and five children. They have given me the greatest joy and they are good at putting me in my place when I deserve it.”

Jill Campbell
Executive VP and chief operating officer, Cox Communications

Early in Jill Campbell’s career at Cox, she took some advice from Curt Hockemeier, her boss at the time, to get an MBA and move into an operations role. Although there were a growing number of women in marketing, communications and finance, there weren’t many women in operations.

Campbell earned her MBA in 15 months while simultaneously working full-time and raising her family. Gradually, she started taking on more operations work. When Hockemeier left to get his MBA, he appointed her as acting general manager, a path she continued on that led to her becoming the highest-ranking woman in cable operations today.

Campbell has been at Cox for 35 years and acknowledges that staying with one company for an entire career is unusual these days. “But it’s not unusual at Cox,” Campbell said. “I know many Cox employees who’ve spent 20, 30, 40 years at Cox.” She credits this phenomenon to the company’s culture.

“It started with founder Gov. James Cox, whose philosophy was to treat employees well and with respect. At Cox we believe that focusing on employee engagement creates happy and productive employees, who then go on to serve our customers well. This approach is in our DNA.”

Campbell’s career ascent was comprised of a series of moves — six in 10 years. “At the time, it was considered a requirement to have field GM experience in order to advance, she said. “Looking back, I’m not sure all the moves were necessary, but I learned a lot from each one, so I have no regrets.”

Campbell also credits her success to a network of supportive mentors including Pat Esser, John Dyer and Claus Kroeger, who gave advice and provided opportunities. As a result, Campbell is passionate about promoting the careers of others, especially women, minorities and those in the LGBTQ community. “As you get up higher in the ranks, I feel it’s important to reach down that ladder and pull people up with you.”

Campbell’s leadership philosophy is all about surrounding herself with really smart people and giving them the opportunity to do the things they love. “For me, the best solutions come from brainstorming with my team. If we’re talking legacy, I’d like to think that cultivating exceptional talent at Cox would be mine.”

‘The Sopranos’
Television drama series,
HBO David Chase, creator

For 20 years, The Cable Hall of Fame has celebrated the contributions of more than 120 cable-industry innovators, but before this year, it has never recognized a television series. This year, HBO’s The Sopranos and its creator, David Chase, are honored as a show that more than revolutionized the cable scripted drama, but changed the way which such series are both created and watched.

Many people have written about the series, but none more prolifically than TV critic Alan Sepinwall, whose books The Revolution Was Televised and TV (The Book), co-written with Matt Zoller Seitz, dedicate considerable ink to The Sopranos. In an interview with The Cable Center, Sepinwall said, “The Sopranos was the Big Bang of the cable drama explosion that led to TV’s golden age.

“Before The Sopranos, cable television didn’t get any respect. Along comes The Sopranos, which inspires other cable networks — FX, Showtime, AMC — to introduce exceptional original programming, and flips the paradigm on its head so that cable is no longer a sideshow but the main attraction.”

The Sopranos , which centered around New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his family and associates, flaunted television convention in previously unthinkable ways. There was no hero, and in fact, few truly likable characters. Nevertheless, the characters’ depth, nuance and preoccupation with everyday problems — often with grim humor — made them relatable, and had viewers rooting for a sociopathic antihero.

“Chase worked on some of the best shows ever made [his prior credits included The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure], but those were never enough for him. He really wanted to make movies,” Sepinwall said. “He assumed the pilot would be turned down and he would turn it into a movie. When it was picked up, he was insistent on pushing the limits and creating the show on his own terms.”

Many in the industry believe the post-Sopranos wave of antihero-driven series such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, The Americans and more, would not have been possible before Chase changed the rules.

Moreover, Chase kept changing the rules up to the series’s last second — with a finale that refused to tie everything into a neat bow. Ten years later, fans are still talking about the mid-scene, mid-song cut to black.

Sepinwall, who secured the sole post-finale interview, got few answers from Chase. “When it cut to black, I laughed out loud. The ending was so David — defiantly anti-climactic. The one thing he said to me was ‘It’s all there.’ You can make of that what you will.”

What we make of it is that since The Sopranos, television has never been the same.

Michael T. Fries
CEO, Liberty Global

As Michael (Mike) Fries tells it, “We started this company with $20 million and a good idea. People outside of the U.S. wanted CNN and MTV and nobody was bringing it to them.”

Nearly three decades later, Liberty Global has become the largest international TV and broadband company in the world, with operations in 30 countries, 40,000 employees and 75 million video, broadband, voice and mobile subscribers.

Fries was employee number five at what became UnitedGlobalCom and ran business development, then Asia-Pacific operations, through most of the ’90s. He returned to Denver as president and chief operating officer just before the dotcom bubble burst, leading the company through several transactions with longtime investor Liberty Media, resulting in the formation of Liberty Global in 2005 with Fries as CEO.

Liberty Global has played an integral role in globalizing the cable industry, something Fries said “is important now more than ever, when you look at our competitors.” By bringing content to international markets, launching DOCSIS around the world and collaborating with the Reference Design Kit (RDK) consortium on advanced video, the U.S. cable industry finally has a chance at global scale, thanks to Fries and Liberty Global.

It was Fries and Liberty Global that coined the term “triple play” in an annual report nearly 20 years ago. Since then, they’ve led the industry on broadband speeds and adding mobile to that product bundle.

Fries has only worked for two people, UGC founder Gene Schneider and Liberty Media founder John Malone, and he has high praise for both. “Gene Schneider was one of the original cable pioneers — tough as nails but a true gentleman. I learned a lot from him.” As for Malone, Fries said: “No one sees all the moving pieces like John Malone. He’s really a scientist masquerading as a media mogul.”

Giving back is important to Fries. As lead vocalist of a rock cover band comprised of CEOs, he has found an enjoyable way to help raise millions for charitable organizations in the Denver area. “It’s all about having a good time, for a good cause.” Fries also chairs Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art and was an early investor in the city’s charter school programs.

Fries is extremely proud to be part of the cable industry and he makes sure his international team understands their role in this legacy. “I remind them that we may have been pioneers outside the U.S., but we stand on the shoulders of giants’ right here in America.”

Ken Lowe
Chairman, President and CEO, Scripps Networks Interactive

Ken Lowe grew up in rural North Carolina where he was hooked on radio at a young age. Building a radio station in a shed on his family farm at age 10, he practiced not just the art of radio broadcasting, but also started his first entrepreneurial enterprise, bringing in a DJ (the kid who had the records) and a sales person.

Radio continued to open many doors for Lowe. He worked at a radio station through college, Harte-Hanks Broadcasting through the 1970s and eventually joined E. W. Scripps in 1980 as general manager of its radio properties. Additionally, Lowe was fascinated by architecture. “I worked for my uncle who was a contractor and almost changed my major to architecture.”

Lowe also made documentary films in college. “While I could tell stories on the radio, I loved the visual storytelling aspect,” he said. It was this confluence of interests that eventually led Lowe to connect the dots and create HGTV.

In 1994, Lowe pitched E.W. Scripps on the idea he’d been ruminating on for years — a network focused on the home, targeted toward women, whom he believed were underserved in media. Lowe secured the necessary funding after a dramatic presentation to Scripps’ newspaper-based board by correlating sections of the newspaper with corresponding networks (front page as CNN; sports page as ESPN), illustrating the lack of an analogous network for the home and garden section. Right away, HGTV attracted a loyal audience that extended beyond women, creating a robust lifestyle category which expanded to brands including Food Network, Travel Channel and DIY Network.

“Though initially focusing on women, one of the ironies is we’ve gotten more men into the kitchen and more women into home remodeling,” Lowe said. “This was not the case 20 years ago.”

The Scripps networks launched the careers of primarily unknown talent. “I was not looking for stars. I wanted people who knew their craft — where it’s their passion and they’d be doing it even if they weren’t on TV. This authenticity is one of the reasons we’ve succeeded.” Scripps Networks Interactive continues to build its brands around the world, with international revenues representing around 20% of the business.

“I felt all along that the categories we were in were not isolated to America,” Lowe said. “People care about their homes, love food and are interested in travel no matter where they’re from.”

David Zaslav
President and CEO, Discovery Communications

David Zaslav’s cable career all started with a blind cover letter. At the time, Zaslav was working as a corporate attorney, where his clients included then-fledgling cable programmer Discovery Communications.

Zaslav was quickly smitten with the business: “Seeing John Hendricks’s vision for Discovery and the future of cable was a huge moment for me,” he recalls. So, when a Multichannel News story with the headline “NBC Wants to Get Into Cable” hit the press, Zaslav didn’t waste time, sending a blind cover letter to legendary NBC boss Bob Wright.

“I told Wright, if you are serious about launching CNBC and your cable business, I’m all in,” Zaslav recalled. “I joined NBC and never looked back.”

As one of the first hires at NBC cable, Zaslav built a suite of networks including CNBC from the ground up, rising in the ranks to lead the business over the course of two decades. Then came another call from Discovery — this time to become its CEO. Joining in 2007, Zaslav quickly moved to boost Discovery’s performance, paving the path for its IPO one year later and expanding globally with new channels and brands.

Under Zaslav’s watch, Discovery launched some of its most successful and fastest-growing networks, including Investigation Discovery, Velocity and OWN, a joint venture with Oprah Winfrey. Zaslav also led Discovery’s acquisition of Eurosport and rights to the Olympics, which will air on Eurosport and its digital properties for the next decade beginning with the 2018 Winter Games.

Today, much of Zaslav’s focus is on reaching Discovery’s more than 3 billion global viewers at a time when technology is changing how they consume content. “Reaching every person on every screen and platform is a top priority for us,” Zaslav said. To do so, Discovery is fast expanding how its fans stay connected to its content, from TV everywhere to virtual reality, shortform video and partnerships with leading streaming and SVOD services.

After three decades in the business, Zaslav is also finding ways to give back, using Discovery’s brands to raise awareness and take action against wildlife extinction and other environmental issues. In 2016, Zaslav spearheaded the launch of “Project C.A.T.: Conserving Acres for Tigers,” a historic partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to restore the wild tiger population through protected sites.

“For more than 30 years, Discovery has documented the natural world and its wonders across our channels,” Zaslav said. This is just one way we can give something back.”

Frank M. Drendel
Bresnan Ethics in Business Award Recipient

Frank M. Drendel is chairman of the board and founder of CommScope. He served as its CEO from its founding in Hickory, N.C., in 1976 until its acquisition by The Carlyle Group in January 2011, which took the company private.

He has served as chairman since 1997, when CommScope was spun off from General Instrument as independent, publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Drendel’s entrepreneurial drive and business vision led to his acquiring a struggling cable product line called Comm/Scope from his then-employer, Superior Continental, and launching a standalone company in 1976. This same drive and vision has guided CommScope for nearly four decades — under Drendel’s leadership, CommScope has grown into a multibillion dollar global leader in infrastructure solutions for communications networks, with a who’s who roster of customers that spans the globe.

Through organic growth and the acquisitions of Avaya Connectivity Solutions in 2004, Andrew Corp. in 2007 and TE Broadband Network Solutions in 2015, CommScope established leadership positions in key markets — wireless, business enterprise, telecom and cable television/ residential broadband — that continue today.

While at CommScope, Drendel also served as a director of GI Delaware, a subsidiary of General Instrument, and its predecessors from 1987 to 1992, a director of General Instrument from 1992 until 1997, and a director of NextLevel Systems from 1997 until January 2000. Prior to his founding of the company, Drendel held various positions within the Comm/Scope division of Superior Continental from 1971 to 1976.

Drendel is a director of the NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, and the SCTE Executive Council. Drendel previously served as a director of Sprint Nextel Corporation from 2005 to 2008 and as a director of Nextel Communications from 1997 to 2005. He also served on the board of directors for Tyco International, The Cable Center and C-SPAN.

An active member of several National Cable & Telecommunications Association committees, Drendel has been a recipient of various NCTA awards, including the Challenger Award, Associates Award and the President’s Award. He has also received several honors for his contributions to the industry, including:
● Induction into the Cable Hall of Fame in 2002.
● An Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development in 1985 for his and M/A-Com’s contribution to anti-pirating satellite TV encryption and scrambling technology.
● The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian award given by the State of North Carolina, in 1999.
● The 2013 North Carolina Technology Association Outstanding Achievement Award.

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!