Content

Through the Wire

8/11/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Contributors: Karen Brown, Tom Steinert-Threlkeld.

If Hillary Runs, Will McHale Follow?

What will Judith McHale do after she leaves her post as CEO of Discovery Communications Inc. on Dec. 1 (see “Dirty Work,” Spotlight, page 20)?

She said, in her official statement on the subject, that she plans to “participate more directly in discussion related to critical domestic and global issues.”

But the interpretation in Washington, D.C., and other parts of the country was: Judith McHale will take a prominent position in running New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s Democratic campaign for president.

“That’s the obvious rumor. I don’t know if that’s the case. That’s what a lot of people around Washington are saying,” said Johnathan Rodgers, former president of Discovery Networks U.S. and now CEO of TV One. “They’re buds. They are friends.

Both, for instance, participate in Vital Voices, a nonprofit “global partnership” that invests in women “who are leading social, economic and political progress in their countries.” McHale is listed on its board; Clinton is listed as one of three female U.S. senators who are honorary chairs of the Washington-based organization.

And Clinton has been known to show up at Discovery events in the state she serves, such as last year’s opening of an education center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

There’s just one problem with the scenario. “There is no Hillary Clinton for President campaign. That’s very important,” said Philip Verveer, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Wilkie Farr & Gallagher.

McDowell’s a Cable Guy, Down on the Farm

Anyone familiar with the Baltimore-Washington conurbation knows that saying you live on a farm near Tyson’s Corner in Fairfax, Va., is almost like saying you live on a farm near Times Square. But Federal Communications Commission member Robert McDowell, a Republican who took his seat June 1, apparently occupies one of the last farmsteads in a mall-plagued area that defines urban sprawl.

And that’s not good news for EchoStar Communications Corp. or DirecTV Inc. “I’m a cable subscriber,” McDowell, an analog-only customer of Cox Communications Inc., told reporters last week. Switching to direct broadcast satellite isn’t an option.

“I would have to cut down dozens of trees probably to get satellite service,” he explained, sounding disappointed he wasn’t named administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Cox also serves McDowell with high-speed Internet access because Verizon Communications Inc. has apparently conceded the McDowell account to its cable rival. “[I live] too far from the [central office] of Verizon to get DSL, so I have cable-modem,” McDowell said.

Praise the Lord? No, Pass the Cell Phone

Gospel Music Channel may have found out that communicating with the heavens isn’t fail-safe.

Two weeks ago, the Atlanta-based independent network was launching service in Dallas, using a spot beam from DirecTV Inc. But an error with the conditional-access code for viewing Gospel Music’s programming kicked off the boxes in those households allowed to watch it, according to president Charles Humbard.

The result was a flood, albeit not the kind that figures in the Old Testament. This was the new testament of phone calls.

Seems that the service went out just when a three-hour edited version of a 15-hour annual July 4th concert put on by Christian radio station KLTY was about to be aired.

“We had vigorously promoted it,” said general manager John L. Peroyea. “We were inundated with calls.”

The 15-hour musical event, called Celebrate Freedom, has been building a following for 16 years. This year, it was held at Southfork Ranch, made famous as the home of the Ewing family in the television show Dallas a couple of decades back.

The free concert attracts an estimated 200,000 Christian music fans. It had never been televised locally before this, Peroyea said.

It’s a Game! It’s Training! It’s Both!

Ever wondered what it was like to sit in the cable CEO’s chair? Now there is a board game that lets you do just that.

The name of the game is The Operator, and it was developed by marketing and training firm Renegade Productions to teach new cable employees about the business they 're entering.

Similar to the Milton-Bradley favorite Monopoly, The Operator makes the player the CEO of a cable company. As they roll the dice and move around the board, they have to make decisions such as paying for marketing campaigns or network upgrades — and in the process they win or lose money and subscribers.

They don’t get $200 for passing Go, but when they pass a payday square they are awarded money based on the number of subscribers they have collected. Another square across the board requires them to make their operational payments based on the same subscriber count.

Just like Monopoly’s Go to Jail, the worst square to land on is the ultimate headache for real cable operators: “Do the network upgrade.”

The player that has the strongest mix of subscribers and money wins the game.

Making a game out of the cable business might sound childish, but it has a solid foundation in adult training principals, according to Marie Gooch, Renegade’s vice president of training and development. The idea is that if new employees knew how important each loss of a subscriber or failed attempt to add a service is to the overall business picture, they might redouble their efforts to upsell or save customers. Plus, it’s fun.

Renegade first developed a homemade version with poster board and clip-art squares, and “people just loved it,” Gooch said. “We started hearing 'This is so cool. Can you sell this and can we buy this for our system?’ And we decided, why not?”

So Renegade is now working to create a more professional game complete with game pieces. A first version of that was unveiled at last month’s Cable & Telecommunicatons Association for Marketing Summit.

Pricing has not been determined as yet, but “it’s being priced more along the lines of a license for a training experience. It’s not just an off-the-shelf Monopoly game. It is designed to teach the participant more about the industry they are working in,” Gooch said.

No doubt cable CEOs wish the real game was that fun.

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