News

Willner Exhorts Execs to Keep Moving

10/28/2001 7:00 PM Eastern

Insight Communications Co. CEO Michael Willner said Tuesday he would consider merging the company with a larger MSO "if it's the right thing for our shareholders."

"We'll stay in the business as long as we think it's the right thing to do, and if the right thing to do is to be a part of another company, we would do that," Willner told a Washington Metropolitan Cable Club audience. "We're not afraid of transactions that result in change."

The Insight chief didn't say there were any proposed deals on the table, but made the statement in response to a question about rumors that Insight could be an acquisition target.

Willner and Insight chief operating officer Kim Kelly came to receive the Cablevision/Bill Daniels Operator of the Year Award. The ceremony was rescheduled after its original venue — the East Coast Cable convention in Baltimore — was canceled.

Cable executives that address the Cable Club gatherings, which are held several times per year, often champion timely industry issues, such as rising sports programming costs or the digital must-carry debate.

But aside from noting that "the entrenched local Bell monopolies continue to enjoy near-universal market share," Willner avoided lobbying for the industry. Instead, he talked about how the industry responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Willner said his company's Insight Disaster Relief Fund has raised close to $100,000 from Insight executives, installers, secretaries, customer-service representatives and other industry players.

Insight is based in New York, and Willner related that Kelly was stranded in Los Angeles that day and decided to join eight new acquaintances to form a two-car caravan that drove non-stop across the country.

Despite Kelly's ordeal and the fact that some cable companies are cutting back on air travel, Willner emphasized that Insight executives "will attend the Western Show in force" and maintain other travel regimens, such as visiting every system to gather information for preparing corporate budgets.

"We must get on airplanes and trains and go to our meetings," he said. Many cable networks are skipping next month's convention, at least as exhibitors, and AT&T Broadband has said it won't send many non-local executives.

Willner also made a strong pitch for cable telephony, noting Insight will offer telephony though its cable pipe to 80 percent of its households by the end of the year. AT&T Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. are the only big operators aggressively signing up facilities-based phone customers, but all MSOs have committed to that business in the long term, he said.

"Let there be no mistake about it, there are no disagreements among cable operators about the importance of launching local phone service," Willner said.

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