Through The Wire: Cable Sticker Shock at OHare

9/27/1998 8:00 PM Eastern

If you travel through O'Hare Airport in Chicago in the nearfuture, be on the lookout for baggage handlers bearing stickers for Time Warner Cable's Road Runner high-speedInternet service. No, it's not a promotion: The stickers were purloined.

It seems that a Wire correspondent thought that the stickers, distributed by the MSO's SanDiego system, would be a good way to differentiate luggage awash in a sea of Samsonite. Asthe writer was changing planes in Chicago, she looked out the window to see the luggagejockeys carefully peeling the green and purple cartoon characters from her bag andsticking the logos to their own shirts. At least they loaded the stickerless luggage whenthey were done.

Things can get pretty heated across a franchise-negotiatingtable, but a municipal consultant recently recounted a tale that shows that things aren'talways stress-free even when both parties are on the same side. It seems that this firm ananalysis did for the socially conscious city of San Francisco. The contract was passedthrough only after the firm pledged that it would conduct itself in line with the valuesof the community (you know: no clubbing baby seals in the general course of business).When the report was eventually completed, a city official looked at it and solemnly warnedthat if a document was ever submitted like that again, the firm would be dismissed.The faux pas? "The paper: It was yellow. It seems that white is deemed morerecyclable," said the consultant, who submitted future communiqués on moreearth-friendly white bond.

The president never saw the clock tower, the pope never sawthe clock tower -- we're not even sure that the mayor has seen it. But Discovery Networks chief creativeofficer Greg Moyer got into the landmark tower in Grand Central Station that overlooksPark Avenue. It all happened during "Hell Week" in the Big Apple, when Moyer waschecking up on the opening of the latest Discovery Channel store, originally set for theend of the year in the newly renovated Grand Central. Discovery will re-create the clockin its store, so Moyer wanted designers to take a look. He approached the grizzled manwith the key -- "an old, rumpled fellow who had never given the keys to anyone,"Moyer said. So how did Moyer get in? "We just charmed him." The GrandCentral work is running late, so Discovery's store won't open until early 1999.

It read like one of those ads for a black-market set-topbox: "Basic-cable TV will be free, too." Actually, those were words prominentlydisplayed in a Cisco Systems pressrelease handed out to Capitol Hill lawmakers, FCC personnel and others who crammed intothe Hart Senate Office Building last week for a luncheon talk by Cisco chairman andInternet visionary John Chambers. The free-cable prognostication caught the eye ofDeborah Lathen, chief of the FCC's Cable ServicesBureau, who asked Chambers for some supporting evidence. It turned out thatthe press release was incorrect, Chambers said, to the dismay of a few Cisco flaks in theback of the room. He said he meant that the Internet economy would produce free voice communications.

Quiet period or not, TCIpresident Leo J. Hindery Jr. has kept busy making public appearances, racking up air milesand declaiming about customer service and other niceties. Last Wednesday, he lunched andspoke with Women in Cable & Telecommunications inDallas (where he shared a dais with ex-employee Camille Jayne), and he keynoted theGreat Lakes Cable Expo in Chicago the next morning. How does he manage to tread withinthe lines of the company's decision not to discuss the AT&T merger's progress untilthe final details are publicly reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission? Thespeeches are vetted by the lawyers, and they mainly deal in generalities. TCI didn't evensend PR staffers along to mind the loquacious Leo. Quipped one staffer who might have hadthat task: "It wouldn't do any good, anyway."

By Kent Gibbons, from bureau reports.

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