NCTA Plays Name Game4/25/1999 8:00 PM Eastern
Washington -- If your name is Decker Travis or June
Anstrom, there could be a nice job awaiting you here.
According to some cable-industry sources, the best person
to become the next president of the National Cable Television Association would be a
hybrid -- someone who combines the strengths of current president Decker Anstrom and
former executive vice president June Travis.
Anstrom is renowned for his solid contacts on Capitol Hill
and at the Federal Communications Commission, and Travis, a former cable-system executive
with Rifkin & Associates Inc., is respected for her knowledge of the business
practices and necessities of MSO chieftains.
Finding such a person won't be easy, so some here see
a division of duties, with the next NCTA president possessing strong name recognition and
a deputy who has mastered the intricacies of cable.
"I think that you need a high-visibility name that can
get your phone calls into the Hill, or even at the FCC, for that matter," one
well-placed source said. "And then what I would do is get that person, then balance
it off with the executive VP position, with someone from inside the industry who knows the
In a surprise move, Anstrom announced April 15 that he is
leaving the NCTA effective Aug. 1 to become president and CEO of The Weather Channel,
triggering a guessing game about possible successors at the trade association.
Robert Sachs, a former top lawyer for MediaOne Group Inc.
who runs a Boston-based consulting group, is one potential candidate who continues to be
widely discussed. Another serious contender is Tom Tauke, a former Republican House member
from Iowa who is currently senior vice president of government affairs for Bell Atlantic
Former members of Congress also figure in the talks,
including Rep. Jack Fields (R-Texas), who was chairman of the House Telecommunications
Committee, and Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.), who has ties to Time Warner Inc. and who has
appeared at national cable conventions.
Some within the cable industry would not support a former
member of Congress to lead the NCTA, though. A partisan figure, one source said, could
cripple cable's relations with one of the parties.
Ken Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.),
disagreed. He said the NCTA could pick a moderate Republican or Democrat without much of a
"There are people with sufficiently moderate
credentials," Johnson said. "There will be people squawking regardless."
According to one prominent Republican strategist, the
NCTA's only move is to pick a recognized Republican to replace Anstrom, a Democrat
who served in the Carter administration.
The GOP strategist said the Electronic Industries
Association caught a lot of grief for hiring former Rep. David McCurdy (D-Okla.) last
year, after House Republican leaders urged the EIA to hire former Rep. Bill Paxon
(R-N.Y.), who ended up being hired by a law firm here.
"I think that the NCTA should pick a Republican.
That's the better bet. The Republicans are going to keep the Senate forever, and Al
Gore at the top of the ticket isn't your best bet for retaking the House," the
GOP strategist said.
Other cable-industry sources said the process for picking a
new NCTA president should be allowed to run its course because the talent pool is large,
and many talented candidates are not likely to be household names.
"The best person is somebody I've never heard
of," a cable source said. "But that is not to say that there aren't people
around whom I have heard of and whom I have very high respect for."
The cable source said Anstrom's replacement has to be
a person who can manage the relationship between AT&T Corp. and its far-flung business
interests and others in the cable industry that do not have millions of cellular and
long-distance phone customers.
"The new head of the NCTA is going to be walking a
fine line here between the pure interests of his cable constituencies and the broader
interests of AT&T," the source said.
AT&T Broadband & Internet Services president Leo J.
Hindery Jr., who is also the NCTA chairman, gave a pep talk to NCTA staff last week with a
simple message: You're doing a great job. Keep it up during the search for
Hindery said search-committee chairman James Robbins,
president of Cox Communications Inc., would move quickly to hire an executive-recruiting
firm. That firm will probably be announced this week, according to an industry source.
Hindery left business meetings in New York and spent one
hour visiting with the NCTA staff last Thursday, at Anstrom's request. Robbins is
expected to talk with the same group in the near future, the source said.