2008 CABLE SHOW: The 2008 Vanguard Awards

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The Vanguard Awards are the most prestigious awards presented by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. They honor leaders, programmers, policymakers, technologists and marketers for their outstanding professional and personal commitment to their colleagues and the cable industry as a whole.

Herein, Multichannel News recognizes the careers and achievements of the 2008 winners, as well as this year’s recipient of a special Vanguard for outstanding contribution.

Profiles by George Winslow, Randy Barrett, Kent Gibbons, K.C. Neel, Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn and Todd Spangler 

Distinguished Vanguard Award for Leadership

Matt Blank


Chairman and CEO


Showtime Networks

During his first television job at HBO in the 1970s, Matt Blank remembers getting a lesson in the importance of being a hands-on manager.

“We would put together these great marketing campaigns for operators,” Blank said. All the cable system had to do was add a few bits of information at the bottom of the print-ready ad and send it to the local newspaper.

“There would be a space at the bottom of the ad that would say 'your system name here,’ ” Blank said. “ 'Your phone number here.’ That’s all they had to add. But when we got back the printed ads, the bottom of the ad would still say, 'your system name here.’ 'Your phone number here.’ It taught me the importance of staying hands on and preparing for any eventuality.”

This attention to detail while keeping track of larger marketing and programming strategies helped Blank rise through the ranks at HBO and then Showtime, which he joined in 1988. It has also helped Blank and his team transform Showtime from a perennial also-ran in the pay TV business into the home for such critically acclaimed programs as Dexter, The Tudors and Weeds.

“In the last three or four years, our marketing and promotion, and particularly our programming, has all come together,” Blank said. “We’re firing on all cylinders. For the first time in the history of Showtime, we are clearly a leadership brand.”

That has helped Showtime expand its subscriber base to about 15.5 million, up 1.3 million subscribers in the last year, and is a key reason Blank is winning another Vanguard Award for leadership. He won a Vanguard for marketing in 1991 and for programming against defamation in 1999.

Those award-winning leadership skills will also come in handy as CBS Inc.-owned Showtime faces new competition in the pay TV arena from sister company Viacom. Recently, Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, MGM and Lionsgate announced they would launch a premium channel in the fall of 2009, a move that will also deprive Showtime of first-run movies from those studios.

Growing up in Queens, N.Y., Blank was a TV buff as a kid, with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Fugitive among his favorite shows. Early on he dreamed of making a career in the entertainment industry.

But after graduating in 1972, the economy was in a deep recession. So Blank honed his marketing skills in a series of jobs in the packaged goods and financial services industries until he finally landed a job at HBO in March 1976.

Those early days at HBO, “were a great business experience,” Blank said. “I had been working on big corporate brands, where you had ad agencies and marketing service groups and media planning and lots of support. At HBO, you were involved in everything. I’d go to the airport two or three days a week at six in the morning, fly to Cleveland or Pittsburgh and drive for an hour to find the cable system. If I got lost, I’d follow the trunk until I got the headend. It was a very grassroots experience that took me to a lot of different parts of the country and taught me a lot about how people used television.”

Over the next 12 years, Blank climbed the ladder at HBO to senior vice president of consumer marketing. But in 1988, Blank decided to join Showtime as executive vice president of marketing, where he oversaw all of the premium network’s consumer marketing, creative services and public relations.

Blank made the risky career move because he saw more growth opportunities at Showtime.

Viacom, Showtime’s owner at the time, was struggling under huge debts, and the network was a distant second in the premium business behind HBO. Some press reports and analysts worried that Showtime’s costly movie contracts could have a potentially catastrophic impact on Viacom’s bottom line if management didn’t either sell the service or make it more competitive.

That would take time. Blank rose from president and chief operating office in 1991 to president and CEO and then chairman and CEO in 1995. Along the way, he was able to capitalize on technological changes that provided new distribution opportunities, first on satellite and on digital tiers, for Showtime.

“When I became CEO, it was really the beginning of the digital era, which made it possible to offer many more services,” first with multiplexes of their channels and then on-demand programming, he said. “Those technological changes helped set the table for all the programming success we’ve had in the last three or four years” because it became much easier for viewers to find and watch the company’s programming.

In the 1990s, Showtime began the long process of improving its original programming by producing a large number of critically acclaimed movies that won a number of awards.

But the big breakthrough didn’t come until 2003, when Blank and his team decided to focus on original series. In July 2003, to spearhead that effort, Blank hired Robert Greenblatt, co-founder of The Greenblatt Janollari Studio, which produced a number of successful shows, including the critically acclaimed HBO drama Six Feet Under.

“Bob [Greenblatt, president of entertainment at Showtime Networks] and I were eerily in total agreement about the type of programming we wanted to do and the type of thing that would work,” Blank said.

The result has been a string of hits. In 2004, the network launched The L-Word and Huff, which was quickly followed by Weeds in 2005; Brotherhood, Dexter and This American Life in 2006; and The Tudors and Californication in 2007.

“It’s been an embarrassment of riches,” Blank said. “It’s about as good of a batting average as you’re going to have in television.”

Those programming successes will come in handy in the next few years as Showtime deals with changes in the way viewers access video and an increasingly competitive landscape.

Faced with the planned launch of the studio-backed network in 2009, Showtime is negotiating with other film suppliers and plans to use money spent on film output deals to expand production of original series.

Blank also sees opportunities in new distribution platforms. “This January, five or six of our series were in the top ten ranking of sales of the whole season of a program on iTunes,” he said. “It shows the kind of attention our programming is getting and the opportunities we have to build new businesses as new distribution platforms develop.”

Distinguished Vanguard Award For Leadership 

Anne Sweeney


President, Disney-ABC Television Group


Co-Chair, Disney Media

Ask Anne Sweeney what makes her a strong leader, and she answers by rattling off the achievements of others — from the hits that Rich Ross and Gary Marsh have created at Disney Channel and Paul Lee’s slew of “bests” at ABC Family to the success of SoapNet and ABC Daytime thanks largely to Brian Frons, as well as Barry Jossen’s work at the just-launched digital production unit Stage 9.

“That’s one of the great things about Anne,” said ABC Family president Paul Lee. “She obviously has the smarts and the skills to run the whole division, but she has the generosity of spirit and humility to give credit across the board.”

Frons, president of daytime for Disney-ABC Television Group added: “At the risk of sounding like the soap opera guy I am, she certainly seems to have pride in all her children. You certainly feel the warmth when you’ve done something well.”

Ross, president of Disney Channels Worldwide, has known Sweeney for 21 years and considers her the consummate boss. “I think the greatest thing in the world is to be able to feel comfortable to say, 'Here’s my boss.’ I always introduce her as my boss,” he said. “I mean, she’s many things to me, but she’s my boss and I’m incredibly proud of that.”

What makes Sweeney so great? There’s her television pedigree: She began her career as a page for ABC in New York before joining Nickelodeon in 1981, helping make a household brand from a then little-known children’s cable network. After that, she jumpstarted FX in 1993, which became one of the largest basic cable launches in history. Three years later, she transformed Disney Channel from a languishing premium network to a basic-cable kid’s programming powerhouse.

But most impressive is how she has revolutionized the way we view series across platforms worldwide. In the four years since being named co-chairperson of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, Sweeney has helped bolster the faltering ABC network and then revolutionize the TV business by advancing new content models across multiple platforms. In 2005, she made headlines by selling episodes of hit ABC series on iTunes, and later she was aggressive in streaming shows online at ABC.com.

Says Lee: “If you think that on Anne’s watch, the ABC network has gone from struggling to frequently No. 1 with the big hits and the buzz shows — we’re talking about Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Dancing With the Stars, Lost. Disney Channel’s become a powerhouse for amazing shows and music and talent that resonates all the way across not just television but on DVDs, our international sales and our movies. ABC Family has become a defining high-rated powerhouse for millennials. Just think how many great stories have been told under Anne Sweeney in the last four years and not just to Americans but across the world.”

Considering her vast responsibilities, Sweeney’s greatest accomplishment has been “recognizing the potential of properties,” said A&E Television Networks president and CEO Abbe Raven, the committee chairperson for the Vanguard Awards. “She’s a real master at looking at properties and saying we can market this, we can create this as a brand. And probably more than anybody else in this industry, she’s been able to tap into those properties and say, 'We can make this bigger and better.’ ”

Raven added that honoring Sweeney for this year’s Vanguard Award for Leadership was long overdue.

“Anne could have received this award 10 years ago, five years ago. She without question deserves to be on this list, and has deserved to be on this list of Vanguard award winners for many years,” said Raven, herself a leadership award recipient in 2005.

“I’ve been lucky to have Anne as a role model,” Raven said. “She is without question a great listener and a great motivator and she does that all with grace and I am huge admirer of watching someone that navigates with grace under pressure.”

Earlier this year, Sweeney oversaw the launch of Stage 9, the new short-form media studio bridging user-generated content and traditional production values for quality short-form shows online. At the helm are Jossen, ABC studio executive and Academy Award winning short-form filmmaker, and ABC Studios president Mark Pedowitz.

“Both of them share a passion for providing new opportunities for people just coming into television or film,” Sweeney said. “Stage 9 was really built with that in mind. Of course, the Web gives us a whole new avenue for experimentation.”

Another experiment that Sweeney is excited about is the four-night multiplatform showcase for Camp Rock, a movie musical starring Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers band. The show will premiere on Disney Channel, June 20, then appear as a part of ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney on Saturday night. The next day, on Sunday, it goes to ABC Family and that Monday it will be streamed on Disney.com.

“This was an idea Rich Ross had and it came together with Steve McPherson, Paul Lee and Steve Wadsworth, who runs our Internet group, and they all signed up and the teams are working together to figure out how this transitions and how it’s cross promoted, and it’s going to be a wonderful thing to see,” she said.

In overseeing ABC, ABC Television Studio and the 24 international Disney-owned cable channels, one of her mandates is keeping a broad picture scope. “I fully understand my goals and the goals that Bob Iger put out for the entire Walt Disney Co.,” said Sweeney. “I also believe [that] when you hire smart people and work with them, you let them do what they do best. When it comes to the individual pieces of their business, I rely on them to run their businesses well, and they do. Honestly, you can’t be a great leader unless you have a great team.”

“I think she’s always recognized the aggregation of our capabilities is the greatest calling card or articulation of her success — and that’s not to say that she does not get that when the boss stands up, she’s the boss,” said Ross. “She’s been able to take every opportunity she’s been given, and when she’s finished with it, it looks totally different and surpasses everybody’s expectation and people can’t imagine how it happens and in the end they always say 'Wow,’ and she deserves every 'wow’ that we’ve ever heard.”

Going forward, Sweeney is looking for more “wow” opportunities: “I walk in every day thinking, 'What new idea is somebody going to pop in with? What brainstorm has someone had last night that’s going to result in the next big thing?’ ”

Vanguard Award for Young Leadership

Bret Perkins


Vice President of Government Affairs


Comcast

As a young man, Bret Perkins remembers finding relief in soccer from the stresses faced by most teens. “When I needed to think or was under stress, I would juggle a soccer ball for hours,” he recalled.

Today Perkins’ considerable soccer skills, which he displayed as team captain of Temple University’s soccer team, are still helping Comcast’s vice president of government affairs cope with the stresses of everyday life. “I brought a soccer ball into the office and find myself juggling more and more these days,” he said. “It still helps me think.”

Perkins’ skills in handling stressful regulatory issues and navigating an increasingly complex and contentious telecommunications landscape, also explains why the seven-year Comcast veteran is being honored with a Vanguard Award at the 2008 Cable Show.

Only a few months after Perkins joined Comcast in 2001, the cable operator announced its acquisition of AT&T Broadband. “It shook our world and flipped it upside down,” Perkins said. “Back then Comcast was in 22 states. Now we’re in 39. In 2001, government affairs had oversight of 1,800 local franchising authorities; we now deal with 6,400. Comcast had 23,000 employees. Now there are 90,000 plus.”

The nature of Comcast’s business also shifted. “In 2001, we fundamentally had one product, video,” Perkins said. “Prior to the AT&T deal, our broadband and voice businesses were still relatively small and we were No. 3 in the cable industry. Now, as the country’s largest cable operator, we face far more scrutiny on many levels. We are the largest residential high-speed online provider [the second overall], and the fourth-largest phone provider. That has added layers and layers of complexities to the policy issues at a time when the competitive environment is changing.”

Perkins success in reshaping Comcast’s government affairs to handle those changes can be traced to his first jobs in health care, where he acquired the ability of an emergency room worker to methodically face any crisis.

After growing up in Connecticut, Perkins moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple University so he could be closer to his father, who was working at Temple Hospital. He studied business law and human resources, with the idea of eventually going back to law school and becoming a labor lawyer. But when he graduated in 1991, the economy was terrible and job choices limited.

“I got a job doing human resources and labor relations at the North Philadelphia Health System,” Perkins said. “It was the poorest hospital in Pennsylvania, and I think it still owns that title. I had my first payless payday there. We couldn’t afford to pay benefits for employees for six months of my first year. I couldn’t order pencils. We had a bunch of college kids and one real professional. They just threw us together and told us to figure it out and try not to get killed in the process.”

For Perkins, it was invaluable. “This was my baptism by fire and a great first learning experience that set the basis for everything I’ve done,” he said.

Perkins then took a job in legislative affairs at the Medicaid managed care company now called Keystone Mercy/AmeriHealth Mercy Health Plan. Although he knew nothing about legislative affairs, he was impressed by his prospective boss and excited by the idea of learning a new area. “In a lot of ways, my career has been driven by the people I’ve worked for and worked with,” he said. “I always wanted to be in an environment where I could learn and grow and to be around people who would enable that.”

From here, Perkins moved to Mercy Health System’s corporate office, becoming vice president of system services and the assistant to the president. Once again, he developed a close relationship with his boss, who was grooming him for a larger operational role at one of the hospitals.

After spending nine months as the interim head of operations at a hospital, however, Perkins began to question his future in health care. “This was a very distressed hospital and it was an incredible experience,” he said. “I was practically sleeping there and learned so much. At the end of the experience, I knew I should be loving it. But I wasn’t.”

As Perkins reassessed his career options, he was contacted by a recruiter for Comcast. He talked with Sheila Willard, who is now his boss and the senior vice president of government relations at Comcast. They promised to stay in touch, and a year later, Perkins joined Comcast as director of government affairs.

The move from health care to cable was an unusual one, Perkins admits. But once again, he was attracted by the fact the new job offered an interesting environment and a lot of growth potential. He’d also been working on telemedicine projects, which had gotten him interested in broadband technology.

“I knew I’d have an opportunity to learn a lot,” he said. But he had no idea how quickly he’d be forced to digest the intricacies of the cable business.

The Comcast-AT&T Broadband deal began what Perkins calls his “second baptism by fire,” his background in project management in large healthcare systems proved invaluable. “You step out on the balcony, look at the big picture, figure out what needs to be done and put systems and processes in place to make certain it gets done.”

Since then — he was promoted to senior director of government affairs and now serves as vice president of government affairs — he’s applied the same philosophy to help the company take a much more active role in dealing with an increasingly challenging regulatory and competitive environment.

“We’ve developed what is now a full-blown advocacy program,” he said. “We realize that we can no longer just react to regulatory issues. The business is just too complex. We have to be out there advocating our positions and educating people. We have to make certain they understand the industry and the types of policies that will ensure we can compete on a level playing field and continue to grow.”

As part of that process, Perkins and his team have established much closer relationships with key inter-governmental associations such as the National Governor’s Association and the National League of Cities.

“We have some 250 people around the country [in government affairs] working on issues that affect us,” he said. “It is an incredible task to get them to work together in symphony, but it’s one that I think we’re doing incredibly well.”

Vanguard for Programmers

Kenneth Lowe


President & CEO


The E.W. Scripps Company

As Ken Lowe and his wife moved around the country in the 1970s and 1980s through a succession of radio and then TV jobs, the couple built or remodeled a number of homes. “Ever since college, when I thought about studying architecture, I’ve always been interested in homes and do-it-yourself projects,” he said.

Then, in the late 1980s and 1990s, as Lowe watched the cable industry develop, he began to think about translating that hobby into a cable network that covers homes, gardens, and do-it-yourself projects. “For several years, I would write down ideas on post-it notes for the network and put them in my dream box, which was really a cardboard box,” Lowe said.

Out of that dream box eventually came HGTV, launched in 1994 by The E.W. Scripps Co., laying the foundation for a thriving portfolio of cable programming and Internet life-style brands at the company.

Over the last decade, that success propelled Lowe to president and CEO of E.W. Scripps in 2000. It has also transformed Scripps and the cable industry, demonstrating the popularity of lifestyle programming, and making Lowe a richly deserving recipient of a Vanguard award this year.

“I’ve been lucky to be able to realize a dream and blessed to have a team of people that have turned that dream into reality,” Lowe said.

Early on, Lowe’s dreams revolved around radio and building a career in the entertainment industry. Growing up in rural North Carolina, “one of my great interests was listening to distant radio stations at night,” he said. “It was my window to the world.”

At 10, Lowe was so infatuated with radio that he built a small pirate radio station which had a reach of two or three miles and assembled a group of kids who broadcast top-40 records.

Then, in high school and college, he worked in commercial radio as a DJ. “Radio was really how I made my living and worked my way through college,” he said.

While his college roommate went on to become a successful radio personality, Lowe was more attracted to the management side of the business. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in radio, television and motion pictures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he landed his first management job at Southern Broadcasting in 1969.

In 1980, he joined Scripps as the general manager of the company’s radio properties and in 1988, he became vice president of programming, promotion and marketing for the company’s nine network-affiliated TV stations.

In the early 1990s, though Scripps owned cable systems and had a small investment in Food TV, Lowe doubted it would make the huge investment needed to back a fledgling cable network. “Doing a start-up, where you lost money didn’t seem to be in our DNA,” he said.

The 1992 Cable Act, however, allowed broadcast stations to either take must-carry status or ask for retransmission consent fees. Operators were refusing to give cash, but Lowe saw other broadcasters asking for carriage for new networks. That tactic allowed ABC to launch ESPN2 and News Corp. to get carriage for FX, he recalled.

“So I said, 'Let’s take the leverage our television station group has with retransmission consent and use that to get some distribution for these cable networks,’ ” Lowe said.

Scripps agreed to fund the start-up with $25 million, surprising Lowe and a lot of others in the industry.

“There was a lot of skepticism about the project,” Lowe said. “We were a company with no cable network experience. A lot of people thought we were going after too small a niche. The late Fred Dressler [former head of programming at Time Warner Cable] did an interview a few years ago where he said he only gave us carriage because he didn’t think we’d ever launch it.”

But when Lowe’s brainchild, HGTV, launched at the end of 1994, it quickly took off. Within two-and-a-half years, it reached 30 million homes and became profitable by 1998, two years ahead of the business plan.

That success allowed Lowe to convince the Scripps’ board to buy a majority stake in Food Network in 1997 and continue expanding its cable network portfolio, launching DIY Network in 1999, Fine Living in 2002 and buying CAG in 2004.

“By 2000, we were producing $100 million in profits,” Lowe said.

After moving to corporate as president and CEO in 2000, Lowe continued to reinvent the company, expanding its online and interactive efforts.

When HGTV launched, Lowe and his team wanted to create a brand that would transcend television and allow viewers to interact with its content.

“In my presentation for HGTV, I kept telling people that I didn’t want us to think just in terms of being a cable network,” Lowe said. “I wanted us to be a category buster and compete with the shelter magazines that had been around for 100 years.”

To build that bond with viewers, HGTV programs encouraged people to call the network, or send faxes and post cards with any questions or comments they might have about possible home improvement projects. Lowe even established a call center to handle the queries.

Then the company invested heavily in building up its Web sites. “Today the Food Web site is the No. 1 food-related site in the world,” Lowe said. “And, it all goes back to making those early connections with viewers by encouraging them to contact us, first with the call center and then the Web.”

Over time, the success of the cable networks and online operations have also transformed Scripps and become its fastest growing businesses. That has led to the decision to split the company. In July, the cable networks and interactive assets will become part of Scripps Networks Interactive, while E.W. Scripps will own the newspaper and TV stations. Lowe will be chairman, president and CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive.

“Splitting up a great company like Scripps has been difficult but we believe it is the best way to focus on the different assets and maximize their growth potential,” Lowe said.

Lowe continues to find time for a number of outside associations and charities. But he says Habitat for Humanity is perhaps closest to his heart. “There is nothing better than working shoulder to shoulder with someone to build a house and then hand them the keys to a home they never thought in their wildest dreams they would be able to have,” he said.

Vanguard Award for Associates and Affiliates

Michael Pohl


Vice President and General Manager, On-Demand Systems


Arris

Mike Pohl would like to sell you some video-on-demand and digital advertising systems.

But that doesn’t mean this cable-industry trailblazer — and hard-core golf buff — won’t try to beat you convincingly on the links.

“If you’re a client, he doesn’t give you any slack. He wants to win,” Charter Communications chief technology officer Marwan Fawaz said. “He’s very competitive in golf.”

Fawaz calls Pohl “kind of the quintessential entrepreneur in the cable industry,” who seems to know just about everyone. “If there’s a mayor for the cable industry, Mike would be it,” he said.

In recent years, Pohl has made his mark in the VOD space, and his companies keep getting bought up. Currently, he’s the interim general manager of on-demand systems for Arris, following the company’s 2007 purchase of C-COR.

“We feel lucky to have Mike on our team,” Arris chairman and CEO Bob Stanzione said in a statement. “He has a long and outstanding record of technological innovation, sales leadership and commitment to the customer.”

At C-COR, Pohl headed global strategies. In 2002, C-COR bought Larry Ellison’s nCube, which had just appointed Pohl chief executive. That came after nCube in 1999 acquired SkyConnect, an ad-insertion company which Pohl ran as president and CEO.

Joe Matarese, Arris vice president of advanced technology, worked with Pohl at nCube and C-COR. He confirms that Pohl’s long tenure in the industry has made him one of the best-connected executives in the vendor community.

“It’s amusing walking a show floor with him,” Matarese said. “You take five steps, and you see him shake hands with somebody he knows. After 50 steps and 10 people, you decide you need to get to your meeting.”

Pohl, 56, has swung many different clubs in his quarter-century in cable.

Early in his career, he directed franchising for two operators, Tribune Cable and Douglas Communications. As a national industry lobbyist, Pohl pushed for passage of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which established community franchising and led to the creation of public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels.

He has actively contributed to National Cable & Telecommunications Association efforts, as well as CableLabs, Cable TV Pioneers and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.

And he has been an advocate for small cable operators, helping to create the HITS (Headend In the Sky) satellite service for digital programming, now operated by Comcast Media Center.

Pohl marvels at the transformation of the industry into a multibillion-dollar force.

“It’s gone from people dragging antennas up the side of hills to get better reception, to the invention of pay TV and the tremendous expansion of digital services,” he said. “People in the cable industry have great vision. They have that entrepreneurial spirit.”

Fawaz noted that Pohl himself pursued a vision of advanced advertising, starting with SkyConnect in the 1990s, that is now coming to fruition.

“He was really ahead of the industry on the product,” Fawaz said. “It wasn’t just movies on demand. He was already thinking about advertising.”

Pohl acknowledged that the cable industry has yet to realize the full potential of interactive advertising and VOD. But he disputed the idea that operators are cautious in deploying new technologies.

“You’re not cautious when you’ve invested the type of money this industry has,” he said. “People like Ralph Roberts had real intestinal fortitude to build their businesses.”

This year several major operators are ganging up to give interactive advertising a stronger push forward. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and four others are reportedly pouring upwards of $150 million into “Project Canoe.” The still-under-wraps initiative is supposed to unify technical standards and business processes, so that cable can sell interactive and targeted ads more easily — and on a much bigger scale.

“One of the amazing things to me is that we’re sitting down now and talking about the strategy for how to do this,” Pohl said.

He’s of the opinion, of course, that considerable revenue from new forms of advertising will be cable’s for the taking. “I truly believe there are billions of dollars out there that will become readily available,” he said.

Pohl realizes, though, that the enabling infrastructure can’t be installed overnight.

“One of the reasons I’ve been around so long is that I’m not a particularly patient person, but I understand why things need to happen the way they do,” Pohl said. “It’s easy to see the new idea of the month, the next latest-and-greatest thing. It’s easy to think great thoughts. But the issue is taking those things to market.”

Known for his dry sense of humor, Pohl often jokes in presentations that he’s “unencumbered by engineering principles.” The punchline comes after he has outlined some kind of new capability — and then hands it over to a colleague to drill into the nitty-gritty technical details.

But the quip belies a practical side to his nature, according to Matarese.

“His view of what’s possible has as much to do with understanding the people as much as the technology,” Matarese said. “There are a bunch of technologists who can focus on plugging stuff together. He really focuses on what the people running the businesses are looking for.”

Pohl is planning to stay with Arris at least through the end of 2008 — “I’m working to help these boys get the video business expanded” — and then plans to move on.

“I’m looking at what the opportunities are,” he said.

But it would be tough for Pohl to move away from the Portland, Ore., area, where he relocated following nCube’s acquisition of SkyConnect.

“It’s God’s country,” said Pohl, who has also lived in San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Denver; and the New York area.

And in the Portland area, he added, “there are some spectacular golf courses.”

Vanguard Award for Science and Technology

Paul Allen


Chairman, Charter Communications


Chairman, Vulcan Inc.

Everything Paul Allen gets involved with is designed to change and improve the way people live, learn, conduct business and experience the world. It’s with this mission in mind that he began cobbling together cable systems in the late 1990s to create Charter Communications and it’s that goal that also led to the development of Digeo’s Moxi box.

Allen’s dedication to the development and advancement of cable industry technology led the National Cable & Telecommunications Association to honor the entrepreneur and philanthropist with its Technology Vanguard Award this year.

“I would say Paul’s biggest achievement — and he has many — is his ability to foster invention and new ideas,” said CableLabs president Dick Green. “He pushes the envelope and not in a crazy way. He takes a path where, through investment and ideas, he pushes the boundaries of conventional thinking. And he’s done that successfully in so many areas.”

Allen’s interest in broadband technology has led to several innovations and collaborations. He’s been instrumental in serving as the middleman between cable and Microsoft in the development of the Open Cable Unidirectional Receiver, which enables digital video, including high-definition TV, to be displayed on Media Center PCs driven by Microsoft’s Vista Operating System.

Allen said he’s pleased to be participating in the development of next generation breakthrough technology including CablePC. “Responding to and creating and anticipating what consumers want is what makes this industry exciting,” Allen said via e-mail.

“When it comes to our industry, Paul is always forward thinking and ahead of the curve technologically,” said Charter Communications’ chief technology officer Marwan Fawaz. “And Charter, as well as the industry as a whole, has benefited from that.”

Allen began talking about simulcasting — or as he referred to it: simultrans — long before other cable operators, Fawaz said. Charter was the first operator to build and launch a simulcast headend in Long Beach, Calif., in 2004, and Allen is particularly proud of the Charter’s technology advancements. He strives to anticipate what’s beyond the horizon and he likes to hasten its arrival in a way that’s meaningful to people.

“Paul is a true visionary in the way he looks at the world,” Green said. “He looks at something and rather than say, 'We can’t do that.’ He says, 'Why can’t we do that? 'Let’s figure out a way to do that.’ ”

“Visionary” is a term often associated with Allen. He may be best known for co-founding Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975 (he left the company’s day-to-day operations in 1983). But his Vulcan Inc. umbrella firm has been instrumental in the development, seed money and leadership for numerous and varied projects that include Charter, Digeo, Dreamworks, FlipStart Labs, SpaceShipOne and Submersible Music, among others.

His insatiable curiosity and interests led him to buy a submarine (yellow, naturally) to explore the undersea world, create a company to send people into outer space, go to Antarctica to learn about global warming and establish the interactive Experience Music Project in Seattle. He’s the leader of a rock band, owns the Seattle Seahawks football team and Portland Trail Blazers basketball team and is the primary owner of Seattle’s new Major League Soccer team that will debut in 2009.

One of the world’s wealthiest people, Allen has given away nearly $1 billion through his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. In 2003, he committed $100 million in seed money dedicated to brain research and unveiled the creation of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. The Institute completed its first project in 2006: the Allen Brain Atlas, a Web-based, three-dimensional map of gene expression in the mouse brain.

“Now that the Atlas is complete, we’re turning our focus to three new projects — mapping the human brain, mapping genes in the developing mouse brain and understanding and mapping the mouse spinal cord,” Allen wrote. “Hopefully over the next several years these projects will similarly propel the field of neuroscience forward and lead scientists to new insights into the understanding of neurological disease and disorder that affect more than 50 million Americans each year. We are just beginning work on the genetic database for the human brain.”

Allen’s seemingly unquenchable curiosity and love for technology has driven him to be on the cutting edge of offering cable consumers the latest products and services, Green and Fawaz said. But as much as he appreciates the technology that delivers voice, video and data services via coax and fiber cable, he also knows that one of the cable industry’s strongest assets are the people who work in the business.

“They have embraced change and thrive on the rapid pace that brings new products and services for consumers,” Allen wrote. “I think that is a real change in the industry from a few years ago when the pace of innovation was slower.”

Allen is intricately involved at the strategic planning level working together with the cable industry’s leading technologists to boost cable’s competitive differentiation, Green and Fawaz said jointly in their letter to the NCTA. And he continues to challenge the industry, they added.

Allen recognizes that although cable has a lot of advantages, it also faces challenges. He has organized and hosted meetings with top technologists many times to help create a backdrop and structure for advanced planning, Green and Fawaz said.

“Ours is a joint nomination of Paul because, as the chief technology officer for Charter and as president of the industry’s technology development laboratory, both of us have been witness to his accomplishments on behalf of our industry,” Green and Fawaz wrote in their nomination letter to the NCTA.

He’s also a great dinner host, Green said. “He is so interesting to talk to and his interests are so varied that conversation is never dull,” he said. “Paul is interested and knowledgeable in so many areas — telecommunications, space, deep sea immersibles, global warming, and neuroscience. He listens to people and stimulates conversation.”

Allen’s vision for broadband connectivity and transforming the industry into what it is today has been instrumental for the whole industry, Fawaz and Green agreed.

“I think there is a tremendous opportunity in different disciplines to push the envelope in solving important problems and improve people’s lives,” Allen said.

Vanguard Award for Cable Operations Management

Steven Brookstein


Executive Vice President of Operations


Bresnan Communications

In recent years, Bresnan Communications has provided a notable exception to the subscriber losses many operators have suffered in smaller markets. Since 2006, the operator has been adding basic subscribers and racking up even more impressive gains with its bundled services.

“Currently, 54% of our customers are have a bundle of two or more services and 27% have the triple play,” Bresnan executive vice president of operations Steven Brookstein said. “Our phone penetration is 16% of homes passed. With the exception of Cablevision [Systems] and Cox [Communications], which have been selling phone service for years, that is higher than almost anyone in the industry.”

Bresnan also seems on target for more growth in 2008 and beyond. After adding about 6,400 basic subscribers in 2007, a year when many operators lost subscribers, Brookstein said, in 2008 “we are already 63% ahead of where we were in the same period last year.”

Those operational statistics make Brookstein a well deserving recipient of a Vanguard award this year, said Bresnan president Jeffrey DeMond. “Steve has led the talented operations team [that has] delivered results that are the envy of our industry,” DeMond said.

With characteristic modesty, however, Brookstein gives credit to the whole management team. “Bill [Bresnan, the operator’s chairman and CEO] has always had a great philosophy, which is that to be competitive you have to make investments,” Brookstein said. “I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by visionaries like [Bresnan] and [DeMond] who have given me and my team the beacon and then let us run with it.”

Brookstein traces some of his interest in business and his dedication to providing the best possible customer service back to his family. Growing up in Philadelphia, he worked in a small clothing store that was owned by his grandfather and then passed on to his father.

“The neighborhood was going into hard times, but my father survived for many years by developing loyal repeat customers and offering them a personal touch and great service,” he said.

During his undergraduate work at Temple University, he worked at a local television station. “I was the producer of a live Bozo the Clown [show] that every day had a race with three gerbils,” he recalls. “One of my jobs was to feed the gerbils and get them ready for the daily race.”

The station also aired the original Batman series with Adam West. So, one of Brookstein’s other early TV jobs was to dress like Robin and attend promotional events.

“I had gone to Temple with the idea of getting into broadcasting but somewhere along the line I got interested in advertising,” Brookstein said. Because he wanted to work on the business side, managing accounts, he completed his MBA at Wharton and moved to New York City to work for a series of ad agencies, including Ogilvy & Mather.

In 1979, he was hired at HBO as a manager of multichannel pay marketing. After working on the management team that came up with the idea for Cinemax, Brookstein returned to advertising before being hired at Comcast in 1990 as senior vice president of marketing.

In mid-1994, Tom Baxter, then president of Comcast, called Brookstein into his office and said he wanted to put him in charge of systems in California, Colorado and Connecticut. “I told him 'I’d love to do that but you know that I don’t have any operational experience’ ” Brookstein said. “And he replied, 'Yeah, I know that.’ Tom saw satellite competition on the horizon and he wanted to infuse more of a marketing perspective into their operations.”

Over the next few years, Brookstein also cut his teeth on newer technologies. The southern California systems he managed were the first Comcast systems to launch digital TV and the high-speed data service, Comcast@Home.

In 1999, as the Internet boom heated up, he joined @Home and he eventually became @Home’s general manager of the residential business. But the dot.com bust pushed @Home out of business and then claimed Brookstein’s next employer, the pioneering video-on-demand firm Diva. “I knew Diva was on shaky ground but I was trying to stay in the San Francisco area where my family and I were then living,” Brookstein said.

But the dot.com bust that forced AT&T to sell its cable systems, opened up new opportunities for some entrepreneurs. When Comcast bought AT&T, the company’s executives decided that the smaller AT&T systems in the Mountain states didn’t fit into their urban cluster strategy. That allowed Bill Bresnan, who had been looking for new cable investments since selling his systems in 2000 to Charter, and a group of equity investors to acquire the systems.

“They closed on March 20, 2003, and I started in April 2003,” Brookstein said. “The systems were losing subscribers and had been neglected in terms of investments. So the first order of business was to upgrade the footprint” so Bresnan could roll out a triple-play package of video, voice and data service.

After completing the rebuild ahead of schedule and under budget, the company quickly moved to launch high-speed data, digital television, digital video recorders, phone and most recently high-definition programming. Currently, about 97% of Bresnan’s systems are 550 Megaherz or better and about three quarters of 750MHz or higher.

Brookstein and his team also moved to improve customer service. Bresnan consolidated its 29 customer service offices into a main call center in Billings, Mont., with a satellite operation in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Along with a series of management changes and the upgrade, which has allowed much improved services, Brookstein said the new call centers have helped Bresnan attain one of the highest levels of customer satisfaction in the cable industry.

The investments in the company’s plant are also allowing it to move quickly against satellite on the HD front. Many Bresnan subscribers already have nearly 30 HD channels and Brookstein says the company will offer 50 by the end of 2008, with plans to hit 100 in 2009.

Bresnan also continues to speed up its Internet offering and has been successfully expanding its commercial business. Recently, the company won a contract from Qwest Communications International to provide the data transport business for the Wyoming state government.

Vanguard Award for Government and Community Relations

Carol Melton


Executive Vice President of Global Public Policy


Time Warner Inc.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has named Time Warner Inc.’s Carol Melton a 2008 Vanguard award winner for government and community relations. The laurel recognizes individuals “who have had a significant impact on promoting a positive public image and advocating public policy positions for the cable industry,” said the group.

Those who know Melton say she has delivered on that score her entire career. As Time Warner’s executive vice president for global public policy, she is its top lobbyist — domestically and internationally — and oversees offices in Washington, D.C.; London; Brussels; and Hong Kong.

“All of us at Time Warner rely on her counsel,” said president and CEO Jeff Bewkes. “Carol’s work in developing rational policy solutions is vital to Time Warner fulfilling its mission of delivering excellent journalism and entertainment to inform and entertain our global audience.”

Melton came by her wisdom the hard way — years of working in the trenches and learning the complexities of communications law one issue at a time. She arrived in Washington in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and a masters in journalism and communications from the University of Florida. Neither were enough.

“I had not planned to be a lawyer, but it didn’t take more than a month in this town to realize having a law degree was a good credential,” said Melton. “It was a challenge in the 1970s for a young woman who was ambitious and wanted to work.”

Nor was the law an unknown quantity. Melton’s father, Howell Melton, is a barrister and has served as a Florida state circuit judge for more than 30 years. He remains active on the bench at age 85.

Melton attended the Washington College of Law at American University, earned her J.D. and went to work for the Hogan & Hartson law firm in 1981. While there, she handled issues for clients before the Federal Communications Commission — and attended a lot of hearings.

While she was learning a great deal, the St. Augustine, Fla., native grew restless with the law-firm routine. “I felt I would like being in the business world,” Melton said. “I’m not a billable-hours fan.”

In 1983, Melton joined the NCTA as an assistant general counsel and spent three years there working closely with then-CEO Tom Wheeler. She had her first child, Matt, in 1986, but that didn’t stall her career. Melton was soon tapped to join the staff of the FCC’s then-Commissioner Mark Fowler as a legal advisor and handled cable, broadcast and mass media issues.

A year later, Warner Communications lured her away and Melton soon found herself helping to shepherd the mega merger of Warner and Time Inc. past Washington regulators. She enjoyed the challenge of representing a complex media company with multiple properties and that remains her strong suit, say admirers.

Melton moved on to Viacom in 1997 and again found herself providing counsel in another major merger when it purchased CBS in 1999 for $36 billion. After the deal was approved, her policy responsibilities included CBS, Paramount, MTV Networks, Showtime and Simon & Shuster.

Colleagues present and past laud Melton’s ability to manage an effective policy and lobbying shop while keeping company brass cognizant of important, but arcane, issues. “So much of what goes on down in Washington can be a mystery to a lay person,” said Carl Folta, executive vice president of communications at Viacom. “[Carol] had the ability to explain it to us in a way that made sense, and she gave us potential solutions” to problems.

Melton guided Viacom through the firestorm surrounding Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl. MTV produced the half-time show and CBS carried the event over its 227 affiliate stations.

“Carol handled that superbly,” said Folta. “It was really a no-win situation for everybody.”

The FCC eventually fined Viacom $550,000 and the company continues to appeal the penalty in court.

Melton rejoined Time Warner in June 2005 to run its lobbying operations. “I had been part of this company from the beginning,” she said. “I felt there was more for me to do here.”

That includes dealing with big issues like the digital transition and the challenge of putting copyrighted content online while preserving Time Warner’s ownership and the ability to make money from it. On a daily basis, Melton oversees the policy concerns of Time Warner Cable (which the company has announced it will soon sell), its distribution operations, Warner Brothers studio, America Online and Time Inc.

“I juggle all of these businesses and I try to ensure that each of the company’s divisions has flexibility from the policy arena to be able to make the business decisions it needs,” Melton said.

Melton’s management style is very hands on, said Time Warner lobbyist Gail MacKinnon, who has known her for more than 15 years and reported to Melton at Viacom. “But she promotes the people working for her,” she added. As well, “[Carol is] a master of positioning the policy office as an integral part of the company.”

Melton is also known for her direct assessments of company policy and current regulatory prospects. “She doesn’t spin or sugarcoat,” said Folta. “She tells you the way it is.”

The lobbyist is highly regarded in Washington and that’s no small reason for her success, say colleagues. “Carol has great relationships with elected officials, advocacy groups and industry leaders across the spectrum, because they trust her knowledge and judgment,” said Bewkes.

Melton and her husband enjoy traveling, and she’s a big reader. Her latest favorite book is The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, by Kathleen Flinn, about the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. “I love the title,” Melton said — it concerns the best way to cut onions.

Melton is also a big believer in networking and feels it has served her well at critical junctures in her working life. “The bonds you form in your career are so important,” she told a group of women telecom executives in 2003. “Be nice to everyone, even in the elevator.”

Vanguard for Marketing

Samuel Howe


Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer


Time Warner Cable

As Time Warner Cable promotes its bundled offering of video, voice and high-speed Internet against rising competition from phone company rivals with their own triple-play packages, it has as its chief marketing officer, Sam Howe, a man as experienced in that battlefield as anyone in cable, his admirers say.

As a marketer at Telewest, in the United Kingdom, he spearheaded what’s believed to be the first deployment of bundled cable: telephone and Internet service on a cable plant in 1995. He was up against pretty tough incumbents on several fronts: most notably British Telecom and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV satellite-television platform.

Howe first went to the United Kingdom for Cox Communications, as group marketing director for a joint venture between Cox and Southwestern Bell, before shifting to Telewest (now part of Virgin Media).

His cable resume goes back to Centel Cable, in Chicago, in 1982, and in 1985 he’s credited with creating an innovative “60 days’ free cable” campaign.

After a stint at Turner Broadcasting System and, in his words, “a dot-bomb,” he came to Time Warner Cable in 2003 as senior vice president of voice services to launch Time Warner Cable’s digital voice line (which now claims more than 3.1 million subscribers). He was promoted to executive vice president and CMO in July 2005.

He has helped on numerous industry marketing initiatives, including the Cable Telecommunications Association for Marketing’s MSO [multiple-system operator] Marketing Co-Op and on the National Cable & Telecommunications Association marketing campaigns, including the digital-TV transition public service announcements that are currently appearing. He also co-chaired last year’s CTAM Summit in Washington, D.C.

“He really has that big picture view of the business,” CTAM president Char Beales said.

For his innovations and leadership abilities Howe is receiving the 2008 Vanguard Award for marketing.

“This is certainly an appropriate honor for Sam,” said David Van Valkenburg, who worked with Howe at Cox and at Telewest.

Van Valkenburg said Howe knows the value of research and of basing marketing messages on a solid foundation. He also knows how to respond quickly and effectively when a competitor adapts. At one point, U.K. telco BT introduced a vastly discounted “friends and family” calling price that undercut Telewest’s claim to be the low-cost telephone provider. Howe’s response was for Telewest to contend its package overall was lowest price — and to offer to pay consumers 10 times the difference in price if they could prove otherwise.

“We had very, very few who tried to take us up on it because we were able to prove that we were cheaper overall,” Van Valkenburg said.

Howe said his experience in the United Kingdom is what brought him to Time Warner Cable. “That was like a competitive frying pan,” he said, battling Murdoch’s Sky (the dominant video player) and BT on phone and Internet.

“I guess I’d say that’s one thing that’s wonderful about this industry,” Howe said. “I went over to help them with video; learned about phone; ended up stumbling into bundling and things a lot of other people in the U.S. did a lot with it afterward, not only ourselves. That’s an exciting thing about how this business works.”

He learned in England the value of being patient with marketing messages, of making good choices based on sound reasoning and sticking with them. “Your competitive battle isn’t all won or lost in a day. You have time to be thoughtful and respond. But you better respond and be aggressive.”

To that end, he’s enthusiastic about Time Warner Cable’s new advertising campaign that features actor Mike O’Malley, of the CBS sitcom Yes Dear. The first one features O’Malley trying to figure out what all the various charges on his Verizon phone bill are for, as opposed to Time Warner Cable’s unlimited calling plan.

“They’re almost political ads,” Howe said. “They take a real shot. They spend most of the time talking about weaknesses of that competitor and finish with a reminder that Time Warner doesn’t have that problem.”

“He’s been a huge champion of really understanding the competition,” Beales said.

She also credited Howe’s organizational skills within Time Warner Cable, executing a regional structure that placed strong marketers within Time Warner’s regions (such as Brian Kelly in the Carolinas, Gregg DiPaolo in the Midwest and John Keib in New York City).

Howe said the company’s six regions have regional marketing chiefs who “are industry vets who really understand a regional marketplace like I can’t.” He added: “I feel my job is to empower regionalism, to make it come alive. Some of that is recognizing what they do best and then how a corporation should serve that.”

Van Valkenburg credited Howe for a scientific method that draws on empirical data: “He is creative, but it’s creativity based upon research and trials and testing rather than taking an idea and flying with it.”

Howe said extensive research helps in finding “the right elegant proposition. I really believe in keeping things simple.”

To that end, Time Warner Cable’s response to DirecTV’s emphasis on the number of high-definition channels carried is to reassure customers Time Warner won’t charge them extra for HD. Howe credits Keib with the tagline “Home of the Free HD.”

A Chicago native, Howe has New England ties dating back to college (Bowdoin, in Maine) and early jobs in radio in New Bedford, Mass., and Boston. He lives in a Connecticut suburb between Time Warner’s corporate poles of New York City and Stamford. When he’s not watching the younger of his two daughters play high-school basketball, he spends as much time as he can sailing his 28-foot sloop, The Rebecca B, on Penobscot Bay. Sam and Rebecca Howe own a lighthouse, circa 1840, on Deer Isle, Maine.

“It’s not too big to singlehand, which I find happens a lot,” he said of his sailboat. “Or on a nice day when more people are happy to come, [it will] take a crowd. I don’t know if it’s a metaphor for careers or life, but it can be singlehanded or it can accommodate a group.”

Special Vanguard Award for Outstanding Contribution

Richard Leghorn


Founder and Board Member Emeritus


CableLabs

In the 1960s, Richard Leghorn and his wife were constantly upset about the extremely poor television reception at their summer home in Cape Cod, Mass. “You couldn’t get a signal from Boston without a huge antenna,” Leghorn said. “It was ugly. Today, you’d solve that by calling up a cable operator, but back then that wasn’t an option.”

There was, after all, no cable system in Cape Cod. So in 1966, as a kind of hobby, Leghorn, who was already a prominent entrepreneur and defense contractor, built one.

Cape Code Cablevision would be the first of nine systems that Leghorn would eventually own in five states, but his lifelong involvement in the cable industry only deepened when he sold his last system in 1985. By that time, Leghorn had begun a groundbreaking effort to create an industrywide research and development organization.

The result was CableLabs, which was incorporated on May 11, 1988.

“Dick’s vision has been instrumental in making our industry what it is today,” said Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast and the board chairman of CableLabs in a statement. “The product innovation we’re able to offer consumers for video, voice and Internet — and the new business opportunities that have arisen from CableLabs’ efforts — would not have been possible without his leadership.”

Leghorn’s role as “the founding father” of CableLabs, which is being honored this year at the Cable Show with a special Vanguard award, developed out of a long-standing interest in cutting edge technologies.

After getting a degree in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1939, Leghorn worked at the Eastman Kodak Company until 1941, when he joined the armed forces.

During the war, he was involved in a number of cutting-edge efforts to gain intelligence through aerial photography. Between 1943 and 1945, he commanded the 30th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, which shot film that helped the allies prepare for the D-Day invasion.

After the war, Leghorn became a leading expert on national security, space age technologies and disarmament issues. In 1946, he wrote an influential paper on the need for the U.S. to develop high-altitude reconnaissance planes, a proposal that laid the foundation for the development of the U2 spy plane.

Later, during the Korean War, he played a key role in a group that developed early proposals to use high-altitude vehicles, including satellites, to take pictures of Soviet territory. Ultimately those ideas led to the development of the first U.S. spy satellite system, Corona.

In 1957, Leghorn founded Itek Corp. in 1957 with financial backing from the Rockefeller family. It developed and manufactured the cameras that were used by Corona to shoot the first U.S. spy satellite photos in 1960. “The camera is in the Smithsonian,” Leghorn said. “But you wouldn’t know it was a camera. It’s as big as a room.”

For his contribution to the programs, Leghorn had been honored by the Air Force and inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame.

His interest in pushing the technological envelope also played a prominent role in Leghorn’s cable career.

As he experimented with a number of newer technologies and built cable systems, he grew “quite frustrated with the state of technology in the industry.”

A lot of equipment was unreliable, there were no standards and operators had to deal with many different vendors who had incompatible equipment, he noted.

In 1984, as Leghorn was preparing to sell his last cable system, he saw a potential solution to the problem when Congress passed the National Cooperative Research Act, which made it easier for U.S. companies to cooperate on research efforts without running into trouble with antitrust rules.

In developing the idea of an industry wide research and development organization, Leghorn said he drew on ideas from economist Joseph Schumpeter and systems engineering, which was developed by Bell Labs in the 1920s.

Schumpeter had divided the development of new technologies into three states: invention, innovation and diffusion. Leghorn felt that inventing new technologies was best left to the private and public groups, and diffusion into the marketplace was best handled by private companies reacting to market forces.

But an industrywide group could speed the intermediate state of innovation.

A key part of that process would be the development of standards and an industrywide embrace of the “systems engineering” techniques that had been so successfully used in the telecommunications and information technology sectors.

Leghorn believed that systems engineering would smooth the transition from one technology to the next. Under systems engineering, equipment would be designed so that products from different vendors should work together without problems. New components would be compatible, or interoperable, with existing, older systems and engineers would also take into account possible future developments. That way operators wouldn’t have to replace all their equipment each time they wanted to introduce a new service.

When Leghorn first proposed these ideas in the mid-1980s, however, the industry had other worries. “They were too busy dealing with regulatory issues and buying and selling systems,” he said.

In 1987, however, some of the key regulatory issues had been temporarily solved and cable was more receptive to the idea. Leghorn pitched the idea to the head of the NCTA, James Mooney.

“He felt it was not the right project for the NCTA because of its short term focus on lobbying,” Leghorn said. But Mooney was bullish on the idea and helped put together a committee to explore the idea of creating a R&D organization.

Tele-Communications Inc.’s John Malone agreed to be chairman and other operators quickly signed on. In the summer of 1988, they hired Dick Green as president and CEO. “Dick was the perfect choice” and has been instrumental in much of the organizations subsequent success, Leghorn said.

“Cable has taken more advantage of the potential of cooperative research than any other industry,” Leghorn said. “Twenty years ago cable was being beaten up by broadcasters and the telcos. Today we’re ahead of them, and CableLabs is one of the reasons why.”

 For more news from NCTA's The Cable Show '08, click here.

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