Abbas Opts for More Cooperative Approach

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While small cable operators must continue their battles to lower pricing for programming and hardware, the new head of the National Cable Television Cooperative, believes its members should align themselves more closely with larger operators on some issues.

Jeff Abbas outlined those as some of the priorities as he establishes himself as president and CEO of the buying group for small cable companies. Abbas, a lawyer and former vice president of programming for Adelphia Communications Corp., most recently served as the NCTC’s senior vice president of business affairs, before succeeding Mike Pandzik, the organization’s founding president, who retired in August.

The NCTC represents more than 1,100 independent cable operators, their 6,000 individual systems and more than 14 million subscribers nationwide.

“It’s more critical for us to have a presence with the large operators as they work through new business ventures,” said Abbas, 43, citing the recent multi-MSO deal for wireless service with Sprint Nextel Corp., in which other operators can participate.

“We need to have a greater understanding and presence in all those sort of larger-scale, industry-level issues,” he said.

Earlier this month, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow spoke at the NCTC’s board dinner. “There are issues where small cable can help the NCTA,” Abbas said. “We’re definitely looking forward to having a great relationship with Kyle and his organization.”

Before his promotion on Nov. 11, Abbas’s business-affairs responsibilities included finding ways for the NCTC members to obtain volume discounts on network programming license fees, as large MSOs do.

The mandate was to find “ways for our members to be treated more so like an MSO, and that sometimes means you have to find ways for them to act more so like an MSO,” according to Abbas.

Abbas plans to pursue similar tacks on the hardware front.

“We also need to have a more-aggressive thrust on price negotiations over hardware, most particularly set-top boxes,” he said. “That’s the major item today.”

Two weeks ago, in a sign of the group’s proactive stance, the NCTC filed suit against OLN, claiming the channel violated its carriage deal by mandating that small systems must distribute the network to 40% of their subscribers to qualify for its National Hockey League telecasts. Abbas declined to elaborate, stating that the suit spoke for itself.

The NCTC must also guide its members through the digital transition and help them expand into ancillary services, such as on-demand and HDTV, according to Abbas.

And while the American Cable Association, a lobbying group for independent operators, pushes for small cable’s political agenda in Washington, the NCTC must also bring its business concerns to the Hill, according to Abbas.

A lawyer by trade, Abbas started his legal career in 1987 before becoming vice president of programming at the operator. During his tenure at Adelphia, Abbas was elected to the NCTC’s board, serving from 1999 until his appointment to the staff in 2003.

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