The Bill and Brian Show


I had a tough weekend — had to spend the weekend in Jackson Hole," Bill Bresnan joked over the phone last week.

Better than just being in that Wyoming celebrity hot spot, MSO owner Bresnan was there to meet with some of his employees. It was the start of a weeklong cruise through Wyoming and Montana.

Jackson Hole — "It's a great place to own a system."

If you're Bill Bresnan and you're touring some of the mountain-state cable systems your company acquired in March, what better way to go than with Brian Lamb and two C-SPAN buses?

Assuming, of course, Motherhood and Apple Pie weren't available.

Bresnan — who'd sold his previous cable company to Paul Allen's Charter in 2000 — came back with a commitment to C-SPAN. He's vowed full-time carriage of C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 in the former AT&T Broadband systems that had carried the channels on a spotty basis. He's back on C-SPAN's board, too.

Last Wednesday, before Bresnan called from a Bozeman, Mont., high school, the synergies were all in synch.

C-SPAN's popular morning call-in show, Washington Journal, aired partly from a Montana State University classroom in Bozeman. Lamb officiated in front of a big old poster with BRESNAN in capital letters, on a poster showing white-capped Grand Tetons and yellow C-SPAN buses. Specifically, the setting was the university's Burns Telecommunications Center.

Back in Washington, answering the students' questions: Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana). "Welcome to cat country, and welcome to Montana," Burns said to Lamb, even though the senator was the one in Washington.

Bresnan sounded like he was keeping it together. It might have helped that he wasn't spending hours on the bus, instead taking the company plane from place to place, so that he could breakfast with the system employees. "It's always good to get out," he said. "I love being out in the field."

Clearly, Bresnan loves C-SPAN — enough to bump The Weather Channel, in some systems, from basic to expanded-basic to make room for his commitment.

"About 10% of the population are C-SPAN junkies," he guesstimated. "That's a pretty significant number. When you consider sports programming gets 20 or 25% — it's a very vocal 20 or 25%, but that's what it is. You consider the cost of sports programming and the cost of this. I think it's not only the right thing to do socially but the right thing to do economically and financially."

Lamb said when Bresnan and his brother, senior VP Pat Bresnan, suggested a mutual branding tour, "That is nirvana for somebody like me."

"It's fascinating," Lamb went on. "After all these years, the people in this business today are the best we've ever seen. They're as interested in this as we've ever seen. And you really have some true commitments at the top. After all these years, 25 years, it couldn't be better for us."

Bresnan — who says his channel-expanding rebuilds are going under budget and ahead of schedule — sounded like he couldn't be happier, either.

"We believe in being good citizens," he said. "And it's not just altruistic. I think that doing the right thing is good business in the long run. It's served us well in the past and that's the way we plan to operate."