The 2016 Cable Hall of Fame inductees are a group of significant players from a wide variety of industry disciplines, from present-day leaders in technology and operations to the executive who helped launch one of cable’s iconic programming services to a pair of key political power players with front-row seats to this year’s intriguing presidential election.
The new honorees include Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe; Pat Esser, president of Cox Communications; John D. Evans, chairman and CEO of Evans Telecommunications; Tom Rogers, non-executive chairman of TiVo; Robert J. Stanzione, chairman and CEO of Arris, and John O. “Dubby” Wynne, retired president and CEO of Landmark Communications, who helped that company launch The Weather Channel.
All will be honored at the 19th annual Cable Hall of Fame celebration, set for Monday (May 16) in the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel’s Grand Ballroom. The gala event, to benefit The Cable Center in Denver, coincides with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s INTX: The Internet and Television Expo.
“I am thrilled to welcome these seven industry leaders into the Cable Hall of Fame,” said Michael Willner, president and CEO of Penthera Partners and the chairman of the 2016 Cable Hall of Fame selection committee. “This year’s class members represent so many different aspects of our industry — from programming to operators, to technology and equipment. Each one of them has had a unique and immense impact on the growth of the cable industry and its influence on today’s society.”
Also to be honored at the Hall of Fame ceremonies — in his hometown of Boston — is Continental Cablevision co-founder, chairman and CEO Amos Hostetter, 2016 recipient of the Bresnan Ethics in Business Award, named in honor of the late William Bresnan, founder and chairman of Bresnan Communications and a longtime member of the Cable Center board (see profile).
Katty Kay, lead anchor of BBC World News America, the BBC’s flagship U.S. newscast, will return to emcee the Boston event. She also hosted the 2012 Hall of Fame celebration.
“We are delighted to have Katty Kay return as the master of ceremonies for our Cable Hall of Fame celebration,” Jana Henthorn, president and CEO of The Cable Center, said. “The Cable Hall of Fame is the premier event that honors our industry, and I look forward to welcoming industry friends and associates as we gather to salute our seven honorees.”
Special thanks to Erica Stull of Stull WordWorks for honoree profiles.
Amos B. Hostetter Jr.
2016 Bresnan Ethics in
Business Award Honoree
Long known as a role model and industry statesman, Amos Hostetter is a natural fit for the Bresnan Ethics in Business Award. Over the course of his more than 50-year career, Hostetter has consistently demonstrated ethical leadership and personal commitment to community and society.
The co-founder, chairman and CEO of Continental Cablevision entered the cable industry in 1963. That’s when he and Amherst fraternity brother Irv Grousbeck each came up with $1,500 to build cable operations in Tiffin and Fostoria, Ohio. From that humble beginning and 4,000 subscribers, Continental Cablevision grew to serve 4.2 million customers across the U.S. before it was purchased by US West in 1996. Continental was the nation’s third-largest cable MSO at the time.
Unlike many cable companies that got bigger through acquisition, Continental grew by building new franchises, a process that put company leaders in close contact with local franchise officials. The early days of cable franchising were rough and tumble, with operators and communities aggressively pressing negotiating advantages. Unimpeachable ethical standards were a trademark of Continental’s franchise activities, and the “square shooter” reputation helped the company succeed.
“The single most important thing I did to maintain ethics in the company was recruiting,” Hostetter said. “Irv and I wanted people with a well-tuned moral compass. The standing rule was, ‘don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your mother to read about in the newspaper.’”
Hostetter has served as a board member and chairman of NCTA, and he was a highly respected representative for the cable industry. In his 1999 interview for The Cable Center’s oral history program, Hostetter told interviewer Steve Nelson that cable was an industry that can do well by doing good. “I think the companies that have set a standard of service and performance and contribution to their communities have in fact been the companies that have financially done the best … I would certainly argue that that was Continental’s objective in its years in business.”
Hostetter was a founding board member and former chairman of C-SPAN and of Cable in the Classroom. He also served on the boards of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Children’s Television Workshop. Today, he is chairman of Pilot House Associates.
His charitable work includes positions as chair emeritus of the WGBH board of trustees and Amherst College, and trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’
With more than two decades on air and multiple best-selling books to her credit, Mika Brzezinski has earned her place in the spotlight. The co-host of one of cable’s most popular news shows started out in Hartford, Conn., as a broadcaster, editor and reporter with WTIC-TV. Brzezinski went national in 1996 as a CBS News correspondent and anchor. Her work for CBS included live reporting from lower Manhattan during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She moved to cable in 2007 as co-host of Morning Joe, where she provides counterpoint to the comments of co-host Joe Scarborough.
Politics and hard work come naturally to Brzezinski. Growing up during the Carter administration as the daughter of national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and sculptor Emilie Brzezinski, she was exposed early to big ideas and remarkable people. The family hosted dignitaries, including the pope, and the budding journalist had a view of work-life balance at the highest level. She said her father’s political experience, writing and ability to communicate policy helped prepare her for her current job. And she credited her mother for fostering her career commitment.
“She was always an artist first and a wife and mother second,” Brzezinski recalled. “To be a better mother and wife, she needed to foster her passion for art. In doing so, she taught me how to be the best version of myself by following my own passions. I respect my dad for so many reasons, but one of them is his faith in my mom and her talent.”
As the demands of covering a presidential campaign increase, Brzezinski recharges by running. Central Park is her favorite route when on home turf, and she often conducts interviews and business calls as she runs. A student and chronicler of the unique challenges women confront in their careers, Brzezinski is an advocate for women in the workplace — especially through her Know Your Value campaign. She advises the next generation of female journalists: “Don’t apologize — speak with conviction and confidence. Don’t worry about making everyone comfortable — command respect first and friendship will follow.”
Growing up in Algona, Iowa, Pat Esser was hooked on cable early. The future Cox executive was dazzled when cable came to town and his family suddenly had access to 12 TV channels.
“Our rotary antenna was our portal to the world,” he recalled. As a youngster, Esser also learned about personal commitment to customer service while running deliveries for his family’s dry-cleaning business. “I understand what it means to have your family name on the door. I fully appreciate what the Cox family feels about their company.”
Esser got his first cable job climbing poles and then making door-to-door sales calls while studying at the University of Northern Iowa. After graduation in 1979, Esser joined Cox as director of programming with the company’s new cable system in Hampton Roads, Va. He returned to UNI to earn a master’s degree in communications media and then came back to Cox for his first big professional challenge: building the company’s advertising sales division, known today as Cox Media. “Building a cause, building a business” was the source of some of his happiest memories, Esser said.
Named Cox’s corporate vice president of advertising sales in 1991, Esser became the company’s Western division vice president of operations in 1999. Promotions continued, and he was ultimately named president of Cox Communications in 2006.
Esser has led the Cox team through a range of business obstacles over the years, but none would be as challenging as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Cox operates in Louisiana markets, and Katrina was devastating for the company’s employees and communities, as well as its cable plant. “Being part of that recovery, how Cox responded to our people, our customers, changed me forever,” Esser recalled. “[Cox chairman] Jim Kennedy didn’t blink. He said, ‘Make sure we know where our employees are at, make sure they’re OK, that they know we’re going to rebuild the market and they’ll have jobs.’”
That experience was one of many that cemented Esser’s passion for his job. “I’ve been at Cox 37 years, and I still love coming to work,” he said. “My heart rate still picks up.”
John D. Evans
Chairman and CEO
John Evans has been a leader in media from an early age. He served four years as a U.S. Navy communications officer during the Vietnam buildup, and was put in command of Navy television worldwide at 26. He went into radio after the service, but saw cable television as a “sunshine industry” with huge potential.
When American Television and Communications offered him a cable-system job in Charleston, W. Va., in 1972, he grabbed it. In 1976, Arlington TeleCommunications Corp. (ARTEC) recruited him to head up the creation of the first cable system in the Washington, D.C. area. Because it served members of Congress, FCC commissioners and other federal officials, the Arlington system played an outsize industry role as cable grew and drew greater scrutiny.
When ARTEC’s investors sold in 1983, the system became Hauser Communications’s flagship operation. Evans became president of Hauser Communications, working with industry visionary Gus Hauser for more than 12 years.
Even with an impressive cable operations background, Evans may be best known for his contribution to programming. In 1977, he went to lunch with an old Navy buddy, Brian Lamb, who was then Washington bureau chief for Cablevision magazine. Evans commented that the House of Representatives had just installed closed-circuit cameras. The two friends talked about beaming the House’s closed-circuit feed across the river via microwave to the Arlington system for public distribution.
“Maybe we could open the government up,” Evans recalled thinking. He believed doing so might prevent another Vietnam War. “We filed for a microwave license from Capitol Hill to our headend site, and agreed to provide free of charge all the technical space and facilities.” That was the start of C-SPAN.
Evans has been on the National Cable & Telecommunications Association board of directors since 1981 — the organization’s longest-serving board member. He has also been a C-SPAN board member since the network’s inception in 1979. Public service is a strong value for Evans. He represents the industry as the only nonacademic trustee of Internet2, an advanced, higher-education technology community connected by 18,000 miles of fiber backbone.
Designated a “Patron of Diplomacy,” Evans serves on the U.S. Department of State’s Fine Arts Committee and its LGBT Global Equality Fund. As founder of the John D. Evans Foundation, he is committed to social justice, AIDS vaccine research, environmental protection, technological innovation, education and the arts.
If Tom Rogers were a superhero, he might be known as the “Rejuvenator.” Over the course of more than 30 years in telecommunications, TiVo’s chairman has made a specialty of bringing organizations back from the brink. “I guess I’ve always had fun when something that looked like it was over and irrelevant was born again,” he said.
Rogers’s early fascination with media was inspired by an eighth-grade social studies teacher. “He brought media into the classroom as a way of understanding the world,” he says. Rogers was probably the only teenager in Scarsdale, N.Y., with his own TV Guide subscription who also had a fascination with the magazine’s weekly column on the FCC and industry activity.
After graduating from Columbia Law School and working for two years with a Wall Street law firm, Rogers began his telecom career in 1981. He was hired as senior counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Telecommunications, Consumer Protection and Finance Subcommittee, with responsibilities that included FCC oversight and drafting the Cable Act of 1984. The ’84 Act, he said, “was very much about unleashing the cable industry’s potential for more channels to develop, which was a key theory of the case.” Even with his belief in the promise of cable, Rogers said, “it surprised me just how many channels, how much content, how many sources of information, ultimately emerged.”
He joined the private sector in 1987, going to NBC and quickly becoming first president of NBC Cable, starting up the division and launching CNBC. Rogers then led Primedia for four years. The company owned media properties ranging from Cable World to New York magazine.
He then joined TiVo in 2005 as CEO. As cable operators developed competing digital video recorders, TiVo’s successful run appeared to be in jeopardy. Rogers attacked that issue with a vengeance by bringing TiVo ultimately to a full embrace by the cable industry and setting the company back on a path to growth. TiVo now serves about 75 operators in more than 30 countries. In May, the company agreed to be acquired by Rovi in a deal valued at about $1.1 billion.
Rogers advises the next generation of cable programming executives not to “rest on existing models, but know that if you don’t push to the next level, someone else is gonna push there and make you less meaningful or relevant in a changing content distribution and viewership world … No matter how many noes others say you will get, if you’ve got the right plan, the cable industry will listen and ultimately buy in.”
MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’
Joe Scarborough has always dreamed big. As a kid, he wanted to be “an all-star shortstop in the major leagues and a guitarist in a band bigger than the Beatles.” And he has been talking about politics most of his life.
The Morning Joe co-host enjoyed watching the news with his father from an early age. “We would watch election night returns together,” he recalled. “Those were some of my earliest and best memories with him.”
As an attorney in Florida, Scarborough continued to pursue his interest in politics. He ran as a Republican in Florida’s 1st Congressional District, seeking to replace the retiring Democratic incumbent. Scarborough won that vote and went on to serve four terms in Congress, representing Florida from 1994 to 2001 and serving on the Judiciary, Armed Services, Oversight and National Security committees.
After leaving Congress, Scarborough found his way into cable as host of Scarborough Country, an evening political show on MSNBC. When Don Imus left the network’s morning show in 2007, Scarborough lobbied to replace him. Morning Joe debuted in July 2007.
Scarborough said he believes his time as a politician gives him valuable perspective as a political commentator. “When I was a congressman,” he said, “I witnessed politics up close and saw what happened behind closed doors. That insight allowed me to call out politicians when they weren’t being straightforward with the voters and the press. Being a politician … has always enhanced my analysis and given me better intuition in interviews.”
In addition to his career as a political representative, cable commentator and author, Scarborough has almost achieved one of his early dreams. They’re not bigger than the Beatles, but Scarborough’s band, Morning Joe Music, is an important part of his life. The nine-piece group performs regularly in New York, and recently went on the road for a gig at South by Southwest in Austin. Scarborough plays guitar and sings lead.
“I just love music,” he said. “It’s great to share the experience with other people — especially members of the band who have become my friends. I love the process from start to finish.”
Robert J. Stanzione
Chairman and CEO
“When a door opens, walk through.” Robert Stanzione’s advice to future cable engineers has guided his own career and yielded tremendous results.
As a kid in South Carolina, Stanzione dreamed of being an architect, an airline pilot or an engineer. He chose the third option, earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Clemson University and a master’s in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University. “Engineering was and still is a great basic education; a way to get started in industry,” he said. “The rest of it was on-the-job training.”
AT&T gave the young engineer room to explore. He spent 25 years with the company, eventually moving into general management. Stanzione was introduced to the exciting world of cable when he managed an AT&T-Bell Labs project with ANTEC Corporation. “It was sort of a skunk works within Bell Labs, the first hybrid fiber-coax in the industry. I became fascinated, not only with the technology, but with the dynamic aspects of the cable industry and the people in it … It was ready, aim, fire; let’s try it out, see if it works, and if it works, we’ll deploy it.”
Nortel Networks and ANTEC formed a joint venture in 1995 and recruited Stanzione to start Arris Interactive. It was an exciting time as the cable industry prepared to introduce telephone service. Stanzione recalled: “It was a fairly radical idea in the early ’90s that a cable operator could offer reliable telephone service. It was a lot of fun being at the front end of that and seeing our products going into networks all over the world that allowed cable companies to offer reliable two-way service. We knew the technology was solid, but we didn’t know whether the industry would accept the responsibility of this culture of reliability. It came through with flying colors.”
Stanzione and his team worked their way through the telecom crash of 2001, subsequently building Arris into a Fortune 500 enterprise through a series of strategic mergers, acquisitions and the internal development of advanced broadband and video platforms. He has walked through lots of doors over the years, and advises others to do the same.
“Just have fun!” he advised. “[Cable] is such a dynamic business. It always has been and will continue to be. Look forward, try new things.”
John O. “Dubby” Wynne
Retired President and CEO
Although he wasn’t a weatherman, Dubby Wynne has always known which way the wind was blowing in cable. He and his Landmark colleagues seized an opportune moment in the industry’s growth to build The Weather Channel, an international institution.
A talented high school athlete, Wynne liked competition and change. “I went to law school because I thought I wanted to go into politics, and quickly learned that isn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a businessman.” He joined Landmark in 1974 and was in charge of the company’s broadcasting and video division and new business development by 1980.
“It was one of those crazy times,” he said. “Cable programming provided a rising tide for lots of us. We got a lot more responsibility than we would have gotten in mature industries.”
When broadcast meteorologist John Coleman proposed creating a national TV-weather service for cable, Wynne was intrigued, but believed that local weather was the real opportunity for a new network supported by advertising. Wynne’s team created a device to insert local National Weather Service forecasts into cable system headends. The Weather Channel was ready to roll in 1982.
Wynne remembers, “When we launched our service, most people were just laughing at [the 24-hour weather concept]. Although in some areas like New York City, people already carried an umbrella all the time. In California, they said, ‘I don’t care, it never rains here.’ But we knew from our television and radio experience that weather in most communities was a subject of high interest.”
After a year, Wynne and team realized their ad-supported financial model wouldn’t work. “We needed subscriber fees. We showed our finances to the cable operators. It was just a few pennies per subscriber, but getting that done was what made The Weather Channel successful.”
Retired since 2001, Wynne continues a full schedule of philanthropy and volunteer work, including improving the state of Virginia’s approach to economic development. “I don’t think there’s any better feeling than helping other people improve their lives,” he said. “When you take somebody who doesn’t have much, help them break through, when you help an institution get better … it’s just gratifying.”