CTAM Live: GrandTAM Winner: Tom Rutledge

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As chief operating officer of Cablevision Systems Corp., Tom Rutledge has guided the media company through an intensely competitive environment and has helped steer not only Cablevision, but the entire industry, into a multifaceted business offering voice, video and high-speed data services to consumers and commercial enterprises.

In recognition of his time, talent and commitment to ensuring the future of cable through marketing, education and leadership, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing is honoring Rutledge as the 2008 GrandTAM award winner.

“His leadership at NCTA and CableLabs is guiding the industry through a new era of change,” CTAM president Char Beales said. “As a member of the CTAM Educational Foundation board of directors, he has advanced the curriculum for the Executive Management Program at the Harvard Business School to develop the next generation of cable leaders.”

Rutledge has never considered himself a marketer, per se, but has focused on growth over cost in his career. “This award is very meaningful to me,” Rutledge said. “I’ve always been oriented toward growth and consider myself to be a generalist. But it is very rewarding to be recognized by my peers and it means a lot to me. CTAM is a very important organization to the success of the cable industry.”

Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan is a founding CTAM member, but Beales said that “when Tom came on board, he really stepped up Cablevision’s active participation. He has been a vital part of our success.”

Rutledge has also been important to the industry’s success. “He has set a high standard for operational leadership and is successfully building the business by delivering technologically superior products and value to customers in a highly competitive marketplace,” Beales said.

Rutledge has seen the industry expand dramatically since he entered the cable industry over three decades ago. He’s managed individual cable systems, divisions, regions and entire MSOs in his career.

“Every experience has been gratifying and enlightening,” he said. “One of the best things about the cable industry is its future. Cable has always had a future. We’re always looking ahead. We had a vision of what the industry should look like in the 1970s. It took some time, but we actually made that vision a reality. We didn’t just talk about it. We did it.”

Rutledge oversees Cablevision’s cable TV business; its national programming business Rainbow Media, which includes AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WE tv; fiber-optic business telecommunications service Optimum Lightpath; Clearview Cinemas; and certain corporate functions. He also oversees News 12 Network, Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp. and Newsday, a daily newspaper serving the New York area that Cablevision bought earlier this year.

Since Rutledge’s arrival in 2002, Cablevision has completed a $5 billion fiber-optic network upgrade and became the first U.S. MSO to offer high-definition video on demand and deploy a voice-over-Internet protocol phone product across its entire service area. The company also recently began building the nation’s first Wi-Fi mesh wireless cable broadband network.

“Cablevision reflects the Dolans and their independent streak,” he said. “The entrepreneurial spirit and culture of the company, coupled with the strong personalities that run the company are melded together with a public company that makes Cablevision unique and gives the company an advantage. This is a long-term business play. Strategies take a long time to deploy and you have to keep the courage of your convictions. We have that at Cablevision.”

Rutledge sees great opportunity for commercial growth on the cable side of the business going forward. He also sees an opportunity to grab back some customers the industry lost to satellite a few years ago.

“In the ’90s when satellite began competing with cable and before we upgraded all our infrastructure, satellite was a better product for TV,” Rutledge said. “But that’s no longer true today. We offer a far superior product and I think there are opportunities to bring satellite customers back into our fold.” 

Click here for more CTAM Summit '08 coverage.

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