CTAM Summit 2009: The Cable Center: Leaner, But Flourishing

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MCN: The Cable Center
is a very different place today than it was 25 years ago when it was initially
conceived. It's different than it was eight years ago when the building you're
in today was built. And it's even different from three years ago when you last
did your strategic planning. How has the Center morphed over time?

LS: Four and a
half years ago, we did an industry survey and asked people to tell us what's
right with The Cable Center and what's wrong. After that, our board said: There
are two things that you need to do. One is, you've got to be relevant to the
cable industry. Your mission has to be relevant, your programs have to be
relevant, there has to be value in there. The second is more the financial sort
of a deal: You guys are out in Denver,
you have a big building, what are you doing with the money that we have already
given you?

Larry Satkowiak

We trimmed down in size and trimmed down in programs.
Instead of doing 21 programs, now we're doing basically four programs. We
concentrated on doing those four programs very well, delivering a value that we
believe the cable industry could get behind, programs like the Cable Mavericks
[lecture series], that have been very well received.

With the environment in the cable industry being the way it
is, the economic environment certainly being the way it is, our board has
prepared us for this.

MCN: Would you
consider academia one of your constituencies?

LS: It's [a]
central focus of our mission statement. We have broken our mission statement
down into, really, three different components. The first one is to preserve and
celebrate cable's enduring contributions to society. The second is building a
bridge between the cable industry and higher education. And the third is the
customer experience aspect of what we do.

We take cable executives in our Cable Mavericks program and
put them on college campuses. It's been a very popular program, it's been a
very effective program, because it's not us talking to the students. It's
people that are really in the trenches that are trying to work with the
business, a very complex business with regulations changing and business
changing and technology driving change and the competitive nature of our
business.

Students love to hear our people go on college campuses,
cable people going on campuses and talking about what [it's] like to be in that
kind of environment. Students inevitably come away with a vision of cable that
they never had.

They really think, a lot of them, that cable is that thing
that I just plug into the wall and they just really take it for granted and
they don't think about what goes behind it. There are a lot of things happening
in the cable industry that are very interesting to college students, and we
want them to consider a career in cable. We've been at 28 universities at this
point across the United
States.

We did a chair in customer experience management at the University of Denver. We hired a professor. The money
is solid, it's behind us. And so we've grown that money over time.

MCN: That's the only
MBA program in customer care in the nation, as I understand it.

LS: It is, as far
as I know. I haven't heard of another one with the customer [actually] being
the central focus.

[Former Cox Communications CEO] Jim Robbins, after working
on it for so many years, spoke to the first CEM class that we had here at The
Cable Center. We were up in the Distance Learning studio; that was about a year
before he passed away. The words that he told the students at that time were
that technology brings us all to parity at one point or another. The only thing
that's going to differentiate one business from another is the quality of
experience that a customer has with our company, and we think that is our
competitive advantage.

If you talk to folks at Cox and other companies, obviously,
today you can see that same feeling going on. Technologies change, people
change, but the culture that comes around, that focus on the customer doesn't.

MCN: The other big
program you guys have is the Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is on Oct.
27. That is one piece of The Cable
Center that tends to look
back.

LS: We're going
through our 12th Hall of Fame at this point. I think there have been 71 people
inducted, and seven more this year would make 78.

A lot of people will say, "Well, why do we have a Hall of
Fame?" Some people think the industry is too new to actually think back
historically. But if you think about the pace of change in the cable industry,
we're right now living history. Look at the way marketing has progressed here
just in the last 10 or 20 years.

There's no other place, really, where people can get
recognized for the innovation, for the creativity, for the forethought, for
[taking] a risk and put[ting] their own capital on the line; some of them
almost went out of business. People don't realize how close some of these
people really were to going out of business and then somebody stepped in and
gave them a hand.

The oral history program that we have is still one of the
most popular things on our Web site. We have just over 300 oral histories at
this point - people are downloading these things not only during the Hall of
Fame, but we know that a lot of students are taking a look at these things,
too.

The people that have done the oral histories are more than
willing to say, "Well, it hasn't been a bed of roses. There were times where I
had to go out and take care of that cable system in the middle of the night on
Christmas Eve because, even though my wife wanted me there for dinner, I've got
to go out there and make the thing work."

You get all these kinds of stories of people who started off
in the industry climbing poles and now they're running cable businesses, people
that started from the bottom and worked up.

Something else that we do: We have a Cable Cares collection
here at The Cable Center. Recent stuff with Cable Positive, we're recording
what they have done. Those are the boxes out over there, by the way, in the
library. We don't want to forget that, because they were very successful in
accomplishing the things that they set out to accomplish when they first came
up with Cable Positive, and I think it's a very good statement about the cable
industry.

MCN: Where do you
want and where do you envision The Cable
Center going forward?

LS: I think The
Cable Center will continue to change according to the needs of the industry.
Taking a look at cable's contributions to society - we're always going to do
that.

As far as building bridges between us and higher education,
I definitely see us doing that but I see us doing more. I actually see us
somewhere in the future maybe having communities of colleges and cable
companies working together on particular issues or problems or recruitment or
internships or these sorts of things.

I see us sometimes with that as even having more of an
international focus on things. I would love to do something in Europe, for
instance, or something in China.

We've had a little bit of a flavor of that as we do
different things with the Anna and John Sie Foundation, with our Chinese
Executive Media Management Program. The University of Denver
is where they go, but we greet the students over here, we're part of that cable
history.

When we do training, we don't have to send people to The
Cable Center; we can send people out to you. If you still don't want to do
that, now we're taking a look at the technology to actually do online and
distance learning education directly to the person, not only on their home
computer but also on their BlackBerry or their iPhone or whatever.

We're looking at ways that we can improve the
experience with The Cable Center in a way that the industry would like, which
is high-quality types of content at a very good price.

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