Keating Gets L.A. Assignment

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Time Warner Cable has made two key executive appointments in anticipation of its acquisition of Adelphia Communications Corp. properties in 2006.

Roger Keating, the current Los Angeles division president, will see his domain swell from about 350,000 cable homes to more than 1.9 million subscribers in five Southern California counties following the acquisition, plus planned system swaps from Comcast Corp. He’s been named to the new position of corporate executive vice president for operations for the Los Angeles region.

Consolidation of the Texas division, which should ultimately serve about 2.6 million customers in communities including Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Waco and Dallas, will be overseen by Wayne Knighton, newly minted corporate vice president of operations there. Knighton has been a division president in Minnesota, and most recently in South Carolina.

L.A. CHALLENGES

Keating faces interesting challenges, especially in the city of Los Angeles, where refranchising negotiations have yet to take place for any of the city’s 14 service areas.

Time Warner Cable will operate 12 of those franchises once the deal is finalized. And it will assume control of Adelphia systems that are under the gun from the city to improve customer service, both by telephone and in the field.

The newly elevated executive said he sees four main challenges for building the new cluster: consolidating networks, bringing customer service to a level consistent with Time Warner’s expectations; accelerating the rollout of a complete slate of advanced services; and announcing the newly dominant operator’s presence to the marketplace using mass media effectively for the first time.

Keating said he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the progress of Adelphia’s system upgrades in the region, in spite of its bankruptcy.

Adelphia has 18,000 miles of plant in the region and the operator was the last MSO to launch its upgrade. But to date, 15,000 miles of the plant have been improved to two-way, 750-MHZ or better plant, Keating said.

Adelphia anticipates improving another 2,000 of the remaining 3,000 miles of plant by the end of this year, the executive added.

Time Warner doesn’t anticipate a mass swap-out of consumer hardware utilized by Comcast and Adelphia operations.

“The equipment they are using now is working perfectly fine,” he said.

It’s also too soon to tell whether the consolidation will trigger any downsizing in the employee ranks. Keating has been impressed by the “extremely dedicated” front-line staffs at his fellow companies, but added that Time Warner will institute training, performance measurement and employee feedback once it assumes control.

But he stressed the companies will operate separately until the acquisition closes, in nine to 12 months.

Keating notes the irony that Time Warner’s cable brand is not well known in the area, but said Time Warner Cable would not launch rebranding campaigns, laying out future plans for the market, until nearer the deal closing date.

He holds firm to this plan, even though direct-broadcast satellite marketers continue to stress that Adelphia is in bankruptcy in an effort to lure away subscribers.

“It’s not the first time we’ve had happenings in the cable universe used by competitors to drive their business,” Keating said of the competitive pressure. Anyone susceptible to panicking over the bankruptcy filing has probably already defected, he said.

Time Warner’s current systems have already launched HDTV, DVRs, and video on demand, including local content. They are in the process of rolling out telephony.

LOCAL PROGRAMMING

Time Warner Cable is known for pursuing local news networks. But the cluster to be created in Southern California will be so large it encompasses most of the Los Angeles DMA and presumably would put a cable news network in direct competition with seven major broadcast stations.

Keating said local programming is “an opportunity that will be explored,” adding that other challenges are more pressing.

Economics haven’t been favorable for a traditional local-news network in Los Angeles, said Keating, but news is an important category to exploit on the interactive platform.

Time Warner Cable already has a deal with NBC’s owned-and-operated Los Angeles station, KNBC, to warehouse its nightly newscasts for access on VOD for the 24 hours immediately after they air.

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