McSlarrow Willing to Take Risks

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Washington -- Kyle McSlarrow invited a group of reporters to lunch Thursday so he could outline where he’s heading as the new president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

McSlarrow, 44, begins March 1 in a job that makes him the industry’s chief spokesman in Washington, D.C., and its behind-the-scenes magician who has to manage the delicate coexistence between cable operators and programmers in public-policy squalls.

“I am an optimist. This is an organization that has already proven that it is capable of hanging together in an effective way,” McSlarrow said. “Putting the two of them together is where I want to be.”

A lawyer who has twice run for Congress and testified before congressional committees on important matters, McSlarrow is no rookie when it comes to issuing statements for public consumption. He’s a careful speaker, but not to the point where all he offers is vanilla responses.

He was frank and honest about his newness to the cable industry and the steep learning curve ahead. But he said he’s prepared.

“I love to take a risk. I like challenges. I like tough projects,” he said. “There are all the particular legal, regulatory, historical and cultural realities of issues that affect cable that I am just going to have to learn.”

McSlarrow is joining the NCTA after four years at the Department of Energy, first as chief of staff and later as deputy secretary.

For a time, he was in the running for energy secretary. Once that was no longer an option, he began to look outside government and consider offers that already started coming in.

When cable came calling, he was immediately intrigued. “This is the only one I actually interviewed for,” he said. “When they called me about this job, it just clicked. I said, ‘Yes, I’m interested.’”

With Congress poised to move digital-TV legislation and possibly to rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996, McSlarrow has big issues in front of him. He also might have to fend off attempts to impose indecency fines on cable networks and scuttle moves to require the a la carte sale of programming.

“We have a huge public-policy debate that’s going on now and that’s only going to heat up,” he said.

In the weeks ahead, McSlarrow said he planned to prepare for the National Show in San Francisco in early April. He also intends to conduct a strategic review to determine whether the NCTA’s assets are being properly deployed. He said a change in leadership was “the natural time” to engage in such a review.

He added that he wasn’t about to make wholesale changes -- a point he made to NCTA staff when he met them in late January.

“Nonetheless, we’ll take stock,” he said. “I’m going to be questioning people. I’m going to be questioning policy.”

The NCTA, he said, has a solid reputation with capable and dedicated employees. But he added that he would not “be afraid to make a change, if necessary.”

For more on the new NCTA chief, please see Ted Hearn’s story on page one of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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