As MSO consolidation continues, several of cable's
best-known programming gatekeepers will be out in the marketplace looking for work.
Last Friday was David Intrator's final day as director
of marketing and programming for Dallas-based Marcus Cable. Computer billionaire Paul
Allen acquired Marcus earlier this year, then almost immediately combined it with his
other buy, St. Louis-based MSO Charter Communications Inc.
Jedd Palmer, who just left Englewood, Colo.-based MediaOne
as senior vice president of programming following a corporate restructuring, is currently
weighing one-dozen or so consulting jobs that he's been offered.
"I learned a lot in this industry, and I want to
continue to be part of it," Palmer said.
And Phil Laxar, senior vice president of programming for
Jones Intercable Inc. in Englewood, Colo., expects to complete his role in the transition
as Comcast Corp. closes its deal to buy Jones sometime early next year.
Consolidation is nothing new to the cable industry, but in
the past year, its pace has stepped up again. That means a shuffling of the decks in terms
of corporate personnel, including top MSO programming executives losing their jobs -- even
as they walk out with sizable severance packages and stock cash-outs.
"It's a difficult issue because the business is
consolidating and, no doubt, there are going to be fewer MSOs," said Robert Stengel,
former head of programming for Continental Cablevision Inc. "People will have to
think about creating opportunities for themselves or going on the periphery of the
MSO programming executives are the gatekeepers who help to
decide which programming services their cable systems will carry, and who negotiate those
affiliation deals, ultimately dictating the fate of those networks.
When U S West Media Group Inc. acquired Continental and
decided to move its headquarters to Denver from Boston last year, Stengel decided that he
didn't want to make that move.
He formed a consulting firm with partner Robert Sachs,
another Continental official, calling it the Continental Consulting Group. His clientele
now leans toward domestic and international programmers.
MediaOne replaced Stengel this past January with Palmer,
who had been senior vice president of programming at Tele-Communications Inc. The marriage
between MediaOne and Palmer, however, proved to be a mismatch, and Palmer left after a
He said he bears no ill will toward MediaOne for
eliminating his job.
"They were very generous and very gracious in their
severance package," he said.
Palmer also denied any inferences made that he at any time
acted on his own accord in his job, without checking off with his superiors.
"I was never, ever doing deals that the higher-ups at
MediaOne were not aware of or approving," he said.
Palmer, who plans to attend the Western Show next month,
has been approached by at least one-dozen broadcasters, MSOs and cable programmers about
consulting work, he said. A lawyer and tough negotiator, Palmer's resume goes beyond
just doing deals; in the past, he has offered creative input to programmers, and he takes
credit for suggesting that the Sundance Film Festival parlay itself into a mini-pay
Palmer, who has two daughters aged 11 and 13, wants to
remain in the Denver area.
Like Palmer, Intrator wants to stay put in his current
adopted hometown, Dallas. And for the first time in a more than a decade, Intrator said he
won't be at the Western Show.
He plans to spend the holiday season quietly, with his wife
and seven-year-old son, and not rush into taking a new job.
"I'm taking the opportunity to decompress and
reflect," Intrator said. "In our industry, there is a lot of activity, with
companies consolidating. Good people are finding themselves out of jobs. I want to let
that settle out. I'm a free agent."
Intrator -- who has also worked on the programming side of
the industry, for Viewer's Choice and Home Shopping Network -- added, "The
operator side is tough. It keeps getting smaller and smaller."
Mike Egan has advised Intrator not to rush into accepting a
new gig. Egan was vice president of programming and product development at Cablevision
Industries (CVI) when it was sold to Time Warner Cable in January 1996.
Just a few months after the sale closed, Egan and several
former CVI executives formed Renaissance Media, which has 130,000 subscribers.
Egan said he told Intrator, "You really have to take
your time deciding where you're going. There's still a lot of consolidation to
Laxar still has time before he exits Jones. "It's
a little premature to think about what I will be doing," he said. "I have time.
Right now, it's business as usual."
Laxar has been through this before. He worked at KBLCOM
Inc. when Time Warner Cable acquired that MSO, and he subsequently went to Jones.
Comcast's deal to buy Jones is slated to close in February, but Comcast may want to
retain some Jones officials to ease the transition.
Laxar, like Palmer, plans to stay put in Denver. And he
thinks that's an advantage, since so many cable, new-media and Internet companies are
based in the area.
One recent victim of consolidation landed squarely on his
feet. Jeff Wayne, a former marketing and programming executive at Colony Communications
Inc., lost his job when Continental bought Colony in October 1995. After a series of jobs
within Colony's parent, the Providence Journal Co., Wayne became head of Great
"I never missed a day of work," he said.