NCTA LOSES ITS HEAD Anstrom to Leave for Top Job at Weather Channel

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Washington -- The search is under way for a new leader ofthe National Cable Television Association in the wake of NCTA president Decker Anstrom'ssurprise announcement last week that he is leaving Aug. 1 to become president and CEO ofThe Weather Channel.Anstrom, who joined the cable industry's chief lobbying organizationin 1987 and became its president in 1994, said he wanted to leave because his goal ofmending cable's relations with Washington policymakers in the wake of the 1992rate-regulation law was "substantially complete."

NCTA chairman Leo J. Hindery Jr., who extolled Anstrom'scontributions to the industry, said Cox Communications Inc. president James Robbins wouldlead a nine-person search committee charged with finding a successor. Anstrom and Hinderywill also serve on the search panel.

AT&T Broadband & Internet Services presidentHindery, who appointed the search committee, said the panel's first job is to hire anexecutive recruiter and to solicit candidate recommendations from the Washingtonrepresentatives of cable operators and programmers.

Although Anstrom earmarked Aug. 1 as his official departuredate, he told reporters that he would not leave until his replacement was on board. But headded that he did not expect the Aug. 1 date to slip by much, if at all.

"We are not going to leave the NCTA without apresident," Anstrom said.

In a conference call with reporters, Anstrom said he is notendorsing a candidate for his job.

"I think that they are going to have the pleasantchallenge of picking from a lot of very qualified candidates," he said. "I haveno idea who the next president will be."

Anstrom's announcement came on the heels of the retirementof his top deputy, June Travis, who has not been replaced, and the resignation ofpublic-affairs vice president Torie Clarke, whom Anstrom replaced a few months ago withJosie Martin.

Anstrom said he thought it best to allow his replacement tofill Travis' post, adding that holding the No. 2 spot open would perhaps make a candidatefor president more interested in the job.

Anstrom said he began considering TWC's proposal"several weeks ago," when the offer was made in a conversation with John O."Dubby" Wynne, president and CEO of Landmark Communications Inc., the network'sparent.

"He called and asked if this was something that Iwould be interested in," Anstrom said. "I hadn't been thinking of doinganything."

Anstrom added that he and Wynne have been friends for morethan a decade, and that the idea of running an Atlanta-based cable network was an excitingprospect, especially with the challenges of migrating TWC "into this newdigital-video and Internet world."

One of the most widely distributed networks, at 72 millionhomes, TWC is also among the most profitable, given its relatively low programming costs.According to Paul Kagan Associates Inc., TWC earned $164.5 million in revenue last year,and it could hit a projected $183 million this year.

But TWC faces stiffer competition than ever from localizeddigital competitors by NBC Inc., Weather Services International Corp.'s AccuWeather Inc.and others.

And TWC's international expansion has come slowly. To stemlosses in Europe, early last year, TWC pulled out of England, Germany, Italy and theNetherlands, marking the largest retreat ever from Europe by a U.S. cable programmer.

In response, Wynne said, "Our ratings have never beenhigher," and TWC's Web site is among the most visited on the Internet.

Wynne will remain TWC's interim CEO until Aug. 1.

Anstrom replaces Michael Eckert, who retired March 31.Interviewed last Thursday, Eckert called Anstrom "an interesting hire," addingthat Landmark apparently wanted to maintain close relationships with cable distributors.

The rumor mill suggested that Anstrom was offered an evenbigger job as a lure. The scenario: Anstrom would head TWC for three years, then becomeLandmark's CEO after Wynne retired.

Anstrom denied that, saying, "There aren't anydiscussions like that." And Wynne said he's "not going anywhere."

For Anstrom, 48, family considerations also played a part.He said his wife, Sherron, grew up in the Atlanta area, where her parents continue toreside. However, Anstrom added, he will stay here and commute to Atlanta until next June,when his son is set to graduate from high school.

"It's a very nice situation for us," he said.

Anstrom is bowing out at a moment of transition for thecable industry. Although cable won its freedom March 31 from Federal CommunicationsCommission rate regulation, the industry is facing new regulatory threats, led by powerfulinterests in the Internet community, including America Online Inc.

Hindery said the next NCTA president had better be preparedto deal with that threat, which could end up with Congress or the FCC applyingcommon-carrier phone regulations to cable provision of Internet access.

"I think that the person has to have some savvy abouttelephony, about data and about video, because that is the world that we live in,"Hindery added.

Anstrom joined the NCTA in 1987, three years after Congressderegulated the cable industry. He spent much of his time helping then-president JamesMooney to beat back attempts by Congress to pass a new rate-regulation bill in the wake ofmounting consumer complaints about price hikes, buy-through requirements and shoddycustomer service.

The punitive 1992 Cable Act -- which sent cable stocks intoa tailspin and introduced some operators to the concept of declining cash flow -- costMooney his job in July 1993. Anstrom assumed the post of acting president, but he did notbecome president until January 1994.

Anstrom's main goal was restoring good relations withCapitol Hill lawmakers and FCC policymakers. The FCC eased up some, especially afterRepublicans took control of the House and Senate following the 1994 elections.

"There were a lot of ill feelings after '92. I thinkthat Decker did a great deal to repair those feelings," said Rep. Billy Tauzin(R-La.), chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee.

Anstrom's greatest triumph came with the enactment of theTelecommunications Act of 1996.

That law removed the FCC's authority to regulate upper-tiercable rates after March 31, 1999; deregulated virtually all small cable operators uponenactment, and voided state laws that protected monopoly phone companies from competition.

The NCTA board rewarded Anstrom's effort, making him one ofthe highest-paid lobbyists in Washington. He earned about $820,000 in 1998, according topublished reports. Anstrom declined to discuss his compensation at TWC.