In Depth

Focused on Customers

Each year at the Cable Show, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association presents its Vanguard Awards, recognizing industry leaders who excel both in business and in personal commitment to their colleagues. Nomi Bergman, president of Bright House Networks—the nation’s sixth-largest cable television provider—has been honored with the 2009 Distinguished Vanguard Award for Leadership (Woman). Ms. Bergman has been part of the senior management team since Bright House launched in 2003; under her leadership, the company has become an industry leader. She recently spoke with TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman about the honor, as well as this week’s NCTA conference in Washington, D.C., and the current state of affairs at Bright House.

TelevisionWeek: What’s your reaction to being given the Distinguished Vanguard Award for Leadership?

Nomi Bergman: I’m very excited and very humbled. It was a very unexpected surprise for me.

TVWeek: What has happened in the past year at Bright House that has elevated the company and your status?

Ms. Bergman: There are two things, I think, [that] have set our company apart. One is that we’ve had our heads down and remained focused on our customers. We are focused on executing well and remaining true to our customers. The second thing is that we’ve simply got a really terrific team. We’ve quietly assembled an incredible team within our company. We’ve had a couple of years of getting to know each other and figuring out how we want to work together, what our objectives should be, how we fit into the industry. I think we’re now clicking along very effectively.

TVWeek: What do you think Bright House customers are looking for in terms of service?

Ms. Bergman: Customers are looking for two key things from us. First, they simply want their services from us to work well. They want us to do what we say we’re going to do. When we say something is going to cost X, they want to see it on their bill for X. They want us to be straightforward and easy to do business with. That’s a really big focus for us. It sounds simple, but it’s actually complex, for a service provider with so many feet on the street and so many network elements, to present it all quite simply. Our talented employees work very, very hard to be proactive—to deliver a service that works well, and to communicate clearly with our customers.

TVWeek: What’s the second thing?

Ms. Bergman: The second thing is that our customers want us to keep evolving. They want us to stay relevant. They want us to offer them new and interesting things at competitive prices. They also want us to be a good corporate citizen. We believe in being an active part of the community.

TVWeek: Where is Bright House going, since you’re a relatively young company?

Ms. Bergman: I remember my father saying to me some 20 years ago, “Most viewers don’t want 500 channels. They want just one channel—and they want that one channel to have only what they want to watch at that time.” I think he was right. He shared this vision with me well before the days of digital, of course, but he was right. And that is just where we are still moving toward today. All of these technologies, whether it’s VOD or the switch to digital video or what’s happening with high definition or DVRs or time-shifting and place-shifting, it is all moving toward this one-channel world where customers can simply watch what they want when they want to watch it. To make this happen, we need a really terrific interface that enables viewers to find what they want.

TVWeek: How important is the Web aspect of Bright House Networks?

Ms. Bergman: I think it’s very important. As an example, customers generally turn first to the TV for video-on-demand, because that’s how we’ve trained them. But I would hope over time they turn to the Web. We have a nice start in this area, with a site called “What’s on TV.” This site helps our customers navigate what is on linear TV and on-demand television. I do believe that over time we will see much innovation in navigation, and this navigation will help the TV and the Internet content to more comfortably converge for the consumer.

TVWeek: Is the HD world still a separate group from linear channels?

Ms. Bergman: Once our customers have experienced HD viewing, they want to remain in that high-definition world. They want to watch all of their programming in HD. We are working very hard to quickly add popular linear and on-demand programming. We just recently added quite a bit of it. Seven of the new channels were digital while the other seven were high-definition channels. The new programming additions included a variety of entertainment, news and sports programming, all at no extra charge.

TVWeek: You were responsible for the Roadrunner initiative, and that’s now become commonplace in cable systems, has it not?

Ms. Bergman: Yes, yes, we have a very nice market share with that.

TVWeek: Was that a success of marketing or delivery of service?

Ms. Bergman: I would definitely say it was both. Especially in the beginning. I think our customers were surprised, you know, “You’re an Internet provider? Really?” They weren’t expecting that from a cable company, so in the beginning it was definitely marketing, because I think we had to educate our customers and show our customers that this was within our capabilities. We had to prove it. So I think we had to do a good job at it for quite a while. First convincing the early adopters, who can be very critical that we can be an Internet provider. Then I think it was later going out and letting the market know that this could be of interest to more people, that this technology could be appealing to a broad base of people. Our markets were some of the first markets that bundled high-speed data with our digital video products. It made the service much more approachable for people, and more affordable. It was more like a dial-up price. I like to think that our marketing and technology teams worked very closely together to put together a very compelling package for our customers.

TVWeek: Bright House is currently the sixth-largest cable television provider. Is that a comfortable spot for you?

Ms. Bergman: We’re comfortable with our level of growth. If we had the chance to invest $100 million in our company, we would probably reinvest in our infrastructure to make it even better. We might want to invest in a new VOD system or upgrading portions of the brand or something like that. We’d always rather reinforce what we have and make it better.

TVWeek: Did you think 20 years ago that you would be running a cable company?

Ms. Bergman: No, I think I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I wasn’t expecting it, no. I feel like I’m in operations. I’m in a role where I’m trying to deliver upon a promise to our customers. I’m generally not that comfortable with a lot of attention. I notice that people are sometimes surprised that a woman is in this role. I think I owe it to other women to share my experience and to try and help pull other women along, too.

TVWeek: When were you born and what would your peers be surprised to learn about you?

Ms. Bergman: Sept. 11, 1963. As for my peers, they might be surprised to learn that I was a ski instructor at Stratton Mountain for five years.

TVWeek: Are you going to the Cable Show to collect your award?

Ms. Bergman: Yes, I am. I’m really excited about the Cable Show this year. It’s a great location and a great time for the cable industry to be in Washington, D.C. The program looks terrific. This is the first time when we’re having the consolidated show, the Cable Connection, a two-week-long series of events uniting major industry associations, conferences and meetings … in a single location. I think it’s going to be a very productive time for everybody and I’m very excited about it.