By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
Known for his integrity, keen intellect and ability to form a broad-based consensus, Decker Anstrom is one of this year’s two winners of the NCTA’s Vanguard Award for distinguished leadership. His role as the cable industry’s chief lobbyist in the mid-1990s is widely seen as crucial in helping cable clear one of its most serious impediments to growth and reach its full potential.
Mr. Anstrom inherited a perfect storm of industry conflict when he took over as president of the NCTA in January 1994. Responding to accusations of price gouging and poor customer service, the Cable Act of 1992 had recently forced operators to carry all local broadcast channels and put a freeze on future rate hikes. At the same time, the satellite industry was launching, providing the first serious competition to cable operators, who were suddenly having difficulty raising additional capital to finance improvements.
To make matters worse, programmers and operators were blaming each other for their predicament.
“You sort of had the worst of both worlds-a regulatory regime in place that was adversely affecting the industry, and new competition beginning to emerge that could obviously take away market share and profits,” Mr. Anstrom said.
Rather than voice bitterness that regulators had gone too far, Mr. Anstrom took his lumps from regulators and led the effort to reunify the industry. He eventually helped convince government officials that the monopoly conditions cable used to enjoy no longer existed, and at the same time reached out to programmers, persuading them to take a more active role in NCTA affairs.
His arguments bore fruit when he swayed operators to take an accommodative stance on telecom’s desire to diversify into cable. When the Telecommunications Act passed in January 1996, it deregulated cable rates and paved the way for a new round of investment.
“He led us during a crucial period,” said Robert Miron, chairman and CEO of Advance/Newhouse Communications. “He provided leadership for the organization and the industry, which helped bring about much of what we have today.”
Mr. Anstrom left the NCTA in 1999 to take the top post at The Weather Channel, then moved up to become president and chief operating officer of its parent company, Landmark Communications, in 2002. He has made it a priority to improve the network’s technological capabilities to forecast at the local level and helped make Weather Channel Interactive a leader in wireless and interactive television applications.
Currently a member of the executive committee of the NCTA and a director of top MSO Comcast, Mr. Anstrom said he still believes in working closely with operators.
He has taken a leadership role in the cable industry’s effort to foster diversity. He has implemented progressive hiring, recruitment and promotion policies for women and minorities throughout Landmark’s media holdings that have won him fans in the industry and that serve as a blueprint for like-minded companies.
“He’s a very principled man who leads by example,” said NCTA’s longtime head of industry affairs, Barbara York. “He’s the genuine article.”
“It is hard to find anyone in cable who is not familiar with Decker’s leadership and positive influence,” said Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast. “In his service at the NCTA, Landmark Communications and on Comcast’s board, he has always offered concise and strategic wisdom to guide big decisions, as well as time to mentor the leaders of tomorrow.”
If you ask Mr. Anstrom, though, he will tell you he has selfish reasons for his actions.
“I’m absolutely convinced if you look at the cable industry, if we’re not really making it critical to our business every day to really connect to the changing demographics of the country, and we’re not deliberately focusing on developing new relationships with new talent pools that reflect the changing demographics, then we’re not going to succeed,” he said.
Just the Facts
Title: President and chief operating officer, Landmark Communications, and chairman, The Weather Channel
How long in current position: Since January 2002; became president and CEO of The Weather Channel in 1999
Year of birth: 1950
Place of birth: Conway, S.C.
Who knew? The son of two educators, Mr. Anstrom grew up without a television in the house.