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National Show: Glenn Britt

Apr 10, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Most executives dread the prospect of stiffening competition after years in which their company was the only player in a market.

Glenn Britt, president and CEO of Time Warner Cable, sees it as an opportunity.

“Competition is a good thing, and especially a good thing if it results in less regulation,” said Mr. Britt, a 2006 recipient of the Vanguard Award for Distinguished Leadership, presented by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. “Competition is a better way to mold our behavior than regulations are.”

Indeed, after years operating as a de facto monopoly, the cable industry over the past 10 years has received a relatively heavy dose of competition with the arrival of satellite operators such as DirecTV Group and EchoStar Communications. Both companies have worked aggressively to lure disaffected cable customers. Now the battle for subscribers is set to heat up even more with competition emerging from telephone companies such as AT&T and Verizon Communications, which are looking to compete not only on high-speed Internet service but also on video.

But Mr. Britt isn’t worried.

“We have an opportunity to continue to innovate, and if we keep working on our marketing skills and customer care, we can compete just fine,” he said.

So far, the strategy of innovation is working. Time Warner Cable, which as the No. 2 cable operator has just shy of 11 million subscribers, was one of the first operators to introduce a cable-based telephone product, a move that most Wall Street analysts credit with blunting a years-long decline in basic cable subscriptions.

By combining the voice product with Time Warner Cable’s existing high-speed data and video products, the cable operator was able to offer a three-product bundle that is now triggering an increase in basic cable subscriptions-and, most important for cable, is slowing down satellite’s ability to pick off customers.

However, there are risks. Time Warner Cable, along with Comcast Corp., is awaiting federal approval of a plan to jointly acquire bankrupt cable operator Adelphia Communications in a $14 billion deal that will involve Time Warner Cable and Comcast divvying up the Adelphia assets. Many of the Adelphia cable systems need an upgrade. At the same time, as part of the Adelphia acquisition, Time Warner Cable will sell 16 percent of the cable company to the public in the form of an initial public offering.

A Time Warner employee since 1972, Mr. Britt started his career in the company controller’s office before holding various executive titles at a number of Time Warner divisions, including HBO. In 1990, Mr. Britt joined Time Warner Cable as executive VP and in 1999 was named president. He was tapped to be CEO in 2001, and was given the title of president and CEO this past February.

Mr. Britt oversaw the launch of Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner service, the country’s first high-speed Internet service, in the late 1990s. But he said the challenges and opportunities that the industry in general, and Time Warner Cable in particular, face now are what excite him the most-even if they bring with them a weighty to-do list.

The keys, he said, will be proper planning and listening to what subscribers want.

That latter element is what’s at the heart of two new products that Time Warner Cable is currently testing, which Mr. Britt believes will help keep consumers loyal to the company.

The first product is a form of caller ID that works with a television screen. Available to subscribers of both digital cable and cable-telephone service, the product works by popping up on a television screen a message indicating who’s calling. The second product, called Start Over, enables people who have missed part of a television show to start the show at the beginning at the push of a button on their remote control. Time Warner Cable believes it will appeal to the television networks because the cable operator disables viewers’ ability to fast-forward through commercials.

“These are good examples of some things that seem small and innocent but have a big consumer impact,” Mr. Britt said.

They also illustrate the checks and balances that Mr. Britt says the cable operator must constantly go through as it considers new bells and whistles for cable subscribers.

“I think the business is in very good shape at the moment, and we have the ability to use technology to continually innovate and create new services and features,” he said. “We will do that well if we keep an eye on the consumer.”