By Natalie Finn
Here’s a glance at what last year’s Vanguard Award winners have been up to since being honored a year ago.
Decker Anstrom, president and chief operating officer of Landmark Communications, chairman of The Weather Channel and winner of a Vanguard Award for Leadership in 2005, found out last year just how important the right combination of effective leadership and programming can be in the cable industry.
Last year, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made weather one of the biggest news stories of the year, The Weather Channel rose to the occasion, with five crews covering Florida and the Gulf Coast region.
“The devastation of Katrina really taxed our organization, both physically and emotionally,” said Mr. Anstrom, who heaped credit upon TWC President Debora Wilson for organizing the effort. “The physical part of it involves not only the people who are onsite but also the people back in Atlanta who are working seven days a week and sleeping on the office floor to get the job done,” he said.
TV One President and CEO Johnathan Rodgers is happy to note that the two-year-old lifestyle and entertainment cable/satellite network, dedicated to programming for black adults, is available in 28 million households.
Mr. Rodgers, who won a Vanguard Award for Programming last year, was not at liberty to give more details about his network’s recent “multimillion-dollar acquisition.” He said it will add to TV One’s growing lineup of original programming and rerun series this year, but he figures having to remain tight-lipped is a small price to pay for the kind of growth TV One has seen since its inception in 2004.
In March TV One announced it was partnering with Premiere Retail Networks to create programming specifically for the Wal-Mart TV Network, which is shown in more than 2,850 stores.
“What’s really helped TV One are the partnerships we’ve been able to create,” Mr. Rodgers said, “both with our distribution segment and with the advertising community. We have managed to exceed our ad sales budget, which is a great positive. But it also speaks to the advertising community’s understanding about the value of the African American consumer.”
Since finding out in February that cable operators ranked Discovery Networks’ overall marketing services and affiliate sales reps No. 1 in the industry, according to the 2006 Beta Research Study, Lori McFarling has felt especially validated in her efforts to deliver the most value possible to Discovery’s three key interests: consumers, advertisers and distributors.
Ms. McFarling, senior VP of distribution and marketing strategy and the winner of last year’s Vanguard Award for Marketing, is predicting that the coming year will be as dynamic as 2005. In March Discovery launched Cosmeo, a subscription-based digital educational resource that was more than a year in the making. The company announced a partnership with the BBC in January to distribute BBC World News, a 24/7 international news channel. There has also been an aggressive drive in the past year to push two new offerings from Discovery U.S. Hispanic Group: Discovery Kids en Espanol and Discovery Travel & Living.
“For marketers, you have to be so on top of and so anticipatory and proactive in working with your distribution partners to figure out what’s important to them and what they’re focusing on-and not just where they are today, but where they are going to be in six months, 12 months, five years from now,” Ms. McFarling said.
Stephen Rizley, VP and regional manager for Cox Communications Arizona and winner of a Vanguard Award last year for Cable Operations Management, has made it clear that making his company’s services more accessible and convenient for customers is what his business is about.
For the third year in a row Cox’s high-speed Internet service won the Reader’s Choice Award from PC Magazine. “Cox has experienced phenomenal growth of our high-speed Internet service over the years, and we know this is in large part due to the customer recommendations,” Mr. Rizley told Business Wire in November. “We appreciate that our customers are vocal.”
In October Cox took another step toward looking out for its customers and partnered with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to fight identity theft, which has been a growing problem in the state.
Mr. Rizley was unavailable for comment.
A&E Networks President and CEO Abbe Raven, winner of a Vanguard Award for distinguished leadership last year, knows that teamwork has been a key factor in A&E’s ability to effectively meet consumer demands in an industry that is now just as focused on technological growth and platform expansion as it is on programming.
Ms. Raven, who assumed her current position a year ago, created a team within the company called Next Generation, comprising employees from different branches of A&E, to examine each other’s approaches to marketing, branding, programming, management and technology. Her overall plan is to meet the future head-on by continuing to provide content on multiple platforms to the best of her company’s ability, with the goal of attracting the younger audience that already relies on broadband, iPods and other mobile technology.
“One of the great things about my company is that we’ve always been ahead of the curve, creating genres of television like the History Channel and Biography,” Ms. Raven said. “Taking these creative juices, I think we are in a fabulous position to continue to put our core networks on top. The challenge will be to harness the creativity and knowledge that we have.”
It would have been impossible for technology analyst Leslie Ellis, last year’s Vanguard Award winner for Associates and Affiliates, to have missed the rapid rate at which the cable industry has been rolling out new services in the past few years.
“I guess, in a macabre way, it’s job security for people like me, whose life mission is to ‘translate’ tech trends for the rest of us nonengineers,” said Ms. Ellis, who writes a column for Multichannel News and serves as an adviser to CTAM. “It seems like every year I say that I’ve never seen such a fast rate of change.”
Ms. Ellis, who authored the guide “Definitive Broadband,” popular for its low-on-jargon approach, cannot emphasize enough the importance of industrial unity as cable operators move toward providing services that have a national reach. “There are fewer ‘big’ operators, which is actually making unity harder than when there were dozens … each with a million or so subscribers,” she said. “Big companies tend to think ‘my way or no way.’ That puts more emphasis on entities like CableLabs, NCTA, SCTE [Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers] and CTAM to keep things moving in the same direction.”
Ms. Ellis dedicated her 2005 Vanguard win to Roger Brown, the editor in chief of the broadband technology magazine Communications Engineering & Design, who died last October.
Advance/Newhouse President Steve Miron noted that the industry’s rollout of new products and services, such as digital phone, HD and DVR, increased at a rapid pace in 2005 and is likely to speed up again this year.
“Customer interest in new products and the accelerating pace of change and new technologies is clearly changing our company,” Mr. Miron said.
He has served in his current position since 2002, winning the Vanguard Award for Young Leadership last year. Advance/ Newhouse is introducing digital phone into its bundle of services, and Mr. Miron’s team has been hard at work to keep up with industry trends and consumer demand.
“We have great people working very hard to improve our service levels,” he said. “It has been a challenge, but I am pleased with our efforts over the last year, both in keeping up
with the new quantities of transactions in a fashion our customers expect and working to improve each transaction from the customer’s standpoint. Training is also becoming more important, and we have invested heavily in this area. … We’ve had a good year, but there is plenty more to do.”
Time Warner Cable Executive VP Barry Rosenblum wants to be able to restart his favorite television program at the drop of a hat. That’s why he is especially excited about Start Over, a Time Warner offering being tested in South Carolina markets that will allow viewers to rewind any show on the air.
“The kind of innovation that builds on existing products that are designed around what consumers like and what they want-I’m just very proud of that and I think that’s one of our biggest accomplishments,” said Mr. Rosenblum, winner of a 2005 Vanguard Award for Cable Operations Management.
In the past year in New York, where Mr. Rosenblum is in charge of all cable operations as well as the company’s four 24-hour local news channels, Time Warner has rolled out Caller ID that pops up on the television screen for use with digital cable and digital phone service. And News channel NY1 has implemented interactive polling, where viewers can press a button on their remotes to vote in a news survey.
Consumer demand for new technologies is keeping Mr. Rosenblum and his colleagues on their toes. “Households rely on us now for virtually everything, and that needs to change the position of how quickly we respond to things, how we do things, just the overall importance of making sure that people can not only communicate but get information and be entertained,” he said.
More than ever, cable companies rely on the expedient rollout of new products and services to remain competitive. Last year’s Vanguard Award winner for Science and Technology, Wilt Hildenbrand, has been largely responsible for keeping Cablevision in the mix. Formerly executive VP of engineering and technology and now a senior adviser, Mr. Hildenbrand oversaw the rebuilding of Cablevision’s broadband network.
The success of Optimum Triple Play, Cablevision’s bundle of high-speed Internet, digital cable and voice-over-Internet phone service, sticks out in Mr. Hildenbrand’s mind.
“We’ve added more than 700,000 voice customers in two years, and the availability of a fully featured voice service as part of a three-product bundle has driven operating successes, increased revenue and driven customer growth across our entire product portfolio,” he said.
As government regulation has become more of an issue in the broadcast and cable industries over the past few years, leadership from David Cohen, executive VP of Comcast and last year’s Vanguard Award winner for Government and Community Relations, becomes even more important.
Comcast has worked during the past year to get responsible legislation passed on the subject of cable’s ongoing transition from analog to digital, and the company has been involved in the debate over federal and state franchising issues.
“At the federal level, our efforts have led to a unified industry front in Congress and the FCC,” Mr. Cohen said, “and at the state level we have assembled a team targeting more than 16 states where [franchising] is being debated.”
Notably, the company has also been a longtime supporter and provider of parental controls and home blocking tools to let the debate about what children are watching on television begin and end in the home.
While Comcast has been spotlighting national issues, it has also turned toward streamlining its local operations. Under Mr. Cohen’s watch, Comcast has realigned its management teams for network operations, product development and marketing to “better integrate how we develop, launch and market our products to stay ahead of the competition,” he said.
While sports programming provides built-in excitement, ESPN’s behind-the-scenes action during the past year has been just as lively as anything on-screen. George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, has had his hands full prepping ESPN to take on “Monday Night Football,” airing the Rose Bowl and Super Bowl on ABC, launching college sports network ESPNU and getting Mobile ESPN off the ground.
As one of last year’s Vanguard winners for programming, Mr. Bodenheimer feels that his network, which he said has had “technology in [its] DNA since year one,” is in an ideal spot to remain a leader in advancing portable platforms and providing consumers with the content they want.
“Teamwork has been a hallmark of ESPN and is absolutely more essential than ever to our success,” Mr. Bodenheimer said. In October ESPN realigned its business functions and executive management into six specific areas-content, technology, international, sales and marketing, administration and finance-to streamline the process of delivering content to sports fans, which has begun to include original series and movies in the past couple of years.
“Event and news coverage will always be our bread and butter, and we will continually enhance that coverage,” Mr. Bodenheimer said. But he added, “We felt it was critical to take a small percentage of our schedule and explore new programming categories to serve fans in new ways.”