By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
The themes running through this year’s Vanguard Awards will be familiar to industry observers, but on closer examination it’s clear that more than the honorees have changed in the annual kudos handed out by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association to recognize excellence, contributions and service to the industry.
“This year’s list is quite impressive,” said Barbara York, the NCTA’s senior VP of industry affairs, who administers the Vanguards. “Our leaders and members view the awards program as sacrosanct-they’re very reluctant to change both the criteria and how it’s done. But this year, when you look at the winners as a class, it’s really quite special.”
Heading the list with the awards for Distinguished Leadership are Glenn Britt, president and CEO of Time Warner Cable, and Judy McGrath, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, who has guided MTV’s programming and brand since its infancy.
The Vanguards this year also boast for the first time a practicing attorney working in the industry, with the Associates & Affiliates Award going to Paul Glist, a partner in the law firm of Cole, Raywid & Braverman and a consultant to the NCTA, CableLabs and major cable companies on legal, regulatory and strategic issues.
“When the committee finished choosing, they looked at each other and said, ‘This is really good,'” Ms. York said. “There was really a sense that we’re honoring the best.”
This year’s Vanguard Awards will be bestowed April 10 at an evening ceremony and reception during the 2006 National Cable Show-NCTA’s 55th Annual Convention & International Exposition-in Atlanta.
For the Rank and File
The Vanguards began in 1965 with a Distinguished Leadership Award for Bill Daniels, the pioneering founder of CATV systems-which is considered the parent of cable television-and have expanded to eight categories with nine individuals being honored this year.
“There have been discussions through the years about making the awards something more, something perhaps more consumer-oriented,” Ms. York said. “But that idea has been rejected. We’re keeping the Vanguards as an award for the rank and file of the cable industry.”
Which all goes to say don’t look for the Vanguards to go Hollywood-there is no chance they’ll honor celebrity performers to get a headline, unless that performer also happens to have contributed to the industry behind the scenes.
“The awards will remain honoring those successful people who reflect work for the greater good of the industry,” Ms. York said. “The winners reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of our industry-the underdog mentality, the scrapper image.”
“This is an award for people to be recognized by their peers,” said Michael Willner, president and CEO of Insight Communications, who chaired this year’s awards committee.
“Each year there is a balance [between those who are] accomplished in their careers and those who have given great service to the entire industry,” Mr. Willner said. “In each case they’ve done excellent work, and this is our small way of repaying them.”
Mr. Willner headed a committee of eight NCTA members-many past winners, though the list is kept secret-who gathered at the NCTA headquarters in Washington to examine the hundreds of nominations and supporting statements, usually submitted by an individual’s company.
Another winner this year is Henry Schleiff, who is being honored with the Programmers Award for his more than 25 years in cable TV, most recently as chairman and CEO of Court TV Networks. He is credited for heading the team that turned around Court TV, creating a strong brand and making it profitable.
Kathryn Falk is being honored with the Vanguard for Young Leadership, given annually to an industry leader under age 40. Ms. Falk is the VP of public and government affairs for Cox Communications Northern Virginia, and her work as president of the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association helped turn around that organization’s image and financial ledger.
The creator of the Full Service Network and a trailblazer in interactive services and VOD, Mike LaJoie, chief technology officer for Time Warner Cable, is this year’s Vanguard winner for Science & Technology.
Eric Brown, senior VP of Western Division Operations for Charter Communications, will receive the Vanguard Award for Cable Operations Management. Under his watch Charter was the first entity to win a Community Recognition Award from the City of Long Beach, Calif., when it was honored for an anti-gang programming marathon.
‘V’ for Vanguard
The Government & Community Relations Vanguard this year is awarded to Alexander Netchvolodoff, senior VP of public policy for Cox Enterprises, who is an expert on public policy and an advocate for the entire cable industry with legislators.
Dave Watson, executive VP of operations for Comcast Cable, is being honored with the Vanguard for Marketing. He has devised and executed such breakthrough campaigns as “Comcastic” and “That was then. This is Comcast.”
At the ceremony and reception, winners will receive a Lucite statuette with a metal “V” imbedded. In addition to presentations and remarks by the winners, videos demonstrating their accomplishments will be shown.
“What remains telling about the Vanguards is that the winners still reflect those who have been in the industry since it really took off, along with some who may have been too young then but who have spent their entire careers in cable,” Ms. York said. “What the Vanguards mean, then, is that the spirit of the original founders continues today.”