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Cable Operators

Cable’s March Madness

4/03/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Forget about the college hoopsters and their annual March Madness tournament. The real action’s in the cable industry, which has become quite the spectator sport, with so many jump balls still in the air.

Never have there been so many rudderless teams or such chaos in cable. Let’s start with Adelphia Communications Corp. Forget about the now seemingly minor fact that the Rigas family lawyers have successfully managed to postpone the sentencing terms for any of those who had been found guilty. That’s just a sideshow to an Adelphia bidding process that’s taken another turn.

Last week Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Chuck Dolan surprised all with his last-minute bid, teaming with outside investors for Adelphia. Consider all of the ramifications on his own empire and how chaotic the game has become in Bethpage, N.Y.

The senior Dolan again surprised all when he filed with the Federal Communications Commission to stop his own company from selling some Voom assets to EchoStar Communications Corp. You honestly can’t make this stuff up.

And how about that revolving door at Charter Communications Inc.? Does anyone even know where the company is based anymore? Is it Denver or St. Louis? What really matters is what Vulcan Partners chairman Paul Allen will do to stem the tide. To date, he sure hasn’t shown his love of the cable industry by further investing in the assets he bought.

Then there was the gaping hole at Lifetime Television, finally filled late last week when co-owners The Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. announced that the new president would be former Cartoon Network president Betty Cohen.

That has got to be great news for Lifetime employees, who were totally devastated when Carole Black left her post March 21, after giving several months notice of her departure.

After much hemming and hawing, Disney and Hearst finally tapped Cohen, a total pro.

Cohen — who’d been at Cartoon for about a decade — left in July 2001 to form her own consultancy business.

Her return to the cable world will be most welcome. And the Lifetime troopers should breath a collective sigh of relief that a woman of Cohen’s talent and fortitude with be taking the helm.

Speaking of succession problems, there are lots of holes in the dike at Time Warner Cable. It’s been months since TWC announced that its co-chief operating officers, Tom Baxter and John Billock, would leave the company. That on top of the fact that the MSO’s marketing maven, Chuck Ellis, has already fled for greener pastures.

Billock remains, holding down the fort for now, until the COO position is filled. But insiders at Time Warner say there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency from management about those vacated slots.

Maybe these companies, like Lifetime, are just waiting to make their announcements this week at the National Show in San Francisco. Most of the above-written about scenarios were supposed to have be settled by March 31 — indeed, the ultimate March Madness.

September