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Cable Operators

TW’s Britt on Change

1/23/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

The irony was not lost on me last week when I finally presented Time Warner Cable’s chairman and CEO Glenn Britt with Multichannel News’s Operator of the Year award for 2004.

The hiccup here: As a result of a corporate reorganization that occurred just days earlier, two of Britt’s chieftains — John Billock and Tom Baxter, who served as co-chief operating officers — are retiring. On top of that, longtime MSO marketing maven Chuck Ellis announced he was leaving to pursue other interests.

And there I was, presenting this award in Stamford, Conn., with our This Week in Cable crew, to honor a team that basically no longer existed.

Yikes. But we got through the awkwardness of it swimingly well, I thought. Judge for yourself by viewing it at Multichannel.com (www.multichannel.com/multi-vision).

Britt was candid about what it takes for an MSO to navigate through the present world of advanced offerings that go beyond video and data, forging ahead into telephony as satellite and the phone companies now struggle with those same competitive issues.

Britt brandished his own company and the cable sector for not grooming executives sufficiently to meet those daunting challenges. He talked about a time — when he first entered the business, three decades ago — when cable was new and attracted young people who were handed a boatload of responsibilities and grew to become well-versed in all disciplines.

That no longer happens. As cable matured, those all-encompassing skill sets became distilled over time, as is the case in all aging business sectors. Over the years, cable executives became experts in particular areas: technology, programming, government affairs or dealing with Wall Street and investors.

Few executives today see the big picture. And Time Warner recognized that as it searches for a new COO, one of the hardest jobs to fill. Like other MSOs, Time Warner is trying to strengthen its bench, at a time when the regulators will soon come calling, reviewing the Telecommunications Act.

Britt gives the cable industry about a year’s grace time to get its act together to battle the competitive forces at hand. Remember, he is also the chairman of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which is searching for a replacement for Robert Sachs.

That’s what the reorganization at Time Warner — and other cable companies, like Charter Communications Inc. — is basically all about. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see other MSOs make sweeping changes to their organizational charts.

At Time Warner, the re-org is just underway. Like dominoes, one move leads to another. Britt said that as his company gains scale, the decentralized Time Warner is looking for a strategy that makes sense. Cable is a local business, and some decisions must be made at that level. But with scale (Time Warner has 11 million subscribers) comes buying clout, which needs to be centralized.

Hang on to your hats, folks. The new chess game has just begun.

 

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April