News

Honoring Cable’s Pioneers

3/28/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Founded 42 years ago at an early NCTA Show, the Cable Pioneers has grown to 500 members whose ranks include many of the industry’s most respected innovators.

Dedicated to recognizing the entrepreneurial spirit that shaped the cable business, the Pioneers include such legendary names as Ben Conroy, Bill Daniels, Martin Malarkey, Milton Shapp and Archer Taylor among its membership.

This year, 25 new members will be added to the roster of Cable Pioneers. Among them is Dick Gessner, who in 1964 with his wife Susan, built Massillon Cable in Ohio after leaving a career as a farmer in northern Pennsylvania.

Also being honored is Decker Anstrom, who guided the NCTA through the 1996 Telecommunications Act and other challenging times.

Inductee Steve Bell in 1962 engineered and built a small cable system in Ellington, Mo., using his own self-built amplifiers, then went on to help shape the industry through his lobbying and educational efforts for decades.

Each of the newly inducted Cable Pioneers embodies qualities of vision and leadership regardless of their particular areas of focus, from marketing and public affairs to engineering and operations.

The 2009 class of Cable Pioneers will be honored at the Cable Show ’09 in Washington, D.C. on April 1.

Decker Anstrom, Former President, Landmark Communications; former Chairman, NCTA

Decker Anstrom’s invaluable service to the cable industry as president and CEO of the National Cable Television Association during the tumultuous years from 1994-1999, helped shape many of the industry’s future policies and strategies.

Most notably, Anstrom’s leadership role in the passage of the 1996 Cable Act will be remembered as a seminal moment for the industry.

After the NCTA, where he started his cable career as vice president in 1987, Anstrom went on to a three-year stint as president and CEO of the Weather Channel and seven years in the same capacity at Landmark Communications.

He was NCTA Chairman in 2007-08, served as chairman of the Walter Kaitz Foundation and was inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame in 2006.

“I am deeply honored to join my friends and teachers who are Cable Pioneers, and who built one of America’s great industries,” Anstrom said. “I am struck by the unending passion and creativity that drives our industry to continue to grow and serve our customers.”

Bill Beaty, Jr., Exec. VP, Cable TV Operations, Comporium Communications

Since 1974, when Bill Beaty, Jr. first joined cable as a marketing representative and door-door salesman for Comporium Communications, his leadership role within the industry has grown through cable’s ups and downs.

A longtime cable operator in South Carolina, Beaty oversaw Comporium’s migration from a broadcast retransmission business to its current range of communications services, including video, voice, data and wireless. The company’s local CN2 News has won 14 Golden Palmetto Awards.

He provided visionary leadership of the South Carolina Cable Television Association during passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. He has served on several South Carolina cable-related boards and is past chairman of the state’s cable TV association.

Steve Bell, Founder, Video Cable System

One of cable’s true pioneers, Steve Bell in 1962 engineered Video Cable System, a small cable business in Ellington, Mo., using his own self-built amplifiers. From that humble beginning, Bell would go on to build several smaller systems throughout Missouri.

With no knowledge that cable TV even existed in 1962, and armed with a basic course in electronics from United Television Laboratories in 1954, Bell began his career as a TV repairman and owner of Steve’s Electronics in 1958.

He would go on to build much of his own equipment that would serve a cluster of small towns and communities in Missouri.

Bell was elected to the Society of Cable Television Engineers board of directors in 1985 and was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Steve Bell II, VP, Operations, Boycom Cablevision

Steve Bell II’s cable career began early, very early. The son of Steve Bell, founder of Video Cable Systems, Bell would accompany his father during routine maintenance rounds and closely observe him building amplifiers and headend equipment.

His lessons were well learned. Bell would carry on his family’s cable business, which is one of Missouri’s earliest family owned cable businesses, and help design, build and operate systems in multiple communities in three states, while actively serving the Missouri Cable Association.

He would later join various companies as technical operations director, plant manager and general manager, as well as other engineering and technical positions. In 2007, he joined Boycom Cablevision as vice president of operations, where he remains head of daily operations.

“My dad built his first system in 1962 so I essentially grew up in the business and fortunately for me, I’ve never thought about doing anything else,” Bell said. “To be inducted into Cable Pioneers with my dad is really icing on the cake. It’s a tremendous honor.”

Maggie Bellville, Partner/exec. recruiter, CarterBaldwin

Following her time as chief operating officer at Cox Communications, Maggie Bellville moved to Atlanta-based executive search firm CarterBaldwin in 2005 as partner.

Having learned the cable business from the ground up at Century Cable in Los Angeles, then bringing her leadership skills to Charter, where she pushed to introduce telephony and commercial business services, Bellville has had a significant impact at each organization.

At Cox, Bellville led the company from cable to a multidimensional telecommunications corporation, initiating bundled services. She realigned the field organization with enlightened management, while growing revenue generating units and commercial business opportunities.

She has also mentored some of cable’s best and brightest minds and has contributed to many of the industry’s most important organizations.

On being named a Pioneer, Bellville said: “It takes on a new meaning for each of us to remember the things that make the industry so special — innovation, collegiality and entrepreneurism.”

Larry Bentson, Chairman, Midcontinent Comm.

As co-founder of Midcontinent Cable Systems in 1967, Larry Bentson’s cable career spans more than 40 years, during which time he helped expand cable into rural markets.

Beginning with a few small systems in Huron and Pierre, S.D., Bentson eventually would build cable systems in several other markets in the Dakotas and Nebraska, and partner with Tele-Communications Inc. to build systems in Wisconsin and Florida.

His philanthropic efforts have been an integral part of his career. Most notably, in 2003 he established a $10 million endowment fund for undergraduate scholarships at the University of Minnesota.

Currently there are 185 Bentson scholars enrolled in the program.

He has also contributed several million dollars to organizations such as United Hospital of St. Paul, Walker Art Center and others.

Steve Brookstein, Exec. VP, Operations, Bresnan Communications

The launching of Steve Brookstein’s cable career was well timed. It was 1980, and cable was beginning a decade of full throttle growth — in programming and subscriber additions.

For Brookstein, whose first job in cable was director of marketing for Cinemax, it would lead to posts at Comcast, where he launched the company’s first digital TV and high-speed Internet services, and Bresnan Communications, where he currently serves as executive vice president of operations.

At Bresnan, he grew cash flow by double-digit percentages for four consecutive years and launched digital telephone service.

Along the way, he has served on several cable industry organization boards, including the Emma Bowen Foundation, where he was recently appointed chair of its strategic planning committee. He was the 2008 recipient of the NCTA’s Vanguard Award for Cable Operations.

“I actually stumbled into the industry in 1978 and since then have always considered it a privilege to be part of the cable industry,” he said. “And becoming a Cable Pioneer is the ultimate privilege.”

John Burns III, Chairman/CEO, Windward Media

John Burns III’s cable schooling started on the job as vice president of sales and field operations at Showtime in 1981. He went on to make his mark in the industry through his innovative affiliate sales and marketing strategies.

Burns played a role in pioneering efforts in interactive television via his work with Starsight Telecast, a small Silicon Valley start-up. The company and technology continue today as TV Guide and other global licensees.

Burns went on to found the consulting firm The Burns Group in 1996 and become president of Fox Family Channel affiliate marketing and ad sales in 1999. He would later become CEO and vice chairman of EDGE TV and is currently CEO and chairman of Windward Media, a multimedia, Internet television content development, production and distribution company.

“I have always been in awe of the men and women who built our industry,” Burns said, adding that he was “over the moon on becoming a Cable Pioneer.”

Dan Casciato, VP, Distribution, Ovation TV, Chicago

As a door-to-door cable salesman for Cablenet, a suburban Chicago cable system, circa 1982, Dan Casciato learned the business on the front lines and with a keen sense of customer service.

The experience would lead Casciato to a career with Showtime Networks from 1984 to 1990, where he managed various operations and marketing functions for the premium network.

His unique perspective includes two sides of the industry, programming and operations; and his list of employers includes Continental Cablevision, USA Networks and Ovation TV, where he held positions as district director of marketing and programming, regional vice president and vice president of distribution, respectively.

Casciato has also been a tireless supporter of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing.

He has served on the organization’s advisory board and membership committee and helped to develop CTAM chapters.

Clay Conrad, VP, Global Sales, Invidi Technologies Group

Clay Conrad began his career selling cable door-to-door for Continental Cablevision in Chicago in cable’s early go-go days in 1981. But it wasn’t long before his sales and marketing savvy would launch him into cable’s forefront.

He played an active role in the development of new business applications for video and broadband distribution, both domestically and internationally, and since the mid-1990s has helped introduce interactive program guides, business applications for MPEG-4 and other advanced technologies.

Currently, he has been working on advanced advertising solutions for targeted and addressable deployments in the U.S. and abroad, and is the founder and president of Asia’s first trade association, the Cable and Satellite Broadcast Association of Asia.

Nick Davatzes, CEO Emeritus, A&E Television Networks

As president and CEO of A&E Television Networks from 1983 to 2005, Nick Davatzes steered the network through several critical periods during the industry’s most prolific growth spurts, and through many of its most challenging times.

Davatzes founded The History Channel and several other companion networks such as The Biography Channel, AETN International and a host of brand extensions for many of the networks.

The U.S. Marine Corps veteran and product of Xerox Corp. — where he began his career in 1965 — has received several prestigious awards and honors from a long list of cable, military and charitable organizations.

“The Cable Pioneers run the gamut of the industry,” he remarked. “It’s really a group we grew up with and they are the real founders of this industry. There are plenty of pioneers behind the scenes as well.”

Steve Davidson, Exec. VP, Sales, HBO

For nearly 33 years, Steve Davidson has been deeply entrenched in affiliate relations and sales for HBO.

From 1984 to 2002, Davidson led several HBO regions to impressive unit and revenue growth and built a seasoned professional sales organization.

He started in cable in 1976, selling cable door-to-door at PRISM, a company serving parts of New Jersey and South Philadelphia. “Who could turn down the media glamour of selling cable TV door-to-door in South Philadelphia for $5 a sale,” Davidson joked.

That led to his career at HBO, then to the consulting firm Sport Media.

Davidson is co-founder and former president of the Philadelphia Cable Club and currently serves as executive vice president of affiliate sales for HBO.

Chuck Davis, President, TV Cable Of Grayson County

The definitive pole climber, installer and splicer, Chuck Davis wired Austin, Tex.’s first cable household in 1963, and for the next 46 years would build profitable and enduring cable businesses in Oklahoma and Texas, with no financial backing.

His long-running cable career has seen transistors, the development of pay TV, satellite signals, cable Internet/phone and major leaps in technology. During his career, Davis has wired more than 500,000 homes.

He has lobbied in Washington on behalf of the small cable operator community, and recently hosted a roundtable in Dallas, which included 50 small operators discussing a wide range of issues.

Davis has been active in the Oklahoma Cable Association since the 1970s and has kept much of his business family owned.

Michael Drake, President, Milestone Comm.

Michael Drake’s 26-year career as an advocate for small, independent cable operators has touched just about every corner of the small operator community.

With his cable roots planted in 1983, when he served as treasurer and chief financial officer for Cardiff Communications, which owned and operated cable systems and published trade magazines, Drake’s cable career would lead to the brokerage firm Pat Thompson Co., Drake Communications and Milestone Communications, where he is currently president and sole shareholder.

Drake has structured several key deals within the cable community, negotiated contracts, consulted for independent cable operators, and contributed valuable service, as an operator and a broker, to small and independent operators.

He served on the executive committee of the American Cable Association from 2003-2006, and is the recipient of the association’s Lyn Simpson Grassroots Spirit Award.

Tom Feige, President, National Division, Time Warner Cable

Tom Feige has spent his 31-year career with two MSOs: first with American Television Communications and then Time Warner Cable. During that time, he has produced a long list of innovative financial, operational and technological advances.

From door-to-door salesman to his current position as president of Time Warner’s national division, Feige has consistently provided invaluable leadership, most notably in creating the cutting edge technology used by the Full Service Network in 1994.

His leadership in transitioning the Los Angeles Adlink organization from a mail and videotape environment to all digital accounted for a 55% growth in business.

Perhaps his most valuable contribution has been his ability to communicate and forge consensus, a skill that has greatly benefited his companies and the industry as a whole.

Richard Gessner, Chairman/Treasurer, Massillon Cable TV

Richard Gessner’s journey from farming in northern Pennsylvania to the founding of a small cable system in Massillon, Ohio, in 1964, epitomizes the industry’s entrepreneurial spirit.

As the first cable company to be deregulated, Massillon under Gessner’s guidance has grown into one of the country’s most successful small cable companies, and continues as one of the few remaining family owned operators.

Gessner and Massillon Cable have prided themselves on their fairness and honesty, two traits that have become the company’s signature throughout the cable community.

His contributions to cable go beyond the Massillon system, and include two terms as chairman of the Ohio State Television Association, chairman of the Community Antenna Television Association, and director of C-SPAN.

David Harrison, Director, Harrison Consult Ltd.

David Harrison’s journey from an electronic engineering apprenticeship in the UK to his own consulting firm currently serving Europe has included stops at Liberty Media, AT&T Broadband, Telewest and several other cable-related companies.

Harrison’s pioneering of TeleWest’s CATV architecture transition from Star Trap, and his leadership in the deployment of 1 million TDM voice services over HFC in Tokyo, has earned him the respect of cable engineers and technicians globally.

His more than 20 years of cable telecommunications experience in technical evaluation, operations management, network performance improvement and quality auditing have been instrumental in bringing several cable companies into the broadband marketplace.

Sam Howe, Chief Marketing Officer, Time Warner Cable

Sam Howe has always had an affinity for being on the leading edge of new services such as pay per view, voice-over-Internet protocol and the triple-play bundle.

He was involved in Cox Communications’ 1984 San Diego pay-per-view experimentation, became one of the first cable executives to be involved in the telephone product, and was the first triple-play marketer in the world in 1995 at TeleWest plc in the U.K.

He went on to market VoIP services in the U.S. with the launch of Time Warner Cable’s digital phone product in 2002, and led the expansion of the NCTA’s 2007-08 policy-focused image campaigns.

Howe’s many contributions to the industry earned him the 2008 NCTA Vanguard Award for Marketing.

Jim Hughes, Exec. Vice President, Broadband Sales and Marketing, Commscope

In 1984, Jim Hughes entered the cable industry as a sales representative for Belden Wire & Cable, where he won his company’s salesperson of the year award.

His next career stop was at CommScope, where he wrote the company’s initial business plan for entry into the conduit and coax business for wireless cell towers.

Hughes’ responsibilities broadened in 2005 when he became the company’s executive vice president of broadband sales and marketing, with worldwide business of more than $600 million.

During his 25-year cable career, Hughes has been a member of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s engineering committee, fundraising chairman for the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers Foundation, and is a high school instructor for Junior Achievement Project Business.

Nancy Larkin, VP, Marketing, Comcast SportsNet

Schooled at Continental Cablevision beginning in 1974, Nancy Larkin has had an impact on the cable industry in the areas of public affairs, communications, local programming, marketing and as an industry thought leader.

She was an early developer of local origination programming and a co-founder of the National Alliance for Community media. She developed community marketing campaigns that became models for national initiatives and helped develop CNN educational programming for high schools.

Larkin also helped create community marketing initiatives for several programmers, including Discovery, History Channel, Nickelodeon, CNN and others, and was part of the original team that created the Association of Cable Communicators.

She has found time to serve on several boards and committees, including CNN Education Committee, Women in Cable Telecommunications, Cable in the Classroom and currently with the NCTA’s Public Affairs Committee.

Brian Lockman, President/CEO, Pennsylvania Cable Network

After 15 years serving in various operations capacities for C-SPAN, and one of the four original staff members at the network, Brian Lockman took the leap and joined the Pennsylvania Cable Network in 1994 to become its vice president and COO.

Since 1975, when he joined Service Electric Cable TV as production manager, Lockman has spent his cable career directing operations and production at each of his career stops, leading to his current position as president and CEO of Pennsylvania Cable Network.

Along the way, he has won a Cable Ace Award for C-SPAN’s 1984 presidential election coverage and “Grassroots ’84” for News and Public Affairs Series, and is a founding board member of the National Association of Public Affairs Networks.

His programming changes at PCN resulted in an increase from 750,000 to 3.5 million households.

Matt Polka, CEO, American Cable Association

Matt Polka’s cable roots date back to 1986 during his days in private legal practice, specializing in cable television corporate and transactional tax law. It wasn’t long, however, before he would become a best friend to the small cable community.

Since Polka joined the American Cable Association in 1997 as its president and CEO, he has tirelessly advocated for the small cable community on several different fronts — from regulatory to economic issues.

Polka has helped grow the ACA to its current 1,000 members and routinely meets with members of Congress, the FCC and other federal agencies to represent the interests of small and independent cable operators.

The ACA serves 7 million cable subscribers in 50 states, and with Polka at the helm, is the only group of its kind solely representing small and independent cable businesses.

“It’s an overwhelming honor to be named with pillars of our industry, whom I deeply respect,” Polka said. “I’m going to try my best to live up to this humbling honor and continue to serve the industry and the independent cable operators, whom I am honored to serve.”

Lee Clayton Roper, President, BlueHighways TV

Lee Clayton Roper’s foray into cable in 1983 as director of marketing research for United Cable Television led to key roles in the development of cable programming.

Her leadership role in marketing for Bortz & Company, R&A Management (Rifkin & Associates) and United Pan-Europe Communications, along with her position as senior vice president of operations for Charter Communications’ Midwest Division, have been instrumental in gaining valuable consumer research and analyses for the cable industry.

Her work with the consulting firm International Media Advisors since 2006 has included new business development and all aspects of marketing, both domestically and internationally.

She has held various leadership positions with key industry associations and is currently president of BlueHighways TV, a start-up program provider.

“Being in the industry for 25 years, during which time it has grown into a leading provider of multiple telecommunications services, all of which is the hard work of the Pioneers, I’m honored and flattered to be invited to join such a prestigious group of successful entrepreneurs,” she said.

Susan Swain, President/Co-COO, C-SPAN

Susan Swain’s association with C-SPAN bridges 27 years and includes seven presidential elections and hundreds of interviews with members of congress, authors, journalists and government officials as on-air host, making her one of the industry’s most visible, and respected pioneers.

Since the launching of the highly respected network, Swain has served in several executive roles — from vice president of corporate communications to executive vice president and co-chief operating officer — and since 1995 has hosted the weekly Washington Journal.

“Right from the get-go, I knew that not only cable, but C-SPAN was for me,” she said. “What an opportunity to use the cable industry’s impressive technology to inform and educate people.”

Her many industry awards include Women in Cable Telecommunications’ Woman of the Year Award, the NCTA’s Vanguard Programming Award and Multichannel News’ Wonder Women.

Swain currently is serving a two-year term as chair of the National Press Foundation, which provides free training about Washington policy issues for journalists.

Jeff Wayne, Exec. VP, Programming, Outdoor Channel

Jeff Wayne’s impact on cable has been felt on the programming and the operations sides of the industry.

After 17 years with Colony Communications (later Continental Cable), Wayne’s first assignment was to revive the struggling Food Network. As president, he rebranded the network, launched the popular Web site, FoodTV.com, and helped the fledgling network to become one of the nation’s most popular channels.

Yet his career also included a role as vice president of operations and general manager for Great American Country, where he oversaw the rollout of GAC and was instrumental in growing its subscriber base from 1 million to 40 million.

Currently executive vice president of programming for the Outdoor Channel, Wayne has served on several boards, including for the Cable Advertising Bureau and Food Network.

“Having been on both sides of the business — operations and programming — it’s been quite a ride, with every year becoming more challenging,” Wayne said. “It’s been an amazing experience.”

September