Cable’s Peacekeeper2/28/2011 12:01 AM Eastern
In the month leading up to
his new gig as president and CEO of the National
Cable & Telecommunications Association
in 2005, Kyle McSlarrow boned up
on the cable industry, of which he knew
next to nothing.
He intended to spend the first few weeks
of his tenure methodically introducing
himself to his new staff and board. Everything
was going exactly
to plan when all hell
While McSlarrow was
getting to know where
the copy room was and
meet ing his new coworkers
in his first morning
on the job, Sen. Ted
Stevens (R-Alaska) vowed
to extend the broadcastindecency
rules to the
cable industry in a
speech to broadcasters.
orderly introduction was sidelined and it
was all hands on deck at the NCTA.
Even though McSlarrow was a cableindustry
neophyte, he didn’t panic. He
called Stevens, acknowledging the senator’s
concerns about cable programming and explaining
it was his first day as head of the cable
industry’s lobbying arm. He asked for a
few weeks to respond to Stevens’ plans.
Stevens was all too happy to oblige. He
knew the new NCTA president well, having
worked with him when McSlarrow was a staffer for Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Sen. Paul
Coverdell (R-Ga.) in the 1990s. (Stevens was
killed in a plane crash last year, along with
four other passengers in a plane owned by
Alaska telecommunications provider GCI.)
It would be the just the first of almost a
continuous string of dragons McSlarrow
would have to slay in his nearly six years as
NCTA president. Last November, he told the
NCTA board he planned to step down this
spring, with plans to stay
in the industry in some
“I called up Robert
Sachs [who preceded
McSlarrow as NCTA president
between 1999 and
2005] in 2007 and asked
him how many times he
had a full-on emergency,”
McSlarrow said. “He told
me he had about one a
year. We seem to have one
about every month.”
While not advocating such a dramatic trial
by fire for the next NCTA honcho, McSlarrow
said there were a few silver linings in the indecency
melee. Cable avoided what could
have been costly legislation and McSlarrow
and the NCTA staff and board very quickly
got to know each other very well.
“I ended up having more interaction with
a wider swath of people than I would have
normally had in that time frame,” McSlarrow
said. “It turned out to be the best thing, because
it forced me and everyone else to accelerate working together and we all got to know each other
faster and better.”
McSlarrow is now preparing to leave the NCTA, and
many of the association’s board members are crushed.
Although hiring McSlarrow had been a leap of faith, given
his lack of cable experience at the time, he has proven
to be very valuable on several fronts, several board members
told Multichannel News.
“Kyle is one of the most effective NCTA presidents in
the organization’s history,” Suddenlink Communications
chairman and CEO Jerry Kent said. “He has turned back
legislative efforts that would have hurt the industry, including
net neutrality and [public, education and government
channel] proposals. He can also play offense and
craft compromises, as demonstrated in the recent FCC
net-neutrality decision and the education of the FCC on
the technical challenges of an AllVid device.”
CommScope chairman and CEO Frank Drendel has
served on the NCTA’s board for more than 30 years and took
one step further than Kent — he said he believes McSlarrow
to be the most effective president the NCTA has ever had.
“Kyle is very good at crisis management — probably the
best we’ve ever had, and that’s a very good thing,” said
Drendel. “I don’t think I have ever seen a more difficult
period of time in NCTA’s history. Kyle has done a brilliant
job of steering the NCTA through it all.”
McSlarrow has managed more than once to turn a potentially
lethal issue — or at least a problematic one — to
the cable industry’s advantage.
The brouhaha over indecency didn’t lead to legislation.
But it did prompt at least one congressional hearing, many
months of political posturing and lots of attention. Rather
than take a defensive stance, McSlarrow tackled the issue
head-on, by launching a massive public-service initiative
called “Take Control. It’s Easy.”
The program was designed to help families take charge
of their viewing and included a series of voluntary commitments,
including an enhanced TV-ratings system and
a $250 million campaign to educate parents about cable’s
SEES THE WHOLE FOREST
One of McSlarrow’s talents is his ability to see an issue
from all angles, Cox Communications CEO and NCTA
chairman Pat Esser said.
“One of the things Kyle has taught me is that it’s not always
what’s on the surface that’s the real issue,” Esser said. “It’s often
what’s under the water you really have to deal with.”
For instance, during the network-neutrality scuffle, consumers
weren’t really dissatisfied with their broadband
product, Esser said. “So why had that issue bubbled to the
top? It was political interests and edge players.
“Kyle taught me we have to deal with their issues. At
the end of the day, he continually reminds us what it’s all
about,” Esser said.
McSlarrow’s comprehension of the governmental process
and extensive contact list were reassuring when he
was hired, according to Time Warner Cable chairman and
CEO Glenn Britt, who was the NCTA’s chairman in 2005.
Because McSlarrow came from outside the industry,
though, there was some concern he wouldn’t understand
its nuances. He turned out to be a quick study and swiftly
earned the respect of his staff and board.
“It’s not hard to find a technician who knows how to navigate
the regulatory map,” Britt said. “But it is hard to find a
person who can do that and tie it to what’s really important
to the cable industry. It’s not a common skill, but Kyle has it.”
McSlarrow has strengthened the NCTA’s leadership by
adding key personnel, Kent said, and he was able fend off
some formidable attacks, including egregious franchise
rules, increases in pole-attachment rates, attempts to force
operators to offer programming on an a la carte basis, digital
multicast must-carry and network-neutrality rules that
would have strangled cable’s broadband business.
McSlarrow has also been proactive. Among the programs
or initiatives undertaken by the NCTA under
McSlarrow’s watchful eye and helpful hand:
• The Cable Hope Fund, established in 2005 to assist cable
employees and communities in the Gulf Coast region
following Hurricane Katrina; the fund subsequently aided
cable employees in other natural disasters.
• The Cable Show, staged in Washington, D.C., in 2009
for the first time in nearly 40 years, which allowed more
than 100 members of Congress and all the FCC commissioners
to easily attend.
• The Adoption-Plus initiative, proposed in 2009 and designed
to help eliminate barriers to broadband adoption.
• An industry-wide initiative, PointSmart.ClickSafe,
launched in June of 2007 to ensure online safety and enhance
Internet literacy among cable broadband subscribers.
• Navigating the transition to digital television by marshaling
resources to create an industry-funded call center
that managed hundreds of thousands of consumers’
questions about the switch-off of over-the-air analog TV.
McSlarrow also supervised the rollout of a $200 million
consumer-education campaign on the digital transition.
• Relocation of the NCTA’s headquarters to the foot of
Capitol Hill, affording members of Congress and staff
members closer proximity to the NCTA and its staff .
Perhaps McSlarrow’s most successful and important role
as the trade group’s CEO has been his ability to keep the
group’s disparate board marching in the same direction.
The NCTA’s board is made up of members that widely —
and sometimes vehemently and very publicly — disagree
with one another over business issues that could easily
prove combustible to other groups. Yet the NCTA, which
straddles the programming and distribution camps, is
known for its unifi ed voice on many subjects.
KEEPING A UNITED FRONT
McSlarrow said the group is not without its “occasional
strains,” but there’s more agreement than disagreement
on the NCTA’s board. He said he is proud of the fact that
“in the face of a lot challenges, we all stayed together and
“We don’t sweep under the bridge the fact that we have
members with different business interests and models,” he
said. “It’s not always kumbaya, but we don’t fixate on that.
There is more that unites us than divides us.
“And NCTA is a good forum to air out and work through
issues between members and factions of the industry,” he
said. “I have personally mediated some disputes. It’s just
a natural function of the job.”
McSlarrow might downplay the importance of his mediator’s
role, but members of the NCTA board clearly do not.
Herding cats (or cable CEOs) can be tricky business, as the
chief executives themselves can attest.
In a speech honoring McSlarrow with Th e Media Institute’s
Freedom of Speech Award in October 2010, former
Landmark Communications CEO and NCTA board
member Decker Anstrom said McSlarrow’s ability to unite
board members, despite their competing interests, is a
unique and critical trait.
“To paraphrase Jack Valenti, keeping CEOs on the
same page is like trying to herd frogs into a wheelbarrow,”
Anstrom said. And he would know: As NCTA president from
1993 to 1999, Anstrom mediated his fair share of disputes.
“Kyle is the CEO of CEOs,” Drendel said. “He has to manage
a very diverse group of some of the most powerful —
and let’s face it, sometimes egotistical — people in the
world of telecommunications. And he has to keep everyone
on track to deliver a cohesive and persuasive message
to Congress and the FCC.
“Kyle has done that very well. Everyone trusts him —
congressmen, staffers, FCC commissioners and cableindustry
There are myriad issues the NCTA board must contend
with on a regular basis, and a number of them can be contentious,
Esser said. But McSlarrow never loses sight of the
overall mission, and that makes him very effective, according
to the Cox CEO.
McSlarrow understands the issues and how they affect
the diverse interests and profiles of companies that the
NCTA represents, Charter Communications CEO Mike
Lovett, an NCTA board member, added.
EARNED PEERS’ RESPECT
McSlarrow also has the respect of other lobbyists. He
might disagree with someone or stand on the other side
of an issue, but he has always worked across the lines for
a better outcome.
Historical adversaries have nothing but good things to say
about NCTA’s kingpin these days, and groups that have traditionally
been at loggerheads with the group have worked in
tandem with the association for common goals in recent years.
“I am a Kyle McSlarrow fan,” Gary Shapiro, president of
the Consumer Electronics Association, said. “He and I had
policy disagreements, but I totally trusted him. After being
at NCTA only a few months, he called and gave me a
heads-up on an issue which didn’t affect cable.
“He and former [National Association of Broadcasters
president] David Rehr and I agreed that our three industries
would work together to inform the public about the
DTV transition with a consistent message. He kept his
word and never showboated. He faced hostile regulators
and never lost his cool or his bearings.”
Gordon Smith, the current NAB chief, said he considers
McSlarrow “the cable industry’s secret weapon in Washington”
and said he has “done a phenomenal job balancing
the interests of his members while warding off threatened
Kent considers McSlarrow to be a “terrific consensus
builder” both inside and outside the industry. “He works
with competitors, such as telephone and satellite associations,
and consumer interest groups, on issues in which
we have mutual interests,” he said.
McSlarrow said his approach is a by-product of past
experiences and jobs that required him to walk across a
physical or ideological aisle in order to create an accord.
“You have to keep the lines of communications open
and you have to listen to other people’s opinions or viewpoints,
because you never know when you’re going to need
someone’s support,” he said.
‘IF WE COULD CLONE HIM’
The NCTA’s board members remain mum on who will take
the association’s helm following McSlarrow’s departure.
Board members agree the NCTA needs someone “who can
rally the industry on key issues that threaten our business
models and navigate uncertain legislative and regulatory
matters,” Kent said.
Board members are looking to find a replacement with
many of the same attributes McSlarrow has displayed
from day one.
“If we could clone him, I would do it in a heartbeat,”
Britt added: “We’re looking for Kyle’s twin. He’s been a great
leader and we’d like to find someone with similar skill sets.”
McSlarrow has said he plans to remain in the cable industry
after stepping down as NCTA’s top dog. It’s a path
several NCTA presidents have taken in the past.
“I’m not surprised that Kyle wants to stay in the cable industry,”
Kent said. “Once you get a taste of the challenges,
the evolving technology and the great services and value
we bring to the consumer, it’s hard to walk away.”
AT A GLANCE: KYLE McSLARROW
• President/CEO of NCTA since 2005
• Deputy secretary/chief operating
officer of the U.S. Department of
Energy — an agency with more than
100,000 federal and contractor
employees, 17 national labs, and
a budget of $23 billion — between
2000 and 2004. He exercised policy
and programmatic supervision over
a diverse agency that includes the
nation’s nuclear weapons complex,
non-proliferation programs, a $7
billion environmental cleanup
program, and a research-anddevelopment
high-energy physics and the
development of advanced technology
to strengthen the nation’s energy
and homeland security.
• National chairman for Dan Quayle’s
2000 presidential campaign, from
November 1998 to February 2000.
• Chief of staff for the late U.S. Sen.
Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) between 1997
• Deputy chief of staff and chief
counsel for Senate majority leaders
Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Trent Lott
(R-Miss.) between 1995 and 1997.
• Republican nominee in Virginia’s 8th
Congressional District in 1992 and
• Captain in the U.S. Army. McSlarrow
served in the Secretary of the Army’s
office as assistant to the general
counsel of the Army from 1985-
1989. For the first two years, he was
an environmental lawyer with the
Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Subsequently, he negotiated R&D
agreements with NATO. He and his
father, a career Army officer, worked
at the Pentagon at the same time
and McSlarrow laughs that his dad
was always irked that Kyle had a bigger
office than he did.
• Vice president of political and
government affairs for Grassroots.com, a privately-held Internet
company marketing web-based
political tools and services.
• Associate with the Washington, D.C.,
law firm of Hunton & Williams.
• McSlarrow earned degrees from
Cornell University and the University
of Virginia School of Law.
• McSlarrow, wife Alison and their two
boys, ages 8 and 10, live in Fairfax
• He is an avid reader of sci-fi books
and usually has one or two on
his bedside table, often by David
Weber and Ian Douglas — two of
his favorite authors. A student of
history, he is also currently reading
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.
• McSlarrow’s favorite TV shows at the
moment include House, The Closer,
Burn Notice, White Collar and Blue
Bloods. He is also a regular watcher
of Masterpiece Theatre. A big fan of
Battlestar Galactica, McSlarrow is in
a bit of withdrawal since the show’s
conclusion. He’s looking forward to
the next installment. His favorite
network, not surprisingly, is Syfy.
GIVING BRESNAN EULOGY
WAS ‘VERY HUMBLING’
BILL BRESNAN HAD BEEN IN
the cable industry for
50 years, while Kyle
McSlarrow had been
in it for just five when
Bresnan died in 2009 after
a long battle with cancer.
Ann Bresnan, Bill’s
wife, knew a gang of
Bill’s industry friends
and colleagues would
be happy and eager to
speak at his memorial service. But she wanted
McSlarrow to be the lone cable-industry voice.
“It was a hard choice, but I knew Kyle was going
to be the right person,” Ann Bresnan said. “And it
was a good decision. He was a wonderful speaker
and he hit the nail on the head, even though he
had only about 24 hours to prepare.”
McSlarrow considered the invitation to be the
single greatest moment in his tenure in cable.
“Being asked to speak at Bill’s service was very
humbling,” he said. “But I was honored to be asked
to provide a voice, however inadequate, for an
industry which truly loved this great and good man.”
Ann Bresnan said McSlarrow spoke from the
heart and was both poignant and humorous, which
made his comments fun and heartfelt at the same
time. And while McSlarrow may have been more
neutral than say, close friends such as industry
titans Cablevision Systems chairman Charles
Dolan or Comcast founder Ralph Roberts, among
a slew of others, he was certainly infl uenced by
Bill Bresnan’s expertise and his willingness to
offer help or guidance at the drop of a hat.
“Bill helped Kyle out a lot, especially when he
first came to the NCTA,” Ann Bresnan recalled.
“Kyle and Bill worked well together and Bill
respected Kyle a lot. Kyle came into the industry
at a difficult period and he has done an incredible
job. Anyone who hires him will be very lucky.”