E-musing with CableWorld Editor Seth Arenstein WASHINGTON, DC—Some years ago, late into a rainy evening, I and an out-of-town colleague were taken on a private tour of Washington’s National Cathedral by a man neither of us knew. He approached us during a rehearsal of an orchestra at a school next door to the massive Cathedral.

While it seemed strange, the man appeared harmless. The result was a tour de force, down in the catacombs, up in the spire, in the choir loft—literally all over a dark, nearly empty Cathedral, the rain beating down on the roof. The tour of a lifetime given by a man who seemed to know every winding staircase in the huge edifice.

The only other sound in  the gothic structure whose last brick was put into place only a few years ago was the eerie dirge that the organist played. We found out later that our informative tour guide was the veteran choral director of the Cathedral. His tour was a labor of love.

After last night’s WICT gala in rainy Washington, DC, we were offered another late-night tour, but of a completely different nature. Our venue this time was NCTA’s bright, glass- and tech-filled new HQ, about 1 mile from the Capitol dome on Massachusetts Avenue. 

Simply put, it’s an incredible space-age space, at least it was last night, gleaming brightly during a dark, rainy evening. Borrowing a phrase we use in CableFAX Daily’s weekly Programmer’s Page, this is definitely "worth a look." More important, it will take a word painter more skilled than I to adequately describe the structure’s feel and beauty. An attempt: the offices resemble the "home of the future" that was envisioned in the mid-1960s and 1970s, a minimalist look with lots of glass and flat-screen devices. Think of the structures in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Visitors are immediately struck by dozens of flat screens throughout the structure. Some are HD TVs, others are displays, some large, others the size of a small book. Many are scattered in the cable home, co-designed and sponsored by Comcast and Scripps, providing a metaphorical sea of tranquility for cable programmers and operators to meet. In addition to the cable home’s living room, we can’t ignore the game room (with 2 space-age gaming chairs facing a large flat screen) or the small bar, complete with the NCTA logo on the beer tap.

Sure to be one of our favorite spots in the new building is the HD, THX theater, with its nearly 200 Italian, white-leather chairs. Developed for George Lucas, the THX part insures excellent acoustics and image quality. Indeed, the screen is huge and the angularity of the room is impressive. Also neat is the “floating floor,” which is evident when ButtKicker takes over and rocks your seats when appropriate frequency waves kick in. This is tantamount to the feeling you get when in a theme park theater, with moving seats and great acoustics.

Visitors at tonight’s open house for Capitol Hill staff and other guests will get their butts kicked when a short scene depicts fireworks exploding. (Of course, we couldn’t help but think how great a film of the drum corps that opened Wednesday night’s WICT event would sound with ButtKicker kicking in.) After the fireworks, visitors will see clips on the large HD screen from cable’s HD channels, including plenty of Tony Soprano from A&E HD, which leads things off.

Coming off the lobby is a staircase with more TVs and a few dozen posters touting cable channels, including indies like Sportsman Channel and little guys like Shalom TV. On the lobby’s other end is the boardroom, large and expertly fitted out (by Comcast) with VHS, DVD, Beta and  large screens for teleconferencing, Internet streaming and audio podcasting.

The 2nd floor work spaces keep the modernist and minimalist themes. Each office has a flat-screen TV, as does the  various kitchen/dining areas. The executive suites are not grand, but nicely sized. The flat-screen TV in Kyle McSlarrow’s office is prominent.      

We can’t forget the small touches. Yes, we knew about the Abel and Mabel bathrooms, but we hadn’t heard about the TVs in them. Even the microwave ovens in the various NCTA pantries have a retro 60s look. Perhaps not on tonight’s tour, but worth a glance, is the gymnasium in the basement, and its stone-walled locker rooms.

In short, NCTA has built an office the way an office should be, and its inhabitants are jazzed by it. If its comfortable surroundings help NCTA to assist the industry in staving off the formidable competition that lurks, the investment will have been worthwhile.

The Daily

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