You could almost forgive the Association of Cable Communicators if its notoriously lengthy Beacons awards ran long last night. It was the first Beacons under the ACC name, but it was also the last one to be held a la carte, separately from cable’s new mandatory 2 weeks of events. Yet credit Steve Jones, Peggy Ballard and the ACC board for delivering one of the quickest Beacons in memory, with more than 70 pointy statues for communications and public affairs distributed in fewer than 3 hours.

It was also one of the most competitive Beacons nights ever, and thanks to Comedy Central talent Paul Mercurio, one of the funniest. While Cox, Time Warner Cable and Comcast dominated in total Beacons, the wide margins between Cox and just about everyone else were gone. When it was over BBC-Discovery Channel’s Emmy winning Planet Earth had snared the Golden Beacon and 2 other Beacons, besting Animal Planet’s Animal Expo and Nick’s Let’s Just Play.

By our unofficial count, perennial powerhouse Cox, in a fitting farewell to former chief communicator Ellen East, again topped all entrants with 14 Beacons, closely trailed by Time Warner and Comcast with 12 each.

Just as important, a slew of smaller entities—including WWE (1), WICT (1), Bresnan (2), CSTV (1), MTVU (3), DIY (2), Bay News 9 (1) and Cable Positive Denver (1)—were toting awards, some for the first time. Beyond that a bevy of programmers and operators took home Beacons, including FSN (3), Animal Planet (2), Charter (2), Nick (2), Rainbow (2), Brighthouse (2), VH1 (2), USA (1), Lifetime (3), and Cablevision (1).

Beyond the awards, the evening’s sentiment was best summed up by Discovery Channel VP Elizabeth Hillman, who said during her Golden Beacon acceptance speech that Planet Earth "reminds us of why we do what we do." Hillman’s words could also apply to the good deeds contained in the hundreds of Beacons nominations.
 
Mercurial Mercurio: Paul Mercurio’s comedy wasn’t to everyone’s taste, as he walked between tables doing a slightly toned down Don Rickles schtick, poking fun at ACC members and guests, including ACC president Peggy Ballard, who was chided all night long, ESPN talent Tim Kirkjian (“can you get me tickets?”) and Cox chief Pat Esser (“you seem emotionally closed off”), among others. Still, he produced a stream of laughs as well as the occasional roar. And he was relevant and went relatively light on Eliot Spitzer and the infamous Mayflower Hotel, which hosted the ACC event, although he had to try one. “I have the triple play,” Mercurio said. “For just $89 from Cablevision, I get video, voice and Internet…(pause) just to put that into context, a guy at this hotel asked for the triple play and it cost him…” 
 

More Honors: ACC also tapped Habitat For Humanity for its Community Bridges Award, Lifetime EVP Meredith Wagner and Cox President Pat Esser for its President’s Awards. An unabashed proponent of The Boys and Girls Clubs, Esser noted that competitors are not only luring customers, they are “trying to steal our community affairs partners.” But cable has superior products and a better story to tell, he said. Wagner, a tireless advocate for social affairs at Lifetime and Cable Positive, combined comedy and advocacy in her acceptance speech. Recounting a time when she fell into a pond at a winter wedding trying to feed swans, she said she felt in no position to dispense advice, except when speaking about Lifetime’s “causes…and passion” for social justice. Also honored were BET’s Rap It Up Teen Forums, which have dispensed AIDS information to more than 20K teens, and Time Warner Cable Staten Island’s Triple Play Championship Tournament, which promoted teamwork, sportsmanship and education for 13-year-olds. 
 
Next Up: The subsequent Beacons will be held in conjunction with one of cable’s two event weeks, in fall 2009. In the meantime, Ballard said, ACC will hold regional events and Webinars, including a jointly sponsored session with CableFAX on April 22.

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