Almost 700 cable executives descended on the Cable Center on Oct. 14 to honor six of the industry’s most influential leaders. The annual Hall of Fame award is bestowed to men and women whose achievements have provided service to the cable industry and contributed significantly to the growth and development of cable, and to the people, communities and organizations served by cable TV. This year’s honorees included Julian Brodsky, vice chairman, Comcast Corp.; Gustave Hauser, chairman/CEO, Hauser Communications; John Hendricks, president/CEO, Discovery Communications; Walter Kaitz (deceased), founder of the California Cable Television Association; John Sie, founder/president/CEO, Starz Encore Group; and Robert Tarlton, formerly of Jerrold Electronics and the founder of one of the country’s first cable systems. Julian Brodsky got into the cable business 40 years ago when he teamed up with Ralph Roberts and Dan Aaron to form Comcast Corp., now the nation’s largest MSO by far. It was Brodsky’s trademark conservative fiscal tendencies that earmarked Comcast’s strong financial balance sheets and allowed the MSO to continue growing over the years without putting too much debt on its balance sheet. He was also in charge of Comcast’s merger-and-acquisition activities as well as its international expansion efforts. Brodsky has slowed down a bit in recent years, but not much. He still serves as Comcast’s vice chairman and is also chairman of Interactive Capital Group, a venture capital fund formed a few years ago to help incubate and fund interactive companies. He also is keenly involved in the Cable Center and is on several boards, some nonprofit and some for profit. An avid photographer, he’s in the process of organizing and digitizing over 2,000 slides he’s taken over the years. Brodsky has also taken up writing. But he’s not sitting around much either. He continues to play tennis several times a week and travels extensively. “Many of my responsibilities have been taken over by younger Comcasters,” Brodsky says. “It’s been tremendously fun. [The cable industry] isn’t quite the Wild West it used to be when we had enemies coming at us from every turn. Our opponents were legion, and still are, frankly. We were always in a state of crisis and we had no rules to guide us. But I can’t imagine what could be more fun than where we are today and what we have today.” Brodsky says he never purposely struck out to make Comcast the largest MSO, but “logically we had to get where we are today. We were always buying systems and we never really sold anything. We could make long-range plans. Coupled with the entrepreneurial spirit here, we couldn’t help but grow. And when AT&T Broadband became available to us, we were able to do it one svelte move.” Gus Hauser was interactive cable before interactive cable was cool. It was Hauser, as CEO of Warner Amex Cable, who oversaw the development of QUBE, an advanced and interactive cable system that ended up being a bit ahead of its time but led to innovations the industry is embracing today such as video-on-demand, polling and home shopping. Hauser went on to run his own company — Hauser Communications — eventually selling it to Southwestern Bell, which was the first Bell operating company to get into the cable business. Those suburban Washington, D.C., properties eventually ended up in the hands of Comcast. Since his retirement from the cable business in 1993, Hauser has heavily concentrated all his efforts on philanthropy. Although he sits on the Cable Center board, most of his philanthropic efforts are global in nature. “Philanthropy is a uniquely American institution,” Hauser says. “The rest of the world hasn’t grasped how important it is to society.” Hauser and his wife concentrate “on funding rather than fund-raising — things that make a difference. We originate our own projects,” he says. For instance, the Hauser Center for Non-Profits at Harvard was started by the Hausers. He’s still active in the cable industry, donating time and money to the Cable Center and the Museum of TV and Radio. Hauser also still meets and communicates regularly with the friends and colleagues he met while working in the cable industry. He doesn’t really miss the business — he’s too busy with his new ventures — but he does relish his time in the industry and says he’s glad to see the industry finally live up to its potential. “It took awhile,” he says. “QUBE was premature. But all the things we did with that service are now coming to fruition, and we knew at the time they would eventually be successful.” Looking at Starz Encore chairman John Sie today, it’s hard to imagine him as a youthful hooligan who got into trouble everywhere he went. Then again, maybe it’s not so hard, given the contrarian positions he’s taken on many issues in the cable business over the years. Sie almost single-handedly changed U.S. policy on digital transmission standards by convincing Washington regulators in 1987 to ditch the Japanese analog HD standard in favor of a digital transition that continues today. He is again trying to convince regulators that some of the decisions that have been made as they relate to the transition to HD need tweaking. Sie got into the cable business when John Malone, who was president of Jerrold Electronics at the time, hired him as head of terminal products and services in 1972. Sie went to Showtime in 1978. It was difficult to get the MSOs to carry to Showtime since most had already cut deals with HBO; at the time, operators were choosing between one or the other. But that would change when Wometco Cable in Thibodaux, La., allowed HBO and Showtime to duke it out in its market — whoever got the most subscribers during a marketing and sales test, got the contract. The test showed that a significant number of customers actually wanted both, and the idea of multipay was born. Sie joined his old boss Malone again in 1984 as SVP in charge of strategic affairs for TCI. And when TCI’s deal to buy 50% of Showtime foundered in 1989, he saw an opportunity to create a discounted premium movie service. “I actually started it on a dare,” he says. “I wanted to do it, and John said I’d never be able to get product, and I said, ‘If I can get three studios to give me enough product for three years, would you back it?’ and he said, ‘Sure.’ So that’s what I did.” Encore was born in 1991 with TCI’s blessing, backing and support. Today, the company is one of Liberty Media’s most successful assets. John Hendricks had no idea how the cable industry worked, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to start a cable network dedicated to documentaries and educational programming. With the backing of Advance Newhouse, TCI and Cox, Hendricks’ Discovery Networks has become one of the most successful cable network groups in the industry’s history. Still, it hasn’t been easy. “You’ve never lived until you are two weeks from bankruptcy,” he told the crowd during the Cable Center’s Hall of Fame dinner. But the cable operators who invested in Hendricks and his vision 20 years ago are pleased with the results. Liberty Media chairman John Malone has said in the past that if there is one asset he doubts he’ll ever part with, it’s Discovery. Hendricks was so forward thinking, some of his business ideas are just now coming to fruition, says Advance Newhouse chairman Bob Miron. Several years ago, Hendricks developed YCTV (Your Choice TV) which allowed viewers to choose to watch a variety of shows that had already been telecast for a small fee. Video-on-demand was born. The business was ahead of its time, unfortunately, and eventually folded. But the idea never did and now VOD is one the industry’s biggest potential revenue generators and value-added products. Hendricks has lobbied hard over the years to make sure other entrepreneurs like himself continue to have the kind of environment that made it possible for him to succeed. Walter Kaitz didn’t create the foundation that bears his name. Indeed, the Walter Kaitz Foundation, formed to promote diversity in the cable industry, was created in his honor by a group of friends and colleagues the night of his funeral in 1979. Kaitz, a longtime advocate of diversity and himself a Russian immigrant, was a powerful ally to cable operators in the 1960s and 1970s. He created the California Cable Television Association — a model that operators in other states would try to emulate as state and national regulatory issues cropped up and the industry grew. Under Kaitz’s direction, the CCTA was able to persuade the California legislature to pass legislation governing the cable industry and help eliminate unreasonable pole attachment rates charged by utilities. “Walter’s values set him apart from other lobbyists,” says John Goddard, former CEO of Viacom Cable and one of the originators of the Kaitz Foundation. “He was our coach. I remember [when] he was dying — he still called me one day to talk about the direction the CCTA should take.” Bob Tarlton didn’t get rich in the cable business, but he did make an impact. When Tarlton was a TV salesman in Lansford, Pa., he learned that TVs weren’t flying off his shelves because residents in his town couldn’t get reception. So he decided to change all that. He had read about Milton Shapp, who ran Jerrold Electronics and would eventually become Pennsylvania’s governor. Shapp was putting antennas on the top of apartment buildings and running cable into each apartment so residents could receive TV signals. Tarlton figured he could do the same thing in Lansford. He put an antenna on top of a nearby mountain and ran coaxial cable to people’s homes, and Community Antenna TV was born. The first person he signed up for service was the local union boss. He had the money to run the wire and buy the TV set — and he wanted to watch TV in his own living room, Tarlton’s son Bill says. Tarlton, who is now 89, went on to work for Jerrold but eventually went back to Lansford to run the cable system there. He continued to be influential, and was one of the founding members of the National Cable Television Association. His counsel was also sought by some of the most powerful people in the business. In the early 1970s, Howard Hughes asked to see Tarlton to discuss the TV business. Hughes’s assistant said the eccentric billionaire had visions of delivering TV signals via satellites to millions of viewers. But Tarlton, who never was comfortable in the big city, eschewed the invitation, knowing that he was needed back in Pennsylvania at this small cable system, Bill Tarlton says. “My dad never made a lot of money from working in the cable industry,” Tarlton says. “But he did have a lot of fun. The fun for him was bringing TV to people in Lansford. They finally didn’t have to travel to the next town and sit in other people’s living rooms to enjoy the wonders of TV.”

The Daily

Subscribe

Quibi Exploring Sale

After less than six months and nearly $2bln in funding, Quibi is exploring a potential sale. In a report from the WSJ , the company is apparently exploring strategic options as it struggles to break through

Read the Full Issue
The Skinny is delivered on Tuesday and focuses on the cable profession. You'll stay in the know on the headlines, topics and special issues you value most. Sign Up