SAN FRANCISCO — There are Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 cable players, and then there are family-owned operators.

Statistics show that most family-owned enterprises don’t last past the third generation, and there aren’t many dynasty U.S. cablecos. However, four members of the more successful of that breed shared some of the secrets to their success with attendees at the opening session of the NCTC-/ACA-sponsored Independent Show.

John Andrews, co-founder/president/CEO of US Sonet and Lightspeed Telecom, an operation serving some 1,300 subscribers: “If someone says ‘no,’ you’re asking the question wrong.”

Levi Masia, vice president at Full Channel, whose grandfather started the cable works in 1965: “Know what you don’t know, and surround yourself with people who know what you don’t know.”

Kyle South, general manager of West Alabama TV Cable Co., a company started by his grandfather that now serves 5,000 customers: “You need to build relationships with customers and vendors.”

Mark Walter, senior vice president at Service Electric Cablevision,  with 200,00 customers, triple-play offerings, 110 HD channels and a DOCSIS 3.0 cutover next month: Choose leaders who know finances and who have the moral character to make ethical business decisions.”

Challenges And Successes

South said he was “thrown into the fire in the fall of 2003” after he had graduated from college and after his grandfather died. “I had to learn along the way,” he added. “Technology has evolved so much that everyone has to learn along the way.”  

Maaia details a similar situation, with his entry into the cable world pushed by his grandfather’s death. “It was a trial by fire,” he remembered. “The advantage is that we don’t know if the company would still have been around in 2003 or 2004 if it hadn’t been a family-owned business. The community identifies with us.”

Perhaps Andrew put it most succinctly: “It’s family. We all know each other.”

All four operators are experiencing pressure from the rise of over-the-top (OTT) content, but they don’t see it as a threat. “Cellphones haven’t replaced wireline phone completely, and the same thing goes for online content,” Maaia said. “We’ll always have linear channels. The question is: How do we take the next step of moving to IPTV?”

South sees increased OTT traffic as an opportunity to sell more Internet services. “We have an older population that is a little less educated,” he explained. “Because there is so much information to be found online, this gives us a chance to push more online services.”

All four operators are seeing the effects of Netflix on a day-to-day basis, but they don’t seem to be too panicked about it. In fact, Maaia sees the OTT giant as the model of the future when it comes to diversification.

“Netflix rides on our system; it doesn’t circumvent it,” he said. “It may pull some eyeballs off our cable service but it puts them on our Internet product.”

Netflix streaming takes up 35 percent of Walter’s peak bandwidth, but he agrees “it drives more demand to our platform.” He does, however, cap data usage between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The Future

What about the sons and daughters of these men? Will they be trained up into the business as the next generation of video providers?

Walter was quick to note he just got his job and wasn’t willing to give it away quite yet. However, he does plan to instill sound financial and ethical grounding, “and I told my son he had to get an accounting degree.”

Maaia’s mother was a teacher before she became president and CEO at Full Channel, and he admitted “you can’t force the next generation to take over.” Andrews also said his mother is “my right arm,” and that his 22-year-old son once harbored a desire to join the business but turned to medicine instead. His two younger sons are learning the job from the ground up, but they are too young yet to make any final decisions.

On The Show Floor

>> Momentum, a provider of private-label digital voice services and broadband management to cable operators and municipalities throughout the United States, has added a “Caller ID on TV” feature to its product line with Interactive TV applications for Tier 2 and Tier 3 operators. Beginning next month, this service will be available to all Momentum partners that support two-way communications.

Special features, which can be customized to accommodate multiple lines, include Caller ID Notification, a notification that pops up on TV screen when a call is received; Call Log, the ability to view call history on TV; and Telephony Controls, which allow the customer to turn services on and off. In addition to these existing features, Momentum is exploring Picture Caller ID and PC Caller ID.

>> Adara Technologies announced a deal with Coopérative de Câblodistribution de L’Arrière Pays (CCAP) of Quebec City, a triple-play service provider with 13,000 video subscribers, to upgrade its network using Adara’s  hosted Switched Digital Video (SDV) solution.

To date, CCAP has delivered all of its video services by operating as a hub site of a large Tier 1 MSO, giving the company limited control, flexibility and access to advanced services. “With SDV, CCAP will now be able to add even hundreds of HD and SD, French- and English-language programs to its service offerings,” says Joseph Nucara, Adara’s CEO and co-founder, “all without the customer disruption, burden and huge costs that would otherwise be associated other DTV solution options.”

>> Comporium says two cable television operators, NewWave Communications and Massillon Cable, which are part of the Comporium Security Dealer Program, are launching an advanced, smart home-management and security system powered by iControl. The security system both safeguards family and possessions, and turns the residence into a “smart” home that can control lighting, appliances and energy. Comporium’s Connected Home system centers on an interactive touch screen that provides familiar “keypad” operation as well as Web and personal content. 

Comporium supports its dealers with technical and sales know-how along with its UL-certified Central Monitoring Station. The Comporium Security Dealer Program also provides business application and licensing assistance, and proven training and marketing support.

Debra Baker

The Daily

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