In a bit more than one year on the job, Larry Satkowiak has started to find a mission for The Cable Center, trimmed its budget and cut the number of programs it runs. Up ahead: raising $10 million to put The Center on firm financial footing and strengthening its mission.

I’m a cable operator. Why is the Cable Hall of Fame important to me?

In our survey for our strategic plan it was the most widely recognized program of The Cable Center, the one that generated the most interest. We actually will have a physical Hall of Fame in The Center but we haven’t made an announcement on that yet. Probably the best answer is cable has made a very large contribution to society, the way we think, the way we act, the way we’re entertained, and that didn’t come about by accident. There were men and women in the industry that had a vision for this thing we call cable could be and they managed to put it together in a very cost-effective sort of a way. It’s really the story of people who changed the world. I don’t think a lot of people know that story. The Hall of Fame is something we do and will continue to do to help tell that story.

Same question for The Cable Center. What, as an operator, will The Cable Center do for my business, for my customers?

The best way to answer that is to refer you to the Mavericks lecture that [Cox Communications president] Pat Esser gave the other day at the University of Florida. Pat had a packed house: the dean, students, faculty. He told a story of the cable business that most people didn’t have a clue about. We live in an age where people turn on the TV and it’s just there. They don’t understand why it’s there. Pat went into a little bit of the history of the cable business. He went into a wide-ranging Q&A period about how programs come together and what it’s like to run a cable business. He went into great detail about the future technology and the stuff they’re looking at at Cox. The students said they didn’t know cable companies did these things. And when they are at schools they make a pitch to get people into the cable business, especially people of color. We are coordinating with universities around the country to bring them quality programs. In the past [the universities] have seen a lot of programs from the broadcasters. Now cable has a real presence on campuses across the country.

How many Maverick lectures will there be this year and 2007?

The schedule for 2007 is coming together, but we’ll have six or seven this year.

Can a member of the public access a webcast of Pat Esser’s lecture on The Cable Center website?

Actually it’s one of the things we don’t normally put on the site since the executives have a frank discussion with the students. If Pat Esser’s office wants to clear it, you could see it online. [They did—click here to watch Esser’s lecture on the University of Florida website.]

Update us on some of the goals from last year. You wanted to raise $10 million.

As far as the $10 million goal, we still have that. We are probably going to have a major announcement at the end of the year. We have a new VP of development. Before we could start on development, we had to have a new strategic plan people could buy into. Based on the people we’ve talked to in the industry, the major MSOs, the NCTA, etc., we have a fair amount of buy-in. As part of that we also have some financial support coming in. Again, I’m not announcing that until the end of the year. But that’s what gives me this great feeling that we do have more support for what we’re doing.

We’ve already started talking about the $10 million campaign and already started raising money for it. It’s more a silent campaign. The only way a nonprofit like this can raise money is if there’s interest in programs. I think that what we’ve done is fewer programs. We’ve concentrated our effort on a few things that we think are very important to the industry. So, one of the things we ask about every program we do is, “What is the value proposition to the cable industry of this program?” If we can’t come up with answers we don’t do the program.

What’s your greatest opportunity?

We think professional development and training is. We’re doing a lot behind the scenes. We’re doing a needs assessment, and it’s very interesting the answers we’re getting back about training needs, especially at the MSO level. We’re doing training for Time Warner; we have Bresnan Communications coming in, too.

What about the C-SPAN classroom?

The grant is due to expire at year’s end. We’ve asked the donor to continue the funding. University of Denver, George Mason University, Pace University all have made financial contributions to make this go. It still is the most popular class at the University of Denver. We’ve been working with Steve Scully to make this go. Obviously we want to do it. But we’re operating as a business, and if we don’t get the funding then we have to figure out what we do from there.

And the Mavericks series?

We’re getting great press coverage, and these are top people we get. Pat Esser is planning on doing another one of these soon. He’s very enthusiastic.

What about the Customer Experience Management Program that you’re doing with University of Denver?

We’re right on schedule with that. We’ve received full funding from the Cox Foundation and in 2007 we are going to name an endowed chair at the university. One of the things about this program that is unique is that they’ll be studying customer care issues across all business, not just cable. Then we’ll take the experience we get from teaching to DU students and put those applications right into the cable business to help the cable business.

Anything else?

We’re trying to expand our oral histories in the next year. I’ve talked to a number of people, like Kathy Johnson [executive vice president of NAMIC], about expanding that program. We’re also trying to do exhibits here. That’s bringing us back to the original mission. We have a technology exhibit that will be up for The Hall of Fame, really a sneak peek. It’s not only technology in the home right, but it looks 18 months down the road. We have four major vendors and Comcast coming in to put this thing together.

What can NAMIC do for the oral history project?
When we surveyed who has an oral history and who doesn’t, it seemed to me we could be doing a better job with people of color. [BET chairman and CEO] Debra Lee, for instance, doesn’t have an oral history. Talk about a story that would inspire and be interesting to students.

And you’re reaching out to other nonprofit heads?

Yes. I’m talking with [Cable Positive president and CEO] Steve Villano, John Clark [president and CEO] at SCTE and Char Beales [president and CEO] at CTAM. Obviously what we’re trying to do is find common ground, places we can work together, leverage our resources to get a better overall result for the entire cable industry.

Sounds like a major thrust of The Center is education, particularly higher education.

Yes, it’s right in the new mission statement. We’re talking with [Dr.] Helen Soule [executive director] at Cable in the Classroom and trying to coordinate our efforts and not duplicate.

Are you feeling better about The Cable Center’s position today versus this time last year?

Absolutely. We have a strategic plan, a more focused mission. We’re not all over the board like we used to be. We had a lot of little things we were trying to do. Now we’re focused on four or five major programs where we can make an impact. The budget is balanced, the internals are much more disciplined. As far as being a business, we are operating very efficiently as a business. I think when the board sees [on Oct. 11] what we’ve done here they’ll be pretty amazed.

What about rebranding to The Cable Center for Higher Education?

That’s something we talk about, but at the moment we’re going to stay with the current name.

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More former Crown Media Family Networks execs have joined upstart GAC Media . Mary Dzabic was named CFO, reporting to President/CEO Bill Abbott . She spent more than 20 years at Crown

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