Independent operator of the year

MCTV

Sometimes you just don’t notice what’s in front of you.

That’s what one of our judges said about the selection of this year’s Independent Operator of the Year, MCTV, which arguably has been in the forefront of independent cable operators for more than 30 years.

As ACA EVP & Chief of Staff Rob Shema says, “I can list 100 projects that MCTV has led and then shared its knowledge with the industry.” Indeed, at least two projects, Watch TV Everywhere and SubscriberWise, are based in MCTV facilities.

More than that, MCTV chief Bob Gessner is the poster child for industry service, having chaired ACA, NCTC and the Ohio Telecommunications Association. “Bob has been a true leader as an industry representative on the local, state and national level,” says ACA chief Matt Polka. NCTA head Michael Powell adds, “Bob Gessner and his family are the epitome of cable’s entrepreneurial and public service spirit.”

In our defense, it’s not like Cablefax hasn’t recognized MCTV previously. We’ve honored Gessner several times, including naming him Strategic Thinker of the Year. SubscriberWise has been feted and years ago we lauded Gessner for an innovative soiree he threw to celebrate going all digital—amid drinks and food, he hired a crane to hoist an old TV set high, then let it crash to the ground.

Another reason MCTV and Gessner slip under the radar: While one of the easiest executives to get on the phone and a pleasure to speak with, Gessner’s among the most unassuming business chiefs around. Weeks ago we thought we spied him riding the D.C. subway system. Would a cable CEO with 40K customers eschew a private car or cab to use public transport? We checked; it was Gessner.

So we try in a phone interview to get Gessner to gloat. Watch TV Everywhere allows some 200 indie operators to offer nearly 100 networks. Gessner pours cold water on it. We just do the authentication, he says, comparing MCTV’s role to a bouncer at a nightclub entrance. “As long as your name is on the list, we let you in the door.” It’s your cable operator who does the hard part, he insists. True, yet it was Gessner’s insistence—“harassment,” he says—that MCTV could host HBO GO, which led to Watch TV Everywhere.

We try to play up SubscriberWise, which MCTV credit chief David Howe created in 2006 to help assess credit worthiness of new cable subs. A standalone product now, it saves small and mid-size operators millions in delinquent customers and lost equipment. Gessner is justly proud, but sloughs off any, er… credit, saying, “It’s a separate entity from MCTV; Dave Howe owns it.” He’s right, but as Howe responds: “MCTV provides office space, a training center, cutting-edge network operations, engineers and access to cable data… SubscriberWise would not exist without MCTV.”

What Gessner happily talks up are MCTV’s 160 employees—“they deserve the lion’s share of the credit”— and its proactive maintenance. MCTV’s all-digital system allows it to use cable modems to provide telemetry about its plant. Diving deeply into the data allows MCTV to spot plant issues and problems in customers’ homes before customers even know something’s wrong. MCTV initiates one-third of its customer visits. “People are flabbergasted when we call to say we need to fix something. Most customers’ response is, ‘Nothing’s wrong.’”

The passing of Ralph Roberts reminds us that his son Brian worked in various Comcast businesses before leading the company. One of Gessner’s children, Catherine, is doing something similar. “We had an agreement… she needed to get a masters and work somewhere else before working here,” he says. She’ll be well versed in cable before dad, 61, “seriously cuts back.” Catherine is the third generation of Gessners in cable, Bob says, thanking his parents, whom he calls “visionaries and gamblers” for “trusting me” with the business. It was a good bet.

–          Seth Arenstein

 


– Fast Fact

– Based in Massillon, OH, MCTV has 40K customers taking video and data and 20K voice subscribers. It was one of the first to offer home security.

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