The top places in cable to work in 2009? Wouldn’t that be any place that offers a steady paycheck and a few health benefits? From the perspective of someone who is out of work that may be true. Still, we found that the operators and programmers below remain leaders in offering cutting-edge, open-minded benefits packages and in promoting diversity and fairness. All this in a struggling economy, ladies and gentlemen.

There were times, not too long ago, when the bottom line made strong benefits packages a necessity — competition for talent was heated. Yet even in today’s market glutted with workers, the employers listed here are maintaining benefits packages. Cable is an interesting business — advertising may be way down, but consumers are not switching off their TVs. It’s clear cable has a solid future. By keeping employees happy, these companies are preparing for it.

As in previous years, we asked employees to complete our online nomination form if they felt their employer deserved to be in the Top 10, and to tell us why. The CableFAX staff compiled the list, with criteria including benefits, opportunities for growth, diversity initiatives, advancement opportunities for women and community involvement, among other things. (The companies profiled below are listed in alphabetical order.)

Canoe Ventures

A joint venture of leading cable operators, Canoe remains in a start-up mind-set as it develops the digital infrastructure for advanced, addressable advertising. As such, it is going against the grain of most employers in 2009 — it is hiring people, not laying them off or freezing its workforce. That alone is practically enough to place it in our Top 10. "There have not been any layoffs at Canoe," says chief marketing officer Vicki Lins. "In fact, we are in growth mode, actively staffing and structuring the company, and hiring for numerous positions at any given point in time with plans to continue our growth throughout year-end and into 2010."

Canoe has a staff of 50 as of this writing in early October. CEO David Verklen espouses a flat-view hierarchy, without a lot of corporate rigmarole, which suits a company that is on the forefront of cable’s advertising technology. It’s this nearly sci-fi aspect to the company that makes it an exciting place to work — that, and the comfort of knowing that six cable operators are funding the operation. So employees have the best of both worlds: a start-up environment where the stakes are high, and real financial backing.

So far, no one who has entered Canoe has jumped overboard.

Charter Communications

What’s a little debt restructuring in the midst of a recession? Charter filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year, but that didn’t prevent literally hundreds of employees from nominating the cable operator for our Top 10 list. Amazingly, there have been no layoffs this year, the workforce holding steady at about 16,000, says communications manager Michael Baker.

Charter conducts an internal annual wage survey and supplements it with multiple external surveys. Employees in Charter service areas are eligible for significant discounts on their home communications service. Discounts at national childcare providers also are offered, as are flexible work hours and telecommuting.

Charter University offers a range of in-house courses, live and online. Plus, eligible employees may seek reimbursement under Charter’s Educational Assistance Program for courses at accredited colleges and trade schools. Charter matches 50% of employee contributions to the company 401(k) plan, up to 5% of eligible earnings (for a total potential of 2.5% of eligible earnings). A "Good Neighbor" program supports employees who volunteer for charitable causes and community projects across the nation. Perhaps most important, Charter has kept employees informed during the financial restructuring via regular e-mails, newsletters and voicemails from the CEO.

As many employees told us, the growth opportunities at Charter are "great." To instill that kind of optimism during a year like this — and after filing for bankruptcy protection — is a feat in itself.

Comcast

While there have been layoffs at Comcast and a freeze on travel for many, the top cable operator in the U.S. remains a fine employer.

With its scale, savvy and vision, Comcast has plenty to offer. Its 100,000+ workers — 40% more than it had just five years ago — make it one of America’s largest employers. Tangible benefits aside, the futuristic and aggressive aspects of the company are major draws for talent.

Then there are the nitty-gritty benefits. In addition to health benefits, employees in Comcast’s footprint receive some services at no charge, including premium digital cable and high-speed Internet access. Comcast offers a dollar-for-dollar match on employee 401(k) contributions up to the plan limit and commuter benefits, legal services, adoption benefits, long-term care insurance and pet insurance. Comcast boasts an emergency dependent care program in certain locations.

Technicians and call center employees can advance their careers through the CommTech and CAE programs. Through the Comcast Talent performance management program, employees can engage in two-way dialogue with their managers about career aspirations. And through Comcast University employees can choose from more than 5,000 courses and development tracks.

Thanks to its Diversity Management Committee and Senior Women’s Group, Comcast has diversified its workforce: Of 12,871 full-time managers, more than 15% are African-American, 6% are Hispanic, 4% are Asian and 34% are women.

Discovery Communications

Discovery has long been a leader in workplace initiatives. Even with a recession, it still is. There’s the on-site child-care center, Discovery Kids Place, for 102 children. The adjacent Crikey Cove playground honors the late Steve Irwin. Also unique at Discovery’s headquarters in Silver Spring, MD, is the full-service Wellness+Health Center, which provides primary care and specialized services, including a life coach, ergonomics specialist and a dietician. While employees rave about their Wellness chief, known simply as Dr. Liz ("she’s a goddess," says one), Discovery claims the Wellness Center saved it about $1 million in insurance last year. And Discovery has an entire division dedicated to improving employees’ work-life balance — a fine thing to have today, or any time really.

Discovery’s commuting options include reimbursement of up to $350 toward the purchase of a bicycle or up to $100 annually toward the purchase of athletic shoes, a $60 per month transit subsidy and car-sharing. The Discovery Points of View and other diversity programs have met with great success: Of 1,365 domestic managers, more than half are women and nearly one-third are from minority populations.

Fox Cable Networks

Here’s a happy Fox Cable Networks stat, particularly for the company’s 2,300 employees: zero layoffs in 2009. Is that all it takes to get on our list? Not quite. FCN also provides some heartwarming perks for a cold-hearted era.

At its Los Angeles headquarters, FCN has a daycare center for employees’ children from 6 weeks to 5 years old; remote locations offer discounts for local child-care centers.

On the educational and career-development side, FCN has a Learning and Development Center on site. It offers classes on everything from "Managing Difficult Conversations" to "Creative Communication." FCN recently initiated an e-learning system, enabling employees to take career development classes online.

FCN’s other life-enhancing (and, in some cases, world-enhancing) benefits include: a Green Energy Initiative that offers employees a cash incentive to purchase a hybrid car; an eco-friendly on-site dry cleaner; and an employee gym, the Fox Fitness Center, at company headquarters; and the Fox Rideshare program, which provides incentives for employees who carpool, bike/walk, etc.

We remind you that these benefits continue to be offered in the year(s) of the Great Recession. FCN hopes the goodwill it shows toward its employees is contagious. To that end, the company allows staffers to volunteer up to 40 hours a year on company time.

Retirement Living TV

Aging boomer-focused Retirement Living TV somehow manages to maintain a good vibe in the workplace, in spite of industry-wide declining ad revenue and the ever-looming threat of job cuts, which have hit RLTV. Maybe it’s those ’60s-era, color Honeymooners segments from the old Jackie Gleason Show — any programmer that digs out those relics has, at the very least, a good sense of boomer nostalgia and obsession. RLTV is true to its mission, and that must give employees a sharp sense of purpose.

During its three years of existence, RLTV has been chasing down carriage deals, with Comcast being its biggest cable win. RLTV promises more carriage to come, and this gives employees something tangible to shoot for. As one RLTV employee wrote, "This is a young company with unlimited growth. There are new responsibilities daily that provide tons of varied experience, and lots of positions being created to fit the needs of an emerging network."

Here are a few more tangible items to keep the team happy and focused: $4,500 per year tuition reimbursement for graduate/undergraduate classes; monthly all-staff meetings to update progress and offer opportunities for sharing concerns and ideas; direct lines of communication to any member of the leadership team and the CEO; a nomination system that rewards outstanding work with gift cards to local businesses (clothing stores, restaurants, movies, etc.); and a wellness program that reimburses health expenditures up to a certain amount every year, such as gym memberships.

It doesn’t hurt that RLTV’s parent company is Erickson Communities, which is in the business of taking care of retired people.

Scripps Networks

Scripps shows up year after year in multiple best-of categories in WICT’s PAR Initiative, which assesses the status of women at operators and programmers. Our hunch — if an employer gives women a fair shake, it gives everyone a fair shake.

Scripps Networks supports families with a generous maternity/paternity-leave policy, and was cited this year as one of the Top 100 adoption-friendly workplaces by the Dave Thomas Foundation. Employees are eligible for education reimbursement and professional development opportunities. The employee assistance program, coordinated through an objective outside vendor, provides guidance to employees and their families about mental health, financial and legal matters.

Last year, Scripps developed the Mentoring Experience to grow employees’ talents, deepen relationships across departments and reinforce the company’s culture. Employees accepted into the program are matched with a mentor or mentee in a year-long partnership. The company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is real: Women or minorities occupy half of the executive-level management positions.

And proselytizing is encouraged and rewarded: Employees receive cash bonuses for referring new co-workers.

And we like Scripps’ "core values": shared responsibility and promotion of work/life balance. Especially that last core value.

Time Warner Cable

Big companies are expected to provide big benefits, but in this age of layoffs, outsourcing and "contract" work (as in "you’re on your own, buddy"), expectations often fly out the window. Time Warner Cable obviously is looking beyond the recession and wants to hold on to valued employees for the long haul. While its benefits remind us of earlier days, its commitment to diversity is strictly 21st century, and earned it a place on DiversityInc’s 2009 Top 50 Companies for Diversity.

It offers domestic partner benefits, lactating rooms and on-site amenities throughout several locations such as fitness facilities (or subsidized membership costs to local wellness/fitness centers) and dry cleaning pickups. Also offered are corporate-sponsored memberships to industry-focused organizations like WICT and NAMIC. Employees living in its footprint qualify for discounted residential video, data and telephony services.

Through its Learning Management System, the MSO offers more than 2,000 courses from knowledge of Microsoft operations to helping front-line employees handle tough customers.

Diversity has become part of the comany’s DNA. The Diversity & Inclusion Council is a corporate body that handles training, employee networks, mentoring programs, communications and supplier diversity. Each regional and most corporate locations have their own Diversity & Inclusion Councils. The national Council has 26-30 members, with most serving a two-year term and rotating off to provide D&I support to their local council.

Time Warner Cable strongly encourages volunteer efforts and the company supports many financially. Several volunteer efforts involve the participation of employees during work hours — now that’s what we call truly giving back.

Travel Channel

No layoffs this year so far at Travel Channel. What else needs to be said about an employer in a year like this? Well, how about this? This is the Travel Channel, not the Mindless Drudgery Channel. Can you imagine an employer urging you to always be thinking about life beyond your cubicle, encouraging — no, demanding — that you go out and experience far-off lands? A cliché of the workforce is "be the brand," and this is a good brand to be.

Employees are told, and we paraphrase, "Yes, we expect you to work, but you’d better play hard, too, or you’re out of here, buster." To that end, every quarter through the Globetrotter Program, two staff members win a work trip (both international and domestic destinations) to film short-form content that is used online and in mobile offerings. The travel theme is woven into just about everything: The Trailblazer and Voyager Award Program offers cash rewards for innovative, cost-effective or efficiency-driven solutions to business problems. The company even has a Travel Bug Committee, a cross-discipline collection of employees that drives Travel Channel’s "Catch It" brand integration across everything it does.

Here’s something not travel related: Travel offers a pension plan. We thought pensions went the way of the 40-hour workweek.

Turner Broadcasting System

A perennial in WICT’s PAR Initiative, Turner is yet another company that seems to connect the notion of a healthy and diverse workplace with the community at large. Volunteerism is encouraged through Turner Volunteer Day, an annual event where employees participate in activities at various sites; 40 hours of volunteer release time per year; departmental volunteer outings; and the Turner Corporate Responsibility Council and Board. Support is also given to employees’ causes through matching grants and walk- and run-a-thons.

The sense of community is strong within the company as well. Through two Business Resource Groups, Turner Women Today and Black Professionals@Turner, circle mentoring programs have been implemented. Mentees are placed in a group of 8-10 along with an executive mentor pair; each mentoring team meets with its Circle approximately monthly for six to eight months.

Turner offers on-site professional development courses, leadership training, formal executive succession planning, co-sponsored programs with Time Warner corporate and industry-related programs and tuition reimbursement. In addition, Turner fully supports employee involvement in industry groups on company time. Child care is offered near Turner headquarters in Atlanta through Turner Second Generation, a company-sponsored center. Besides extended operating hours it’s open on holidays. In addition, the off-site Time Warner Backup Children’s Center in New York is available for backup child care needs for NY-based employees and employees traveling on business, free of charge.

Also offered: on-site fitness centers, an on-site health and medical clinic, discounts on travel and products and services, $10,000 in adoption assistance, subsidized commuting programs for mass transit, vanpools, carpools and bikers, paid leave for adoption and maternity, an autism advocate program and flexible summer hours.

Back to table of contents for CableFAX: The Magazine‘s 2009 Most Influential Minorities in Cable issue.

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