At 11 years of age, Insight CEO Michael Willner would ride his bike down to an NBC affiliate to watch a studio taping of a kids puppet show. Style Network’s President Salaam Coleman Smith spent a summer delivering Doritos to bodegas and then color-coding them on shelves—something that taught her the value of learning “from the ground up.” IFC’s Jennifer Caserta was NOT initially hired at Court TV, and Time Warner Cable’s Peter Stern kept going to school because he was good at it. These are the stories industry execs shared with the next crop of media and business college students, 300 of whom gathered at the Paley Media Center in NY last week for The Cable Center’s Cable Mavericks Masters Forum: One Day Degree in Cable.
 
But beyond first jobs and right-place-at-the-right-time anecdotes, how did the mavericks present cable to the next generation of potential employees? Early on, it became clear that some re-education was in order, and some time must be spent refuting the idea that cable lacked innovation.
 
A show of hands indicated that the majority of the millennials present did not view cable as a cutting edge, high-tech industry. To this, Willner quipped, “You’re all wrong.” Thanks to the tech breakthroughs from cable, you’re able to enjoy much of the technology you have today, he explained. He called the state of today a “revolution of the telecommunications industry.” And it’s akin to the industrial revolution, Coleman Smith agreed.
 
Cable is unique in that it’s a place where you “can dig in deep in a particular audience segment,” said Coleman Smith. Stern added that it’s a business about people, above all else. “We don’t make stuff, we create experiences,” he said. As if to debunk cable’s bad rap, Stern touted the industry’s embrace of “a whole array of new technologies,” specifically in consumer electronics and cloud computing. “Linear networks are going to become a gateway to time-shifted viewing,” as both an entry point and destination of content consumption.
 
We’ve heard it before, but the jury’s out whether the college kids had. Another show of hands indicated that slightly more people go to the Internet than cable for breaking news stories. Stern added quickly, “We have both. We provide the infrastructure.” Fresh on the heels of TWC’s earnings report, Stern told the crowd: broadband has become the “anchor product” of cable’s growth, to a “disproportionate” degree.
 
Acknowledging the transition to other platforms, Coleman Smith added that the industry’s challenge is to accommodate the shift from cable to new media. “It’s a very different value proposition.”
 

And then there’s the issue of customer service. Thankfully, cable’s Achilles heel was addressed. Willner said the greatest challenge for the industry is achieving a level of customer service that results in positive experiences. “We’ve shown some vulnerability in that respect.” He did cite some improvement, and used J.D. Power & Associates as proof of that. However, he added, “it’s not enough.”  

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