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CED Person of the Year - Bob Miron: Cable Industry Icon

Fri, 12/31/2010 - 7:45pm
Mike Robuck, Senior Editor

Cable’s ‘go-to guy’ retires after 44 years in the industry.

The cable industry is chock full of pioneers, mavericks and legends from the early days, but during a 50-year broadcast and cable career, former Bright House Networks Chairman Bob Miron carved his own unique legacy before retiring last month.

Bob MironDay in, day out for the past 50 years, Miron not only built Bright House into one of the top cable operators in the nation, he also helped guide the industry through turbulent times with his even manner and ability to broker deals among disparate parties.

Miron, 73, built Bright House Networks and its predecessor companies from the ground up during his 44 years in the cable industry. Along the way, he pulled a cable lasher, answered the phones and went door to door.

“Everything I did in the early days of the industry taught me about the industry and gave me a greater appreciation for it,” Miron said. “I started essentially when we had no customers, and then a couple of thousand, in the cable industry. We were trying to generally teach the public what we were. I would say to someone that I was in the cable industry, and they didn’t even know what the cable industry was, so we had to teach the public what we were as an industry, and then we had to create value for what we were charging, as folks weren’t used to paying for television in those days.”

Miron, who is S.I. Newhouse’s nephew, started out working at Advance/Newhouse’s Newhouse Broadcasting in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1958 following jobs at some of the company-owned newspapers and his graduation from Syracuse University.

After working at a TV station in Birmingham, Ala., Miron was transferred back to Syracuse in 1966 when he was appointed cable operations manager at NewChannels Corp. while still assisting with Newhouse Broadcasting.

In 1974 he was appointed CEO, general manager and executive vice president of cable operation of NewChannels while continuing his work on the broadcast side. By the time he was finished, Miron had built the Advance/Newhouse cable operations into the nation’s sixth-largest cable operator, with more than 2.4 million tripleplay customers.

Miron has an institutional knowledge of the cable industry, which son Steve Miron, who is CEO of Bright House Networks, said was the result of making all of those day-to-day decisions as the company was being built. But Insight CEO Michael Willner, who first met Miron in 1981 when Newhouse bought the company he was working for, said he also has a focused strategic vision, as well.

“Bob has the unique ability to be both extremely strategic and deep in the weeds,” said Willner, who counts Miron as one of the top mentors in his cable career. “Most people are one or the other, but you need both. He, in running the day-to-day business, could get into the weeds like no one I ever met, and then you could be sitting next to him at an NCTA board meeting talking about huge strategic initiatives for the industry, and he would be equally all over that.”

Today’s cable industry was built on the backs of many early pioneers and entrepreneurs, and Miron is one of the industry’s most effective and respected leaders. For being a mediator among cable, broadcast and industry organizations; for building Bright House Networks into a top-flight cable operator; and for his appreciation of customer service, among other notable achievements, Miron is CED’s Person of the Year.

A KEY CABLE NEGOTIATOR
“There are many ways to describe Bob, but the word ‘indispensible’ comes to mind,” said NCTA President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow. “He is the one person who everybody trusts in tough negotiations or tough discussions, because he’s fair and he’s a great leader. He has been able to solve a lot of problems almost quietly on behalf of the industry and within the industry many, many times.”

When the NCTA needed to negotiate music rights, Miron stepped up. He has served as chairman or co-chairman of NCTA’s Music Licensing Committee for more than 25 years.

“He saw the value, and he immediately got involved in projects that were sort of obscure but very important, like negotiating the royalties, what the rates would be, for the music that played on cable,” said CTAM President and CEO Char Beales, who first got to know Miron when she worked for the NCTA in the early ’90s. “Bob was really involved in that, and through their negotiations they saved the industry a lot of money.”

Miron also was a driving force in the cable industry’s On Time Guarantee in the early ’90s that helped create customer service standards.

“He has always been a voice of reason,” Beales said. “I worked with him on the On Time Guarantee, and Bob got assigned the task of persuading the other MSOs to go along with it. I think most people said, ‘This doesn’t have a chance of succeeding,’ but Bob, through his quiet persuasion, helped the others see why this would be a good thing to do.”

More recently, Miron and Comcast executive vice president David Cohen cochaired the NCTA’s Cable Organization Review Committee, which consolidated the cable industry’s conferences into spring and fall events. McSlarrow recruited Miron to the committee.

“It was a thankless task because it was running through a lot of numbers and trying to get people to work together to figure out a more efficient way to have these organizations work together with us, and it wasn’t without controversy to boot,” McSlarrow said. “I called Bob and I said, ‘Look, we’re going to have a board meeting, and we’re undoubtedly going to have this discussion again and form a subcommittee of the board, with maybe some additional people from the industry, and I’d like you to co-chair it.’

“He said, ‘Let me get this straight: This is a thankless task,’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘It’s probably going to be controversial,’ and I said, ‘Undoubtedly,’ and he said, ‘Sign me up.’”

REACHING ACROSS INDUSTRIES
Miron, as Willner succinctly put it, was “cable’s go-to guy” when it came to breaking an impasse or creating a solution.

Miron has also worked as peacemaker outside of the cable industry by getting programmers and cable operators to sit down and resolve their differences to everyone’s mutual benefit.

“I think for me, the most important lesson my father taught me was about the value of collaboration between parties in the industry, whether it’s between MSOs or programmers,” said Nomi Bergman, Miron’s daughter and president of Bright House Networks. “He taught me the value of thinking about a win-win solution for both parties. My father is known as a bit of a peacekeeper, but it took him many years to be respected and to ascend to that role. There have been many times when people have sought him out to help bring about a decision in a peaceful way.”

When asked about his business philosophy, Miron’s answer was short and to the point: “Be better prepared than the next guy when you go into a meeting. Be fair, be honest, work hard.”

Public Policy Panel

“I guess I’ve never had a selfish agenda,” he said. “I’ve always tried to look at what was best for the industry and then tried to develop that position. I’ve always had the ability to get to the point quickly. I’ve had the ability to understand the other side, as well, and I guess I’ve been able to demonstrate to folks that failure in working together will affect us all.

“When we suffer individually, the industry suffers, or when the industry suffers, we all suffer individually. So with that philosophy, people have come to trust me, as well, because there is no selfish agenda.”

Miron listed Advance/Newhouse president Donald Newhouse as one of his top mentors during his career, as well as Newhouse Broadcasting president E.R. "Curly" Vadeboncoeur and Birmingham news director Clancy Lake.

When asked what he was most proud of during his career in cable, Miron said teaching Bergman and Steve how to run the cable business and earn the respect of their peers, building Bright House Networks into the cable operation that it is today, and investing in the Discovery Channel.

While in hindsight investing in Discovery seems like a no-brainer today, back in 1986, Discovery founder and Chairman John Hendricks was on his last legs before TCI executives John Malone and John Sie convinced Miron to also invest in the fledging network.

“I think if you look at his greatest accomplishments, you would have to start with he really built our MSO from scratch, and pretty much with no debt,” Steve said. “He’s really responsible for the building of Bright House from the time we hooked up the first customer at Syracuse NewChannels to MetroVision and to Vision Cable. I think if you’re looking at his greatest accomplishments, that certainly would have to be one.

“I think what he did with Discovery would also be on the short list of his greatest accomplishments. His involvement helped make Discovery possible.”

Bergman said that on a personal level, her father has also been a dedicated husband to his wife of almost 50 years, Diane, and a big supporter, as a board member, of Syracuse University.

CUSTOMER SERVICE IS KING
Miron has always put customer service at the top of his priority list, which has been borne out by the J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction awards that Bright House Networks has won over the years. Customer service is a culture at Bright House, and it has served the company well. In addition to the satellite video providers, Bright House Networks was one of the first cable operators to square off with Verizon, in its Florida systems.

“In the end, I always believed it was about furnishing the customer with a satisfying experience, providing value and keeping them content,” Miron said. “I’ve always felt without providing good customer service, the business will eventually fail, and others will come along and replace you.

“With all of this talk about technology, we really don’t sell technology, we sell content, and we sell services. No one buys an HD television so they can have an HD television; they buy it for the HD service. We have to provide that service, and we have to take care of that service. When a customer calls, we have to be responsive. I think the customer will forgive a little, but when it happens again and again, they’ll leave you.”

The competitive and regulatory landscape has changed a great deal since Miron started his career back in the 1950s. Back then, the main issues were local and federal government regulations, convincing customers that cable was worth paying for, and getting the phone companies to go along with the pole attachments. But Miron still thinks that working together is the key to solving some of today’s industry issues.

“We should be solving the problems that exist between programmers and operators and broadcasters ourselves and not leave it up to the government,” he said. “But we are in a time now where certain players can’t see that far enough ahead and are more apt to do things that have the potential of bringing down the golden goose that laid the golden egg.

“The best solution is the one that we can do ourselves, but it takes all sides to agree to that and to want to solve it rather than just stiff-arming somebody.”

Bob & Diane Miron

STAYING BUSY IN RETIREMENT
Miron will continue to serve on Discovery’s board of directors. His hobbies include gardening, boating, and playing golf and bridge. He will also no doubt spend more time getting schooled on a Wii by his nine grandchildren when they come to visit him at his house near the St. Lawrence River.

Miron said he is willing to serve if the cable industry needs him again and that he will miss working with Steve and Bergman, as well as his other friends in the industry. And while there are some who have a hard time believing that Miron will be able to walk away from the cable industry after so many years of service, he will no doubt approach retirement with the same dedication and zeal that made him successful in the first place.

“I guess I’ll figure it out; many have before me,” he said. “You get a little older, you mellow out a little bit. I’m proud to have been able to play the role that I did in the industry and to have earned the respect of my peers.”

AWARDS:

1987 – New York State Cable Television Association Chairman's Award
1990 – NCTA President’s Award
1991 – NCTA Vanguard Award for Leadership
1995 – CTPAA President’s Award
2001 – Cable Television Hall of Fame
2002 – Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame
2009 – CTAM Grand Tam Award

E-Mail: mike-robuck@advantagemedia.com

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