Between the first blizzard of the year outside and the humble praises to teamwork inside, last night’s Cable Hall of Fame induction ceremony brought back memories of past celebrations.
The ceremony was opened by Larry Satkowiak, president and CEO of The Cable Center.
The Cable Center announced that it met its financial goals for 2009, with chairman of the board Michael Wilner commenting that very few companies can make that claim. More than a building, The Cable Center connects new generations of cable family members and provides a forum to share experience and best practices, a cable industry standard not typical in other industries.
A mix of pioneers and young professionals filled the room. Treated to an upgrade of location, food and beverages from last year’s event, many in the room agreed this was the best induction ceremony in the Hall of Fame’s history.
The Cable Hall of Fame inductees are chosen based on their leadership, innovation and contributions to the industry, as well as the people, communities, organizations and institutions served by cable telecommunications.
Representing the cable marketers, Char Beales, president and CEO of CTAM, was the first honoree. Beales spoke of the support of her family and remarked on the fortunate day when Tom Wheeler brought her into the industry as a member of the NCTA.
Next up and representing programmers was Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks. Typical of the Hollywood connection enjoyed by programmers, Matt had the stars of Showtime’s exclusive series, such as Mary Louise Parker and David Duchovny, alternately praising and roasting the honoree. Matt’s top-ten list of “Why I got inducted” included local laughs like, “I had a meeting with TCI scheduled anyway,” and “I got stuck in a weather balloon that drifted down from Fort Collins.”
The first cable operator of the evening to be inducted was James Cownie, co-founder and past president of Heritage Communications. Jim gave high praises to his family and business partner, Jim Hoak, stating that everything he accomplished was due to taking risks and believing their company could be the best cable operator in the country. A well-liked individual and successful businessman, Cownie received a very hearty round of applause as he took the stage to accept the award.
The next honoree, also a cable operator, was Robert Hughes, founder of Prime Cable. Prime Cable was well known for going after franchises in major metropolitan areas, including Las Vegas, Houston, Atlanta and Chicago. Hughes was confirmed as a “brilliant cable guy” by a number of former Hall of Fame inductees. His “down-home” demeanor showed throughout the video tribute and his acceptance speech. He also praised the friends, family and business associates and gave them the credit for the company’s success.
Tom Rutledge, COO of Cablevision, not only oversees the cable operator side of the business, but he is also responsible for Rainbow Media, Optimum Lightpath, Clearview Cinemas and Newsday. With so many business sectors to cover, Rutledge was also very generous in praising his staff, family and mentors. He represents the next generation of cable operators. Starting out as a pole climber and now COO, Tom’s vision of focusing on the customer, not the product, has allowed Cablevision to create successful business models.
Bernard Shaw, CNN anchor emeritus, spoke with me for a few minutes prior to the ceremony. The industry usually has journalists such as Shaw hosting the ceremony. So his induction announcement came as a surprise. “Obviously I wasn’t expecting this, but I feel honored to be included with the other cable industry names in the Hall of Fame,” he said.
He remarked that going to work for CNN in 1980 was like walking the plank – his mission was to survive. Called by his associates the “Gentleman Journalist,” Shaw felt the early cable days were a battle. And if competing with CBS, ABC and NBC was a battle, Shaw stated very proudly, “We beat the bastards!”
Rounding out the evening was a “Legislative Hero.” For 30 years, Tom Wheeler has worked at the forefront of policy in the industry. Cable operators stated that he stopped dangerous legislation from Hollywood in the ’80s, when as head of the NCTA he was able to stop laws from being passed that protected broadcasters.
Again, praising his co-workers, mentors and family, Tom jokingly asked the audience, “Who’s the guy with the dark hair and mustache?” He was referring to the photos from his NCTA days in the video tribute. (Remember the Nabu Network? It was a home computer system linked to a precursor of the Internet operating over cable TV. Wheeler was the COO. Its functionality was then revolutionary, though it was not a commercial success.) Wheeler also stated the industry’s success comes from the fact that it is not afraid to present new and disruptive ideas that redirect people to find new paths.