On the second floor of a glass-sheathed building near Denver University, just beyond the racks of blinking receivers, there’s a nicely appointed production studio where I’ve strapped on a microphone and settled in with various captains of industry to talk about their careers and lives for The Cable Center’s Oral History Collection. I found out how Arthur Bell thought up the idea for Comedy Central in the 1980s. I affirmed the globe-trotting mogul Mike Fries sometimes forgets the words to Bon Jovi songs when he fronts a rock band in his spare time. I talked with “The Father of the Cable Modem,” Rouzbeh Yassini, about how he got the Internet to go faster. And more…
GREG ALLSHOUSE, CABLE GUY #1
People talk about competition for telecommunication services in the United States as if the quest is a moral imperative, not an economic one. The reality is: It takes a gargantuan commitment of money to get in the game. Not so much because fiber optic lines and F-connectors are pricey (they’re really not), but because it takes so much time and effort to shimmy up utility poles and dig trenches into the hardened concrete. I like this interview because Greg is an old-school guy who climbed the poles, twisted the connectors into place, probed at the signal quality with electronic meters and ran organizations that did all of this at scale. He’s one of many “Cable Guys” who have rich stories to tell.
BILL BEATY, CABLE GUY #2
In the day we called it “cable television” because that’s what it was. The “television” part reigned supreme. But over time, things changed and power shifted. Today one of the great ironies is that what we used to call pay television is a break-even business at best for cable and satellite TV companies that once made their living from the category. “The margin on video today is not very much. I mean…it’s almost like we’re a tax collector,” says industry veteran Bill Beaty. Instead, all the action is happening on the Internet side, as cable companies have completely rejiggered the way they make money. As Beaty explains, it’s a bit of shape-shifting alchemy that has redefined the telecom business.
ARYEH BOURKOFF, DEALMAKER
If there was a big deal occurring in the media space over the last 20 years, it’s a better than even bet that Aryeh Bourkoff was involved. The peripatetic financial advisor counseled Comcast’s Brian Roberts about buying NBCU, helped Viacom Inc. reunite with CBS and steered the way for Sirius’s 2020 acquisition of podcast darling Stitcher, among dozens of other high-profile transactions. Here, Bourkhoff talks about the deals that have reshaped an industry, and the people behind them.
lOU BORELLI, CABLE GUY #3
Lou Borelli loves the cable business. And if you ask around, within the industry the feeling seems to be mutual. The much-traveled cable industry executive found his way into the business the way a lot of people did: purely by accident. But the chance interaction ended up making big things happen for Borelli and for the cable industry, as he went on to help build companies like UA Columbia Cablevision and Marcus Communications into industry powers…not to mention getting yelled at by Mick Jagger that one time.
PAUL BROADHURST, TECH GENIUS
My favorite thing about visiting with Paul was learning that through a bizarre coincidence he worked briefly (for one day, as it turns out) for the same company that employed John Lydon, aka the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten. It was the British company EMI, during one of those periods where conglomerates owned everything from electronics units to, in this case, a record company. That’s one among many revealing anecdotes from someone who was there about the progression of television receiving/transmission technology as it made its way across the world and into your living room.
STUART BROTMAN, LAWMAN
Stuart was a protégé of the influential policy strategist Henry Geller, who helped shape the way the United States government regulated everything from telecommunications competition to cigarette ads. Which meant that Stuart had not only very good policy chops, but enviable connections that put him front-and-center around some of the most consequential law/policy decisions of the modern communications era. Here’s a guided tour.
CYNTHIA CARPENTER, HUMANIST
One theory of the modern television business is that the cable industry blew it; that cable could have and should have invented Netflix. It’s a theory Cynthia Carpenter, a veteran product strategist, marketing analyst and organizational leader, has heard, considered, and moved past. The watchword of the day, instead, is about adaptation. Her message to the Netflixes of the word? “We have an amazing infrastructure. So now let’s partner.”