Interview Date: Thursday October 06, 2011
Interview Location: New York, NY
Interviewer: Brad Samuels
Collection: CTAM Collection
CTAM Chapters – The Later Years (2004-current)
Brad Samuels, Moderator
Greg Graff, Insight Communications
Duane Dick, Sand Cherry
BRAD SAMUELS: Hi, I’m Brad Samuels and welcome to today’s discussion about the CTAM chapters and their recent history from 2004 until today. CTAM, the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing has been a force in the cable industry for the last 30 years. An organization dedicated to advancing excellence in marketing across the industry. In the mid 1980s, shortly after CTAM was formed throughout the country in different markets, chapters began to be formed and founded in order to take the mission of CTAM down to a more regional and local market to allow executives in those markets to meet and exchange ideas just like CTAM has been doing so successfully at the bigger, corporate and national level as an organization. At the end of 2011 based on changes in the industry both on the content and operator side, the CTAM chapters will cease to operate. It’s been a tremendous history for the chapters in terms of their contribution to the industry. Also, I think in a lot of ways how they’ve helped many executives like the gentlemen that are with me today, to develop their careers and contribute to the industry. We’re going to spend a few minutes talking about the period from 2004 until today. What’s been happening in the cable business but more specifically the CTAM chapters that they were involved in, how they got involved and some of the things that happened during their period there to really help advance the industry in a lot of different ways. So just before we get started, I’m going to do some quick introductions and then we’ll talk just a little bit about what’s been going on in the business more generally over the last 5-6 years to kind of set the stage for this discussion.
We have five panelists. Thanks so much for everyone being here today. Let me start with Greg Graff. Greg is with Insight Communications as the senior vice president of field operations. Hopefully, I have that right. Working out of Columbus, Ohio. Greg’s been involved in a lot of different ways with the chapters both out in the Ohio chapter and the Great Lakes as well as a corporate board member coordinating with the chapters to make sure that the national and chapter organizations were effectively communicating and working together. So Greg has been with Insight for – how many years now?
GREG GRAFF: 13.
SAMUELS: 13, that’s awesome. Before that spent time with Coaxial Cable, Paragon and Continental. A veteran of several different MSOs and has a great perspective on the business, especially the chapters of the Midwest. Next we have Duane Dick. Duane is senior partner and co-founder of Sand Cherry and has been a huge part of what’s been happening in the Rocky Mountain Chapter for many years now and has held many different senior leadership positions and has done a lot to really innovate with that chapter. Prior to starting Sand Cherry, Duane was with ATT Broadband, MediaOne and US West. So, a great background across a lot of major media companies. Thanks for being here.
Next is David Gray. David is a Time Warner executive – spent a lot of time in different regions of the country moving up through the organization including Boston, Albany, Wisconsin and now in New York for the last few years running marketing for the system here in New York and now at a regional level as a marketing strategy for Time Warner. Dave has been involved as he moved around in several different chapters in the Midwest as well as New York, recently partnering with Duane to serve as the liaisons – again co-chairs of the Chapter Council.
DUANE DICK: You can have my job. Can I say that?
SAMUELS: I was going to say that but since you’ve done that already… Thanks for being here, David.
Bob Watson, also with Time Warner for many years. He recently just left to start his own [company] Watson Media, a consulting company. Congratulations on that. Bob is the guy that everyone came to in New York to bow down and try to get carriage of their cable network and he was very graceful about it but he held a position of unique influence in the industry. You’re not a cable network until you get launched in New York and Bob did a great job managing the channel lineup and product development and so forth for Time Warner for many years and played a big role at the chapter level here in New York in a leadership position. So we’ll get to that in a few minutes – some of the things that happened during your time there.
And Mike Lee is VP of Venture Investments at Rogers Ventures in Toronto. Yes and one of the really exciting things that happened in the last few years with CTAM was beyond the US there became – well I guess you would call it chapters, almost their own national CTAM – both in Europe and in Canada. And I can say having been on the board during that time that it added a real element to and new kind of influence going back and forth to CTAM US and Canada and also Europe. Canada became a really thriving part of CTAM and a chapter in its own right. So we appreciate that that happened and Mike was very involved in making that happen. So let’s go ahead and get started.
It hasn’t been long since 2004. It’s gone quickly. We don’t need to dial back the time travel too much but you know the industry has gone through a lot of changes, a lot of growth during those years. A lot of consolidation and just a lot of competitive happening with the telcos coming in. It’s just gotten more exciting, more challenging and also a little bit more complex. I think the chapters’ role has been just as important during that period to help people learn. A lot of what CTAM does is make sure that marketing and technology work together. There’s always been a big role for that to happen at the chapter level. So let’s take just a minute to talk about how each of you guys got drawn into and drawn towards CTAM leadership chapter roles. Greg, you’re first time kind of jumping in – if you can say what attracted you to be coming part of a board of a chapter.
GRAFF: Yes, this goes back past the 2004 timeframe…
SAMUELS: You can do a little time travel….
GRAFF: It was one of those things where I didn’t know that much about CTAM really. I had gone to some national CTAM events but hadn’t been involved in the local level. I can’t remember who it was but someone approached me and said “We’ve got this Ohio CTAM and we’d like you to be part of it.”
SAMUELS: You were with Coaxial in Columbus?
GRAFF: Yes, I was with Coaxial in Columbus. Had been doing some work with the Ohio Cable Television Association and on their board. The two kind of ended up working together quite a bit. That’s one of the things we did right off the bat was to say hey, we’ve got these two associations – one’s more of that governmental, statewide association and the other is a marketing association and let’s figure out how we can get those two to work together. That’s really where I got my start and first exposure to it. It was one of those things where you hang around long enough; you eventually become president of the chapter.
SAMUELS: That’s exactly what happened. Thanks. Duane, talk about how you first got involved.
DUANE DICK: Well, I represented the Rocky Mountain Chapter. In Denver, at the time I came into cable in 1986 was sort of the epicenter of cable industry. Five different cable companies that were headquartered there. I could see them from my office when I first got there. Now it’s down to the Comcast West division and then a little bit of Time Warner and Charter’s video group is still there. But at the time in 1986, I came in as you mentioned in the intro with US West and we weren’t a cable company. My first job there was – “hey, we want to buy this company Continental Cable and we think we should be a cable company”, so we got in, did the deal and acquired Continental and first thing everyone overnight is now a cable person. So the first thing I did was look around and what should we be in now to be more cable centric. CTAM was a natural fit so I joined in probably 97. I didn’t get involved in our local chapter although it had been around for a while until about 2005 and have been a member there ever since. I’ve gone through vice president and president of that chapter.
SAMUELS: Thanks. David when did you first jump into the pool?
DAVID GRAY: It was ’95 – 96 I think. I was in Boston at the time. I think one thing it’s worth repeating here because it’s not really intuitive to someone who joined in the industry now, at the time a major metropolitan area like Boston was served by three operators right – Time Warner Cable, Continental at the time and Cablevision. There was literally a patchwork quilt of operators across the region so it really became at that time a great way to learn about people who were innovating and doing things in their market that you could apply to your own operation, your own system. So it was a great way for me to number one to network but also to kind of figure out – I was relatively young in my career at this point – it was just a great way to learn from people who had had success. I always really looked forward to a lot of the frank and open discussions that we had. We’ll talk about it later but this of course evolves over time as there’s so much consolidation in the industry.
SAMUELS: Right. Bob.
BOB WATSON: I came into the industry in 1995 and coming over from AT&T in their pre-cable days. I don’t know if I have you to thank or to blame for my involvement on the board because it was when you and Cheryl were sharing the lead role here in New York and it was – oh come on, you should be on the board here – and that lead to being the vice president with Steve Lichter from HBO. Then because there were no term limits, I had two terms as president here in New York.
SAMUELS: You’re the Bloomberg of CTAM chapters. With all that talent we couldn’t find anyone to upend you and get you out of that seat.
WATSON: I guess I just didn’t feel I had enough to do back in the office.
SAMUELS: Not enough people to come in to talk to you – perfect. So Mike, CTAM Canada a little different animal. Huge geography, lot of markets. So you’re looking down to the US and I know we usually innovate based on what you’re doing but in this case, you thought there was something interesting with CTAM I guess.
MIKE LEE: That’s right. I joined the industry in ’98 and I was responsible for product development at the time. So I had a lot of involvement with CableLabs and so actually my route to CTAM at the chapter level was CableLabs and then participating at the national level with conferences for CTAM and there sort of looked into the backyard and said we should recreate this dynamic because Canada is unique. It’s a national chapter but its run as a local chapter. So I decided to get involved and tried to take some of the best practices coming out at the national level and from the local chapters and then bring them back into Canada. So that’s how I got involved.
SAMUELS: Were you there at the very beginning when CTAM Canada was formed?
LEE: No, CTAM Canada preceded my involvement but it was designed more as a pure networking group before and didn’t have some of the programs that you see at the chapters and at the national level. So we wanted to bring more formality to it.
SAMUELS: Right, okay. So we’ve had a couple of other discussions about different periods of CTAM chapters that are also available, what comes up kind of what you are referring to, David, a lot is the ability to kind of spend time in a different atmosphere in a different dynamic than if you’re in pitching a product or trying to do a deal and allows the relationships to kind to take on a different dimension. Did you guys find that? I mean in the last few years, everybody is busier and it is a little more competitive so forth, but I still think there’s something about being able to get together in a different setting and try to figure out how solve other problems that really helps you to get to know each other on a different basis. Did you find that when you were working on a board?
GRAFF: Yes, I think what I saw especially being involved with all of the chapters in the role that you and I had was just kind of the way you would have these folks from all different companies that a lot of times weren’t even – the things that they would do on a day to day basis weren’t’ really aligned. Right? You might have someone who’s really involved in direct sales or marketing and somebody else is a programmer that’s not really spending that much time talking to the sales guy but when you bring them together on the board you get a lot of interesting perspectives. Folks start working together to say hey let’s plan this event or let’s figure out how we’re going to grow our membership and those kind of things. So you end up developing certain working relationships with folks that you would never have outside of that. It would be much more – in a lot of cases would be this typical client/vendor type relationship.
SAMUELS: Yes, and you typically work in a very set group of channels against the people you really need to speak to. I hadn’t thought about that, it hadn’t come up before – you end up in conversations with other parts of the business because people are all involved in different things and I think that boards always worked hard to get diversity in a lot of different ways, levels, experience, different disciplines in the industry and multicultural as well. So that was a great thing that came out the chance to get in some material you didn’t normally work on in your day job. How about you Duane?
DICK: It is a unique dynamic. You don’t really get to sit across from the table with 2 or 3 different operators and have the Starz and the ESPN person there all sitting around trying to solve the same problem Usually it’s – you know I’ve got something I believe you need. So even if it at the local level, it’s refreshing sort of to concentrate on what’s happening here and in our case the Denver market. We’ve got Dish Networks is headquartered is in Denver. Also, Qwest is headquartered. So there’s a lot of competitive dynamics even back at the phase that we’re talking about. It was refreshing and unique to have other folks sort of cornering in on said specific topic and call and say “Hey, I’ve got a different angle that you might want to talk about.” So yes, you don’t get that at the national level. Of course where a lot of the programs where you get to have that interface but not where you get to look at a local corporation.
SAMUELS: Now you guys are fairly far along at this point that we’re discussing and when you’re were involved to some degree but did you feel like allowed to develop some different skills in terms of trying to solve problems in more of a kind of a volunteer environment, a very different dynamic than being in the office where you have clear lines of responsibility and so forth. Did you find it helpful in just terms of building your own skills?
GRAY: It was a different type of leadership wasn’t it? When you’re in the office you can say hey I need you to do this or that and yes you can influence others in the organization but in this instance you’ve got in some cases people who are volunteers, who are vendors but you have others who are peers in other respects they may have a higher rank than you in the industry. It really was about cultivating this vision and trying to foster support for this thing and then enlist people’s involvement in it. I think that was one thing that was – you know you had your core group of people that were involved in something and you hated to go to those people too much. So it became a balancing act and an act of trying to influence the process which is something I think quite honestly – I found that these were things that I needed in my day job but it was a slightly different take on it and many ways made me a more effective manager back in the office.
SAMUELS: How was Canada in terms of participation? Was it hard – you’re in different markets- did you find that it was pretty easy to get a good robust group together and keep that moving ahead or were there times when you had to challenge and try to keep enough people dedicated to it?
LEE: So the biggest challenge was – the one interesting thing was from a budgetary perspective and a seniority perspective was you got national people and corporate people involved so the tone of the conversation was slightly different. But the challenge is Canada is like 7 time zones and so Toronto is a little bit like New York. Lots of concentration of programmers, lots of concentration of operators but then to try to involve someone in Calgary in an event – they just can’t fly in for a one day session and fly back out or Montreal. It was challenging to try to A. get board composition so you got regional participation and then get enough events into the regions so that members out there felt they were getting value being a local chapter member.
SAMUELS: Did that require some technology – satellite, online streaming stuff to keep the people connected?
LEE: We definitely levered the national satellite program so that we would do multiple venues across the country. We also tried to get engaged and actually co-opt board members and senior management from other cable companies from outside the Toronto area so that they would then sort of start to influence their team members and staff to participate and get involved at the national level as well as at the local level.
SAMUELS: You have bilingual board meetings – another challenge. So, each chapter typically had several events during the year and I think a great process, another part of how you think through things to set up annual planning meetings and really how the market and the industry had changed and how the agenda for the year may need to evolve so I think that was another kind of skill that translation well for people in terms of some of the discussions we’ve had. Typically each chapter would one kind of major lynchpin event t in the year. I think that Blue Ribbon Breakfast for New York became the big highlight. Talk about being involved in that when you were up there hosting that a few times. Coordinated at the same time as other events in New York. Big audiences. So it was a big one.
WATSON: Blue Ribbon was something that took a lot of planning. It was done very seriously. There was always a, b and sometimes a c version because you’re going after some very senior people in the business, very knowledgeable and all and just trying to make sure that you can coordinate calendars and come to an agreement on what the topic is going to be and all. Always knowing that this thing could go upside down pretty quickly so what’s your next plan. One in particular that I remember and I think this was 2004. It was what I would call the battle of the titans, Mark Cuban, Hugh Pinero, and Brian Bedall and Ron Insana as the referee in the ring. When you get these three guys – none of them wanted to stop talking about how good they were at what they did. Having a talent like Ron Insana in there, who just knows how to manage those kinds of personalities, was great, but Blue Ribbon Breakfast was the kind of thing it would always sell out. People would be calling the week before saying “You’ve got to get me in. No we’ve already got in the all the extras we could fit in the room. I’m really sorry.” So that was a big event. Certainly our big marquee in New York.
SAMUELS: Probably none of us really had it as part of our job to organize events and those kinds of logistics, so it was tricky. So it was a new skill I know for me and I tried to stay away from it day to day because I knew that I really didn’t have that magic touch around crowds, bringing crowds in so I helped give some ideas and let people who really knew how to look out for the details think two or three steps ahead and make sure that we were ready when the inevitable happened so somebody had travel problems or audio problems or something. There was always a lot of….
WATSON: Well, the big advantage was it happened like during this week. So everybody was in town. It wasn’t really that difficult to sell it out.
SAMUELS: Well, CTAM New York had like 5,000 members because 4,000 would just come in and join for the year for the one event. It worked. We took advantage of the…
WATSON: It was always great to run that event and to see everybody and all but it was definitely the one we took most seriously and we typically be running anywhere from 7 to 9 events in a year. So, there wasn’t any slack time on the calendar.
GRAFF: And their dirty little secret was they got you to thank that you were pulling one over on them right? As, they took your money and you showed up for the event.
SAMUELS: Yeah, it worked didn’t it? So any – talk about in Rocky Mountain, in the last few years you started the program with the competition from Cable Apprentice. Very creative.
DICK: We had two signature events. One a voluntary type event talked about in earlier panels – SkiTAM. 15th year of SkiTAM. But the Cable Apprentice, our board talked about it in 2006. Then in 2007 we ran the inaugural Cable Apprentice. It’s based on NBC’s Apprentice Program. We wanted to bring in some fresh blood into the industry. We tapped into some of the local business schools and we basically put a case competition together but with a little bit of an apprentice flair to it. We had both a practical exercise as well as a case competition and we’re fortunate in Denver because we have Comcast’s Media Center there. We’ve got the Cable Center there. A lot operators and programmers. So we actually videotaped and later professionally edited the practical exercise. The first year, it was teams of business school students who were competing in the Cable Apprentice were trying to sell Comcast high speed internet product in the mall. So they were at a mall kiosk and they were given a product demonstration and were give a sales training – about a 40 minute sales training. Then they had to approach customers that came through the mall and sell them on Comcast high speed internet service. What they didn’t know was a little before the television type thing, that the customer’s that we sent their way were actually board members. Each of the board members had different roles. There was the disgruntled DSL user. There was the person who was only satisfied with dialup and they had to convince them on the benefits of high speed internet service. So, that was the first go at it and out of that we’ve run it four times and the winning team gets a cash prize, which they are very appreciative of since they are struggling business school students. But more importantly, the first place team also gets offers of internships with local cable companies – Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, Sand Cherry, Starz – all had internships. So they competed and we became one of the premiere competitions of the local business schools. Through the Cable Apprentice program the industry has been able to hire 12 brand new school students, now who are working at companies throughout the industry.
SAMUELS: Good for them as tough as it is to break in. That’s a great way to get exposure and get a chance to start out.
GRAFF: It really shows too at that level of sophistication that came to the chapters over time. A lot of time we all been to the events where it’s a group of us sitting in 4 chairs or 5 chairs and it’s a panel discussion or PowerPoint. Folks get together and have cocktails and stuff afterwards. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think what we saw especially in the later years was certain events that really went way beyond that. That apprentice program obviously is just a huge effort.
DICK: Over the top to pull something like that.
SAMUELS: It’s a lot of work but I think it works out really well.
GRAY: I think it was kind of an aha for a lot of us. It inspired if not direct copycats, I mean it was sort of like that’s a unique approach. I mean one of our challenges in Midwest where we really were sort of amalgamated after the Chicago chapter closed down, the Detroit chapter closed down, Ohio and suddenly we became the Midwest chapter and we basically had nine states of territory. So it wasn’t the entire nation but was almost 20% of the nation. So what we developed was kind of this formula program where we would assemble a panel and we got Stewart Schley, who’s a technologist blogger type of a guy, who would moderate a panel we brought in rather than having a bunch of suits talking to one another. Bring in people from; bring in students from business schools or from undergrad. Really to talk about their media consumption habits and how they utilize technology. It was very eye opening and it really lead to some interesting discussions and implications and Stewart did a great job steering those conversations. We could direct questions of cable operators and programmers from the audience to the students. It became a very innovative way of addressing some trends that were going on in real time without having cable people talk to cable people. Which was different from what a lot of us had experienced.
LEE: Definitely is one of the big differences for this period in time is we went from linear to digital, VOD, HD, internet and the chapter level sort of means for us provided this venue to have sort of a pan industry discussion about what are our thoughts on VOD rights without being in a direct negotiation with your suppliers or with your partners. So it really did create this interesting environment and it really diversified the type of conversations that you were having at the chapter level.
SAMUELS: You really needed a dialogue and yet another place to come to just keep going at these new issues that were really challenging. Some of the discussion and some of the panels have been about creative ways of working other industries and organizations. To piggyback on their conferences and so forth and that would be more important where in a region where it’s hard to pull people from 100s of miles apart. In Canada, did you have other – is there a CCTA or something where you found that you could accomplish several things at once at the same venue?
LEE: The CCTA no longer exists but there still is a small operators association, so they still hold an annual conference. Two days plus golf. So we would always piggyback on to that. Actually take one of the speaking sessions. Have that speaker talk about marketing for the small operators and at the same time spend time with the marketers and programmers just talking about how we could address the requirements of small operators versus some of the larger nationals. In Canada probably are a little more skewed towards large national operators as opposed to small operators in the marketplace. We definitely tried to work with – 30 million people you have to work with them. You can’t pull the train by yourself. So we definitely did spend time with other organizations.
SAMUELS: Any other challenges that come to mind where you really hit a wall and had to figure something out in terms putting together an event or trends in a market where you need to a —
GRAY: I think one thing that became interesting and I think all of us I’m sure as people who’ve been experienced with the chapters are with the evolution of technology and there were times in the 90s where you could have fairly candid conversations in front of a group of people before there was an internet. Before things could be – there wouldn’t necessarily be reporters in the room and this is something that changes a lot overtime where something gets said on a panel somewhere and all of a sudden investor relations is concerned about this. That’s something that all of us who are part of large companies now have – there are reasons there are guidelines in place now and very frankly there weren’t the same restrictions that were in place a dozen years ago. That’s an interesting challenge that we as content producers and leaders that are challenged to present something that is compelling enough to expect a couple of hundred people to show up and pay good money for and give up a morning or afternoon. That was something that never really got easier. It was something that we needed to get more creative. We had college students say these things.
GRAFF: Is this session being recorded?
WATSON: To the point that Mike made about technology coming in, there was a program that national was running for a while- How Cable Goes to Market – that Craig Leddy was running the program, teaching it and all. National decided that they didn’t want to conduct the program anymore and in New York we said boy this is a really great opportunity to help the people that are coming into the business to really get some really good base level knowledge about a little bit about the history but where things were going, where technology was going. And that was a program, I don’t know how many episodes we ran of that but Lew Sharpsburg was sort of like Mr. Cable in the Classroom, program director for that. Ran a number of those and had people coming in from all over the country for this program. Just highly successful, great results at the backend there when you talk to people about their experience was. It really served to educate these junior level members in the industry and also give us an opportunity on the board to see, who some of maybe the talents might be in a few years, we might recruit on to a board.
DICK: I think an interesting take on this which is how in the later years for the chapters, technology really did have a big impact on how we operated where maybe in the earlier years there wasn’t the same level. I mentioned the Cable Apprentice and the pace of technology has been so dynamic. The last Cable Apprentice that we had we did the voting where it was 50% from judges, 50% of the voting came in from folks who were watching the live webcast and they were texting in their votes for the Cable Apprentice. And we would never have thought of anything like that.
SAMUELS: Just industry people?
DICK: It was industry people watching the webcast if they were a chapter member and they couldn’t attend but they could sit at their desk and watch it and then text in their vote. The point about how chapters have developed and technology impact by – I’m pretty active in the CTAM Europe chapter and I just got back from Malta where the last conference was. It was all work, trust me. I had just finished doing a panel with an operator who’s talking about a new product that they were getting ready to roll out and I walked out of the room and someone emailed and said I just received this tweet that they talked about this in your panel and I said is that right I’m here in Malta, someone tweeted and then someone back in the United States said hey did you guys just talk about this, I’m interested in that. We would never have even considered something like that in a chapter event.
SAMUELS: Chapters are amazing.
WATSON: Your points about the Cable Apprentice program, so did you pay licensing like to Simon Cowell – were there anybody?
DICK: That was the hard part. We actually tried to. I think one thing about the apprentice that makes it work is that they’ve got the Donald as the guy who is the arbiter, the judge and so we’ve really tried hard to get each year that industry Donald Trump person and so we’ve had Steve Richard one year came in and did it. One year Char actually flew out to be our Donald in the board. We actually had the apprentice presentation set up like the board room on stage. It is a dynamic that is tough to replicate but it is important.
GRAFF: I’m going to put Rich Cronin on that –
DICK: Rich Cronin was our moderator a few years ago.
SAMUELS: Well, no one has that hair. I love when he talks about his hair, he just combs it and it comes out like that. Well, I think that’s about it. Any other final thoughts before we wrap up?
I appreciate everyone being here and some great stuff, great impression of what was going on with the chapters and really what was happening in the business in general. So we’re going to wrap up. Thanks for watching. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit about how CTAM and CTAM chapters made major contributions to cable industry. That’s it for today.