Interview Date: November 28, 2017
Interview Location: New York, NY USA
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program
Seth Arenstein: Hi, I’m Seth Arenstein. It’s November 28, 2017. We’re in New York City. We’re here for the Hauser Oral History Project for the Cable Center. I’m joined by Kristin Dolan, who is the founder and CEO of 605 LLC. We’ll get into the name of that company in a moment, but welcome. Great to have you here.
Kristin Dolan: Thank you so much. Great to be here.
Arenstein: Where were you born and where did you first go to school, Kristin?
Dolan:I was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania. I guess the heart of cable. And then I grew up on Long Island. So I started school there. I spent my whole life pretty much there.
Arenstein: How did your family come from Pennsylvania to Long Island?
Dolan: I’m not really sure. I think my dad was down there for work and then they moved back up, but the family was originally from New York on both sides.
Arenstein:And your upper education, your college and your graduate degrees, is kind of interesting. And they kind of dispel the myth that English is not important.
Arenstein: Tell us about your college degree and your two Master’s degrees.
Dolan:Two Master’s, yes. So my undergraduate degree was in English; I always was a fan of writing. So I had an undergraduate degree in English with a business minor. My goal was to go into publishing. So after I graduated, I spent two months going cross-country, which was fun. Then I came back and Pace University in New York had just started a new program, a Master’s, an MS actually, in publishing. So I did that, which was interesting; that’s actually how I landed my first internship in cable. I had a magazine internship that wasn’t working out, and at the time, AMC Networks—American Movie Classics at the time—had contacted Pace looking for interns to work on some of the things they were doing marketing. So that’s how I got into the industry. So I completed the MS in Publishing, which is really like a specialized MBA. It just focuses, at the time, on the print industry, magazines, circulation, and a lot of things that are actually relevant to cable as a subscription business. And I actually wrote my thesis, my first thesis, on cable sort of as a magazine stand. And then much later in life, after I had my first son and was pregnant with my second, I decided to go back and get the literature degree because I’d always wanted that. So I went back and got an MA in English Lit as well.
Arenstein:OK, the elephant in the room is, do you feel that your English degrees have helped you in your career?
Arenstein: Good to hear that.
Dolan: I mean, we’re a communications business, right? And it’s all about being able to communicate. I always encourage people to look at liberal arts regardless of where they want to go in the industry. Unless you’re obviously interested in STEM and you’re looking for mathematics, engineering or tech. Liberal arts degrees to me really help people communicate and that’s a key aspect of any role in our business.
Arenstein: Even in the company that you head now, which is more of a data analytics company, but still you need to communicate what you found in the data, right?
Dolan: Yes, exactly.
Arenstein: So I know we wanted to talk about—you mentioned that cable is a magazine, so I guess I also have to say, did that have anything to do with another product that came down the road about the time you were starting to get into cable? Called “MagRack.”
Dolan: It’s funny. MagRack was a little later. My thesis was around the concept of a magazine rack back in the time, back in the day, there were tons of them, they were on most corners in New York, and it was an array of content that you could select from. So doing a publishing thesis, it was talking about the same thing that cable television was essentially an array of content that people could purchase in various ways. So it did predate MagRack, but I did spend an interesting amount of time when that product was launching. And it launched some great careers. Matt Strauss, one in particular, at Comcast, and it was another brainchild of my father-in-law, Charles Dolan. It was fun.
Arenstein: Tell me about some of the things you did as an intern. You said you got an internship with AMC. What did AMC look like at that point? What were its biggest shows? Maybe that’s the wrong term, to say “biggest shows.” Maybe not too many people knew what—
Dolan: It was very early on.
Arenstein:Tell me what it looked like. How many people were there? Give us a feel for what you walked into.
Dolan:So it was small. We had about 20 million, I think, subscribers at the time, and I guess around then it was 1989-90. So the cable universe was smaller, but still, 24 million was not by any way fully distributed. And when I started out, Katie McEnroe was running the ship and Sharon Patrick was the head of Rainbow and there was a fresh young man named Josh Sapan who was starting on—he started about a month or two before I did, in a much more senior position. So it was small. We were in the corporate headquarters where, eventually became the call center for Cablevision at 150 Crossways Park in New York. And I started out—one of the main things I worked on was a program called “Community Classics” where we took classic films into two different groups. To children, so we showed a lot of classic children’s movies in public places, and then one for senior citizens, where we did the same. And the idea was just to get the brand name out there, and in a lot of cases, we would bring some of the classic movie stars with us to introduce the films. I got to meet Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Mitzi Gaynor and Shirley Jones, and all these interesting old-time movie stars. So it was really an exciting thing for me at that age.
Arenstein: Wow. Did you ever in your wildest dreams think that you make a career in this relatively nascent industry called cable television? Was it ever on your radar?
Dolan:It really was not initially because I was so passionate about books and about publishing. What happened was I stayed on as an intern and then eventually got a job as marketing coordinator at AMC Networks. But my heart was still in, you know, I had this publishing degree and I wanted to go into publishing. My goal at AMC was ultimately I wanted to go into the field, I wanted to move up to a manager role. And there wasn’t a role available, so I got an offer from Random House to go work there. I left the industry, I went to Random House and it was—I hate to say this—it was horrible because I was coming from cable. And everyone at the time was young and they were friendly and there were a lot of women and I never felt like there was a glass ceiling. I went to this somewhat very stoic, traditional publishing house, and it was just night and day for me. And the editors there, they told me that, “Well, you come from soft media. So don’t expect to get any respect.” This was back in the day. So I lasted all of five months in publishing and I got a call from AMC that the position I had wanted actually had opened up. So they called me back. Mary Murano at the time called me back. I started then as a marketing manager out in the field so it was a great time to be in the industry because AMC was starting to roll out across the footprint, and my territory was New York and New England. So back in the day it was Continental Cable and State Cable Maine, and Times Mirror and Dimension Cable, and all these different little—from Rhode Island to—all these different little cable companies all over the place launching the channel. And my job was to go in and train the field service technicians, train the customer service reps, and do local marketing in each of the areas where the channel launched. So it actually helped me incredibly through the path of my career because ultimately it gave me the opportunity to go all the way up to chief operating officer. I had been to every single cable system, give or take a few, from Maine to Long Island many times. And then later in my career, still in marketing out in the field, I had the Mid-Atlantic territory and also Pennsylvania. So I really got to do the whole East Coast. And when you went out in that, back in the day, a general manager could make a decision right then and there at the local diner or whatever, to carry the network. So it was very, very different than where the industry is today as far as many fewer players and a lot more hierarchy as far as decision-making.
Arenstein: And it seems to me, based on what you just said, not only did you see a lot of systems, you did a lot of things.
Dolan: We did a lot of launches. It was a lot of fun and at times, challenging. I was like a 24-year old. One of the things AMC was working on a few years after I started was the launch of romance classics, which ultimately became WE. And we launched that network twice. Part of what we had to do out in the field was to sell in the additional network or at least raise awareness about it, so one of the brainchilds of Katie and Josh at the time was that when we we’d go on a visit, if we were pitching romance, we would send flowers ahead to the general manager, male or female. So we were sending them flowers. And then they’d have us give out romance novels and candy while we were doing the trainings on AMC. So picture this 24-year old out in the morning at 6:30 a.m. in front of a group of techs in northern Maine, who all they want to do is get their work boots on and get out in the field. And I’m sitting there training them on AMC and handing them out romance novels and chocolate at 7:00 in the morning. So it was a humbling experience, but also I got to really do things and go places that I probably never would have in another career.
Arenstein:And you used a little bit of your college degree in literature.
Dolan:It was romance novels.
Arenstein: Not the highest form, but hey, you know, I’m reaching here.
Dolan: Good job.
Arenstein: What about—you mentioned working in those times as a 24-year old. But you’re also a 24-year old woman, you know, predominately male industry, most certainly on the tech level…
Dolan:On the tech level for sure. But the thing with cable I’ve always felt, and I’ve said this probably many times, I never felt like there was a glass ceiling. Like I said, when I came in, Mary was there, Sharon Patrick was there, Katie was there. There were women in programming, there were women in marketing, there were women in HR. And Cablevision in particular, I think, has always had the mantra of the best person for the job regardless of gender, race or any other dynamic. So I’ve always felt comfortable. And I always say this, it’s kind of funny, too…I was an employee at Cablevision well before I was a family member. So I would say, employee first, family member second. So I had already gotten to the level of vice-president within Rainbow before I ever started dating and ultimately married my husband. There’s nepotism, I guess, everywhere, but I experienced a non-nepotistic career advancement.
Arenstein: What about today? What about—can you compare the state of women in the industry back then to now? I know you just said that you never felt like there was a ceiling or anything, but there must have been some sort of feeling that, my gosh, as you said, I’m surrounded here by techs at six in the morning
Dolan:It was interesting even when I was in my last role at Cablevision as COO. I would go out in the field a lot. And we did have very few women techs. We had a few, and it is a challenging role when you think about the ladder weighs 28 pounds and you’re scaling fences and you’re doing—so physically I think those jobs can be challenging for women. But at the same time, we had some amazing women, in all different roles. And the ones that weren’t as physically challenging, I think there is now more of a focus, like we said, on STEM and engineering and technology and mathematics where women are starting to aspire to those careers. And you’re seeing that change. Some amazing women I’ve gotten to work with, Yvette Kanouff and Stephanie Mitchko, and a variety of women in technical positions and I think they do a lot to bring up other women behind them. I will say being in sales, because I had gone from marketing to sales, this was a pretty rowdy industry back in the day. I will say a glass or two was tipped over the years; there were some parties. So yes, I think it was different, but I never experienced anything that I would describe as negative in any way.
Arenstein: : Was there a feeling back in those days when you first started in the industry in your early days, was there a feeling that this was sort of a grand experiment and “it might work, it might not.” By the same token, was there a point when you were at AMC where you thought, “Oh, my goodness. This is a going concern. This is working. Maybe after “Mad Men” launching or something like that. It’s easy for us here to sit back and try to find these big points in your career. But when you’re going through the career as you did, were those points obvious to you? Was there any moment where you said, “Oh, yes, this is a business that’s going to last.” By the same token, when you started, did it seem a little bit not shaky, but more experimental?
Dolan: I think it was a little bit wild, wild West initially. Again, being on the content side, it was different. Because we were on Long Island, one of the first areas to get cable TV. So I had had cable in the house since I was in junior high. So I think we saw the value of that. My friends had WHT, but we had Cablevision. So I knew that it was a thing, right, to quote Josh Sapan, “It was definitely a thing.” But it took a while. I think when AMC first started doing original series, the first ones were Westerns and things of that vein. And then with the launch of Romance, having “The Thornbirds,” we used to call it “All Thornbirds, all the time.” And some of the other programming that got aired over and over. It felt like we were putting something together, but I think, once we hit like 40-50 million households for AMC and then you know, Bravo had continued to grow, and some of the other networks that were part of Rainbow—the local sports networks, and obviously News 12. I think the aggregation of all those things on a local and on a national basis made it feel like there was some stuff and some substantive elements there. And then, you know, the family and the company is always very entrepreneurial in a variety of ways. So after AMC, I got to work on a project called “Radio City Television,” which was another sort of interesting tidbit in my career.
Arenstein: I’m old enough to remember that launch at the Western Show.
Dolan: We talked about this the other day.
Arenstein: I believe I have a red jacket that says, “Radio City.” Tell us what “Radio City Television” was.
Dolan:It was a great concept. It was far enough back in the day, it was 1997 into 1998, where HDTV was a new big thing. And pay-per-view was still a very important aspect of revenue and an important entertainment thing for people. And so the idea was to create a library of high definition content that would be owned by the company and could be sold on pay-per-view, but ultimately over time that we would establish a library of high definition content. So the first thing that we decided to do was to film the Christmas spectacular. So an eight-camera shoot at Radio City and the idea would be to package that up as a pay-per-view event and sell it across the country. And so, what happened was the Christmas show has five—depending on the year—different versions that are in different cities around the country. And so, when we started working on Radio City Television, the idea of filming it and airing it on pay-per-view, some of the local markets felt that it would impact their ability to sell tickets to the live show. Still an interesting question today: does live cannibalize pay-per-view or vice-versa? So they put a stop to us actually airing the Christmas spectacular on pay-per-view. So it was interesting because we learned a lot about high definition and shooting high definition, but the idea to actually create this library of content started to go by the wayside a little bit and then at the same time, high definition started to explode, so there were a lot of people, from Mark Cuban on, starting to work aggressively on high definition content. But we did do, as you mentioned, probably one of the most famous network launches in the history of network launches, which was the Western Show, I believe, in ’98, it might have been ’99, where we put on a huge event where we created the world’s largest kick line. We brought the Rockettes in. We had a bunch of Salvation Army people there and we created a way to donate money to Toys for Tots. But what we did is we got all the executives, we had over 2,000 people from the Western Show all come out and learn a kick routine. And then they actually did the routine in the parking lot, followed by pyrotechnics with a series of Rockettes and Swoosie Kurtz in the middle, and we filmed all of it and the goal was to win the world record for the world’s largest kick line. The other famous thing, I think, from that event, which some people still also have is the room drops that we did. We went out and we bought—we had a variety of things. We had life-size Rockettes, cardboard cutouts in each room when people checked in. And then static stickers on the windows but the key thing that people remember the most is that we got 1,600 mannequin legs that were dressed in fishnet stockings with a dance shoe, and we had them sticking up behind the curtains as each person checked in to their room. And the flights home from the Western Show we got a lot of reports back that people were actually carrying the cutouts and trying to jam them in the overheads on the planes, and that they carried home the mannequin legs and kept them for years to come. So that was definitely a marketing…
Arenstein: I was one of those people.
Dolan: It was fun. It was really fun.
Arenstein: It was. Wow. Is it still fun? Can you still do things like that?
Dolan: It’s different. But it’s still very fun. For me going from a chief operating officer role at a fairly large company of 15,000 employees to a startup with a very young millennial employee base and a much more technical—I’m used to producing things and seeing things physically, understanding installs and phone calls and things like that. And now we have, the product is bits and bytes and the output, it’s not a physical, tangible thing the way an install would be, or a television show would be. So that’s been an adjustment. But at the same time, the energy and the excitement of working with young people and working in these new areas where there’s so much data available and there’s so many insights to be garnered, it’s still very exciting.
Arenstein:At Radio City TV, there was somebody that you worked with there who’s now on the 605 board, I believe.
Dolan:Yes, that would be David Kline. I had breakfast with him this morning. He’s great, he’s wonderful. And that is one of the things I love about this industry is even though we’re all a little older, and a little grayer, the value of the relationships from being—for me, I was at Cablevision for 27 years, 28 years? And so having that whole experience and now two or three years beyond, you really start to recognize and appreciate how people entered this industry and how they stay and the familial connections. Like for me, even having worked at Random House and then getting to know the Miron family and even some of the Newhouses by extension. Post-that, that part of my career has been incredible. It’s one of my favorite things about cable, and I think it’s somewhat unique.
Arenstein: And I notice that relatively recently Charter invested in 605.
Dolan: Yes, they did, right.
Arenstein: Let me ask you. I know there was a job that you had, Vice President of Field Communications at Cablevision back in 2000. Do you want to talk about that and how important that was? What does a VP of Field Communications do?
Dolan: This was definitely a historic, sort of stodgy old job because as not many people remember, we didn’t always have the Internet. So back at that point, it was my transition from the Rainbow side of the company over to Cablevision. So I got a job in operations in this field communications role, which reported up into marketing. And the idea was that we had at the time almost 5,000 employees in the call centers and out in the field that didn’t have email, didn’t have cell phones, right? So the idea of communicating, and at the time, we were pretty geographically spread out. So how do you get the front line employees to really understand the pricing, the packaging, the promotions because at the time, it was a big growth period in the industry and we were trying to do a lot of different offers and to bring on as many subscribers as possible. So the game of telephone to get information out to all these disparate places was challenging. The idea was to create a group within the organization that was actually responsible for selling sort of our internal information and going out and pitching it to the employee base. So we created it; it was myself and a former general manger from Cablevision named Glenn Brown who passed away about a decade ago. But we set up an organization and at the time we also had “Nobody Beats the Wiz” as our retail vendor of modems and things like that. We set up basically an internal field team like we had on the sales side of Rainbow that would go out every day and they had their territory and they would take out information about motions and packaging and pricing, and they would do some of the trainings on new products if the network reps weren’t available. It really became this machine that pushed out information in order to make sure that every person who interfaced with a customer was able to really articulate and communicate what the company was trying to accomplish. So that’s all changed. Now everyone has email and you can blast things out and you can have interactive screens and everyone’s got an iPad, but this was about really the old days when you didn’t even have a cell phone.
Arenstein: You said everything’s changed, but even today, I’m sure you know this. I mean, you talk to communicators at brands and if you ask them what the biggest issue that they have, one of the first things that they say is “internal communications.” So even with the Internet and everything and email blasts—
Dolan: It’s challenging.
Arenstein: —it’s still hard to make sure everybody’s on the same page.
Dolan: And when you’re trying to move a company forward. Another point in my career in the past few years, was when we were really re-imagining Cablevision and turning it around ultimately so that it garnered a significant price when the company was sold. But in a highly competitive environment, making significant changes, which we started to do in 2013, completed with the sale in 2016, it’s very challenging. You know, instituting things like performance-based management. Safety is a big thing in our industry and really trying to get down to x number of incidents per employee, which can be challenging in some of the roles that our employees have. And just figuring out ways to really get everybody to understand what you’re doing as an organization. And the more people you have, the harder it is to get the message out. Then there’s always urban legend or different things that come up that counter, you know, “Why do you have to wear a safety vest?” and “Why can’t you climb a dead pole to get up to, you know, to run a drop?” And all these different things. Really, there’s no substitute for face-to-face communication. But we also instituted a lot of different things from a monthly all-hands call for supervisors and above where we would get the entire management team around a table, and it was open-ended questions for an hour. Anybody could ask us anything we wanted. And then sort of pushing that out, and then utilizing everything that still is out there between instant messaging and email. Then we put in interactive boards at every single employee location so we could push stuff out on an internal network to keep them apprised of all different things. But communication, I think, is the hardest part of running any organization.
Arenstein: And even in those days, as you sort of mentioned that new programs, new deals, all kinds of things were being instituted—
Dolan: The number of networks that launched and gained carriage, because that was really “Headend in the Sky,” and the opportunity to start doing digital and compressing signals and turning one channel into six, and really it’s hard to imagine that back then, but having almost more space to fill than were networks available—it’s not a problem we have today.
Arenstein: In that job, did it ever seem that by the time you sort of reached one goal—you wrote something down, you put together an effort or a campaign. By the time you finished writing that, the deals were different, the packages were different, by the time the ink was dry, the ink was dry, things had already changed.
Dolan: It’s true. And then you think about the complexities just of the billing systems at the time and trying to get all that information conveyed and what channel is it on and all these different things. It was a crazy time, but it was one of the, I think, one of the most interesting jobs and again, that coupled with my experience in the field, it just gave me exposure to every aspect of the organization. Because as you pointed out, I’m not a technologist, I’m not a math major, I’m not a contracts person, or a lawyer or an accountant, so for me to kind of take that liberal arts background, the on-the-job learning that I got by really being physically present throughout the cable system was what allowed me, I think, to move up through the company.
Arenstein: So let’s take a slight detour. When you’re not working, what do you like to read? Could you tell this from a literature—what do you like to read? What’s the latest book that you’ve read that you’ve enjoyed?
Dolan: Bel Canto. Which is not a current one. I generally read literature. I’m not good with non-fiction so I listen to that. But mostly what I do, I like a lot of English novelists, so I look every year for when the Man Booker Prize nominees come out and I kind of knock all them off one at a time. Then a lot of American literature. Once I find one person, I read everything they’ve written. But I usually have four or five going at once. It’s commuting, taking the train definitely gives me more reading time.
Arenstein: What about television? What shows do you watch?
Dolan: That’s a great question. So we have six children, four adult and two that are one tween and one eight-year old. My husband’s a huge sci-fi fan so we watch everything from “Stranger Things” to, what are my favorites? I like “The Good Place,” I like a lot of stuff on Showtime. I’m always telling Matt Blank how much I love the things on Showtime and HBO. Not a big fan of reality TV, but you know, we watch a lot of sort of things that are a little bit more like spine-tingly or compelling whether it’s sci-fi or mystery or things like that. Then a fair amount of Cartoon Network, of course.
Arenstein: And what about some of the big shows at AMC, and how did those change your job and your insight or your vision, your career vision, what happened after the first couple of seasons of “Mad Men?” How did your job change?
Dolan: I had already left at that point, but once AMC spun, I joined the board. So as a board member getting exposure to really seeing the magic that Josh and then Ed Carroll and the team there create, Charlie Collier, just around their ability to pick things that resonate. There’s another funny story that I’ll tell you. It was when we used to have a staff meeting before the company was spun, and Tom Rutledge was the COO, and he would do his weekly staff meeting with kind of the heads of all the different groups. So Josh would be in there and folks from MSG and all the Cablevision executives and we’d always go to Josh last because he would do a roundtable. And Josh was always sort of serious, but would be in some ways the comic relief. So there was a meeting when Josh pitched the concept of “Breaking Bad” to Tom Rutledge in front of the whole team. So he was like, “OK. We have this guy. He’s a high school teacher. He creates a meth lab in an RV and he drives cross-country—” And Tom Rutledge was like, “Josh, you think it’s good? I’ll trust you.” But it was Josh in his most earnest pitch mode, pitching “Breaking Bad” at a staff meeting in our conference room. It was just like one of those moments in my career that I’ll never forget. But you know, AMC has done an amazing job, as have the other networks that report up through that team, to pick real winners. And there’s something about storytelling that…I mean, some are just lucky. Like Josh would say, they never ever imagined that “Walking Dead” would do what “Walking Dead” did.
Arenstein: Exactly. Exactly. We’re going to be talking with Ed Carroll this week and I know one of the questions is going to be, what is the appeal? Why do people want to watch “The Walking Dead,” and so many of them do? There’s got to be something. What’s your take? What do you think?
Dolan: I don’t know. There’s something about like dystopian, I don’t know, I think people maybe think “there but for the grace of God.” Like if I can watch all my craziness on TV, maybe it’ll make the rest of my life feel a little safer? I don’t know.
Arenstein: Good answer. I’ll take that. You know, it’s funny though, you’re right about pitches. Sometimes I watch a show and I go, “God, I would have loved to have been in the pitch meeting for that one.” There was a show that I just watched on AMC where Norman Reedus, one of the actors from “Walking Dead,” gets on a motorcycle and he just tours. He’s touring Spain, the one I saw. Very simple. I just love the show. It’s so well done. I don’t get to go to Spain, I don’t get to see all these things. And the camera work was fabulous. And Norman Reedus’ narration was quite good. Whoever wrote it did a very nice job. But again, the pitch must have been, OK, we put Norman Reedus on a bike and we put him in—
Dolan: We let him drive around, right.
Arenstein: It’s like a very simple pitch, but boy, did it work.
Dolan: They get a lot of pitches. I mean, I have to give them credit, just their ability to pick. And then I think, you know, sort of over time you’re got on what’s going to work what might not. But they’ve had, I think, an unimaginable streak of picking winners, and that’s to their credit. They’ve done amazing things with those networks. Everyone’s really proud of them.
Arenstein: OK, one last sort of fantasy question. If you were sitting in Charlie Collier’s chair, money was no object, budgets were, you know, you’re doing great, no trouble, your passion project. You could put your passion project on AMC or one of the Rainbow Networks. Even on BBC America, let’s say. What would it be?
Dolan:My thing again, on BBC America’s amazing content, is just continuing what they’ve done with the ocean work and all their environmental stuff. So “Blue Planet” and “Planet Earth.” Thinking about the ten years that it takes to film each season or each series for that content is amazing. So I think actually being able to sit at the table and figure out what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it and then actually physically see that stuff being shot, I think, would be a real fantasy.
Arenstein: Agreed. I think that “Blue Planet Two” was some—
Dolan: Yeah, incredible.
Arenstein: I’ve never seen anything like it. I loved “Blue Planet,” it’s fine, it’s great. But “Blue Planet Two”—
Dolan:Just the technology of what they’re able to shoot and how, is amazing. And “Planet Earth” also, just incredible. To me, death scenes, for me, I have to say, a lot of things get killed in “Planet Earth.”
Arenstein: That’s true. That’s true. COO of Cablevision. And now we’re in, a like sort of 2000, look here, about 2004; what was that like?
Dolan: So COO, it was sort of a progression from 2011, head of Optimum, kind of up through president, up to COO. So a span of five years of just taking on more and more. It was incredible. For me, the thing I love most about all of my jobs is the people. I’m definitely like my favorite thing is to be in a group of people and really hearing about what they’re doing and helping them figure out how to do it better, or what works, what doesn’t, explaining things, that sort of thing. So for me the chief operating role was great. My favorite thing to do, as I said before, was just to be out in the field. So meeting with the techs and going to the call centers, and we were able to institute a lot of interesting things for the employees over the course of those four years that required, thankfully, a lot of time in the field. It’s my favorite day. Get up early, go out, to Brooklyn or Newark, or go out to the far ends of Long Island and meet the teams. You go on truck rolls and it was just great. Then we re-did the Optimum brand with all the bright colors and re-establishing what that brand stood for and that was a big piece under my tenure at that point. And then just creating, having the executive team that we did, some people brought in from other places, some people had been there forever, and really just having a roundtable organization that was built on trust and intelligence and really everybody rowing in the same direction I think was one of the most rewarding things of all, being part of that team. So the chief operating officer role for me was really a dream come true.
Arenstein: I know one of the things that they always ask me to include in these interviews is people, and you just talked about how important people were. But people that inspired you, mentored you, people that you remember from your career. Who are some of those people?
Dolan: There were so many. You know, within Cablevision, some of the people that were there from the beginning. Wilt Hildenbrand was a great mentor to me. He taught me so much about technology and about just general organization and, those of you who know Wilt, cutting to the chase, not a lot of BS with Wilt. Sheila Mahony was another person who was there early on in my career, who ran government affairs and PR. She was incredible. Charlie Schueler, as well. This was always, I would say, “toddlers in tiaras.” He was always—took me out and stood me up and got me to do the things I needed to do for the job as I grew. That was helpful. You know, the family. My father-in-law, in particular, really just his vision and his passion and he still has it to this day at 91. And obviously my husband. I learned so much from him, and got a lot of opportunities to kind of grow up through the company and kind of execute his vision, which is really, you know, for us, that’s the tag team like he imagines it, and basically, I make it happen. So that’s been great. You know, there’s so many on the Rainbow side. Like I said, Josh and Ed, who I’ve known forever. Some of the real smart people: Jennifer Caserta. Just brilliant people everywhere and you know, it’s been a great ride. I could go on for hours. I think, if you include some of the people outside the company, across the board, from some of the other, from Comcast to Time Warner Cable and obviously to Charter, and Tom Rutledge, Tom Montemagno, Jim Blackley—all great people to work with and to learn from.
Arenstein: OK. So let’s get to 605. How did it come about? What does it do? Why is it important to measure?
Dolan: Measure, OK. So while I was still at Cablevision, I had the opportunity to run both the ad sales division and the marketing division. We had from a pretty early time had been aggregating all the viewership data from our 7 million set-top boxes. At first to 1% sample, then to 10, and then Jim ultimately pushed everybody to aggregate 100% of the viewership data in an anonymized, privacy-compliant way. So we started using that data to make internal decisions around marketing and advertising to utilizing our internal avail. So things like frequency capping for upgrade promotions, targeting different messages to different people to see what moved the needle, and doing a lot of—because you were aggregating all the data, you could say, “OK, this person saw a commercial to get a DVR and then I know from our CRM data that they actually did. So now they don’t have to see that commercial anymore. And really getting sophisticated on the marketing side of using that data. But at the same time, we also had a $300 million a year ad sales business selling the local avails around New York. So they took that same information and were able to start to monetize the long tail content, you know, selling networks that weren’t rated by Nielsen because they didn’t have enough viewership to be rated, right? So we could say, this is how many people are watching that network and could assign actually a price to the inventory there. And what that allowed us to do again was to sell the long tail network, long tail networks, but also to do customized sort of impression-based ad sales for local clients. So you could charge a higher CPM and then by selling the long tail networks, which got them the impressions that they needed, we then freed up other inventory on some of the other networks that you could also sell at a higher CPM. So it really helped us in three different ways. On the ad sale side, become more successful and to actually do a better job of selling our advertising inventories for the client. So we liked that idea and we had been looking at spinning that off into a separate business. The internal project name for that was DataCo Ventures. We brought in our friends from McKinsey and we did a yearlong study and we looked at the opportunity of taking that model and potentially doing it nationally. So aggregating set-top box data and other data from across the country so that we could apply those same methodologies to national ad sales. Lo and behold, we had a “Project Palermo,” which was our summer vacation in August of 2015, where Jim infamously met with Patrick Drahi on a boat in Palermo. And 19 days later, we had an accepted offer to sell the company, which was fortuitous but not quite as—it happened very quickly. At that point, we were unable to do anything to spin off any aspects of the company. So we were in a holding pattern, and then the sale closed in June of 2016. At that point, we decided that we still liked the idea enough that we wanted to create that business. Taking that old name of DCV and figuring out how to move it forward, we took it and converted the Roman numerals into actual numbers and I decided to name the company “605,” which is obviously DCV in Arabic numbers. From that point, we knew that we wanted to aggregate data and we needed a really big partner that could help us with that. Given our history with many of the people at Charter, and their understanding of the value of what we had been doing at Cablevision media sales, we reached out to them. Jim and Tom Rutledge had a handshake deal from a year-and-a-half ago to do this project together and we spent the last year getting the deal paid for, which was no small feat. And b), really creating the infrastructure around allowing Charter to utilize some of the same types of methodologies and thoughts that we had used at Cablevision. So they’re now selling on an impression basis in the local markets, and we’re aggregating many, many millions of pieces of information from the Charter set-top boxes, but then also from other sources as well. And our goal is to have this national look so that we can go directly to brands and also to programmers, and allow them to utilize our inventory in a great way. And then also give them a lot of analysis and information the around the impact of the different campaigns that they sell are having. So it’s very different, but it’s also very familiar.
Arenstein: As somebody who studied marketing for a graduate degree, it’s really kind of completely changed from…you’re up in the wind and thinking what people are going to do to actually see what they’re doing.
Dolan: And it’s so interesting to me because I said I’m not a scientist, I’m certainly not a data scientist. So we have a group of PhDs out in Pasadena who work for 605, and they all come right out of Caltech. And the things that they can imagine for utilization of these data, you know, predictive models around people’s propensity to buy something, their affinity, combining actual data with qualitative focus group data and really being able to predict and project, and also to look at complicated media mixes to say, OK, it’s not just the last touch, it’s not the last impression that sold the car. It was this aggregation of outdoor advertising and television and digital and an email and you know, a bus shelter or whatever, and then the location of the dealership, and be able to tease out of that an ROI that you can ascribe to each aspect of that media. And it’s incredible. Very, very different from direct mail pieces. You know, for AMC, that worked in 1990. But great opportunity and very, very interesting in the day-to-day.
Arenstein: What still has to happen? I’m sure you saw this article the other day about—it was just a Cyber Monday and people were saying that some of the email that retailers were sending out to customers, “Why don’t you buy this new camera?” And some of the customers were saying, “Well, gee, you know, I just bought a camera from you. Didn’t you know that?”
Arenstein: So it’s still a little dirty, isn’t it—?
Dolan: It’s interesting because people, they want to avoid the “creep factor,” so they don’t want you to know too much, but at the same time, they expect what you know to be accurate. And there’s a lot of data out there, there’s a ton. And the challenge is really finding the right pieces in the right way and utilizing it in a way that actually benefits the customer. Because targeting and giving people more relevant advertising shouldn’t just benefit the brand or the advertiser, it should benefit the person who ideally will still appreciate having advertising because it gives them something that’s relevant or reminds them of something. So in the camera situation, it should be timed right. It should be the right camera for you or the “renew your lease” because we know your lease is coming to an end. I think we’re getting more sophisticated, but I think it’s going to take a little bit longer for us to really reach where I think most consumers would want us to be.
Arenstein: What’s cable’s legacy in your opinion, or what should it be? You could argue, I guess you could argue that your company, 605, is one of cable’s legacies.
Dolan: I would say, to me, the legacy of cable is really the family business. It’s the American dream. You look at families like the Rigases and the Roberts and the Dolans and you know, the Mirons, and all it—and the Hausers—and this was an industry that was created by people and families who had the gumption and the courage and the initiative to put it all on the line to create something that had never been done before. And to me, the technology will always evolve and things will always change and become more sophisticated and better and faster and sharper. But the legacy of this industry to me is just the people that put it together and the families that created it.
Arenstein: What about the broadband footprint that exists—
Dolan: Oh, there’s that, too. That whole superhighway thing. I guess that a good legacy to…absolutely.
Arenstein: That’s why I say, 605 is sort of one of the legacies of cable.
Adams: : I’m teasing. I think the infrastructure having come from the cable system with 10,000 miles of fiber optic cable, and the differences in going from traditional coax and swinging drops to having literally trucks where people were dressed like Oompa Loompas and they’re splicing fiber, however many strands at a time. The actual technical evolution, and the infrastructure that was created, I mean, that just speaks for itself. It’s an amazing accomplishment not dissimilar to the highway system or I would argue, even the space program. It was something created that is, almost could have been unfathomable 20 years ago, 30 years ago.
Arenstein: Kristin, this has been a pleasure going down memory lane with somebody who looks far too young to have gone down memory lane with. But thank you so much. It’s been great. It was a pleasure.
Dolan: It was lovely.
Arenstein: It really was nice.
END OF INTERVIEW