Interview Date: August 17, 2023
Interviewer: Jeff Baumgartner
JEFF BAUMGARTNER: Hey, good day, and today is Thursday, August 17th, 2023, and welcome to this episode of the Hauser Oral History series presented by the Syndeo Institute at the Cable Center. I’m Jeff Baumgartner and I’m honored to be moderating this one from here at the Cable Center, directing questions to the subject of this edition which is Dr. Richard Green, who is I think in the Boulder area I believe and joining me through the magic of video conferencing. So Dr. Green happy to see you.
DR. RICHARD GREEN: Great to see you too, great to do a follow on to this. Thanks for doing this on Zoom.
BAUMGARTNER: Absolutely, so we’re doing part two of your oral history in 2023 here, and this is like 20 years, I looked back and you did the first version of your oral history with Rex Porter in 2002. So obviously a lot has occurred since then, 20 years later. But this time around we’re still going to focus a bit on your personal history with the industry. But we’re really going to branch out to some of the pivotal, some of the important things that occurred during your career, particularly with a focus on your time as the first CEO of CableLabs and your time there when the industry was working hard in areas such as digital video, HDTV, broadband, telecom services. And then we’re going to chat a little bit about what you’ve been doing with yourself in the industry since your CableLabs days. So we’ll start with the CableLabs stuff right, so you were the first CEO of CableLabs when it was founded in 1988, and you were in that role until 2009. So before we talk about how the specific opportunity came about, how did you first engage with the world of cable back in that time, when you were I guess primarily involved with the broadcast TV industry right?
GREEN: That’s right, I was a broadcaster. I had worked for ABC, CBS, and at the time that CableLabs came into view I was working for PBS and I was in Washington D.C. And I got a call from a recruiter one day saying–
BAUMGARTNER: Just out of the blue?
GREEN: Yes, completely out of the blue, yes. Well I was a senior vice president of PBS. I had responsibility for a large part of the company, I had like two hundred employees and I was responsible for the technical side for the network distribution, operating the satellite distribution system and all that. So it was a very technical job really and I guess probably that plus my work at ATSC earlier I guess. I don’t know if we have that on the oral history or not. But before PBS I was at–I went to Washington to help set up the ATSC, the Advanced Television Systems Committee, and that was kind of a broad industry job, not just broadcast but consumer electronics. And you know various societies like IEEE were all part of developing the standard for high def. So I think that background and I have been very active at PBS in working on high definition standard with the FCC and chaired one of the sub-committees. So I had a bit of a profile but I was really a dyed in the wool broadcaster and I–
BAUMGARTNER: You were working on some stuff that was intersecting with the cable industry though yeah.
GREEN: Well yeah I mean we, as part of that FCC work you know clearly cable wanted to be part of that and was, but I was kind of still representing the broadcasters. My committee was responsible for testing, developing the test plan for high definition before we picked a broadcast standard but primarily that was focused on broadcasting. We just assumed cable would carry it just like they had for the NTSC standard and so on. Anyway it’s a long way of saying yeah I was kind of known around and I got this call out of the blue and I went to talk to this guy at Reagan National Airport. He invited me to have coffee or something, and he told me well like you know this cable industry wants to form a laboratory and kind of gave me the details. At first I thought, oh man, what a hard start that’s going to be, right, I mean how difficult that’s going to be. Because the broadcast industry had talked about setting up a laboratory as well to kind of serve all the broadcasters with new technology. And that came out of the transition to digital and high definition, it was very clear that the broadcasters had a lot in common in terms of developing their technology going forward. And so this sort of came out of the blue. The cable industry is thinking that too and he gave me some papers that were really interesting to me. I went home and I read them and I’ll just tell you my first impression was like, wow, there was a letter from John Malone in there to all the cable operators saying “I think we need to do this.” Outlining what he thought, the various transitions that were going to happen and electronics, high definition, voice over IP, you know a series of ideas that needed to be explored. And he put forward the plan that the cable industry should do this in a cooperative way. And as I read it the thing that I noticed that letter and also a kind of outline that Dick Leghorn had drawn about how that laboratory should work.
The net of it all was I thought you know, these people know what they’re doing. And I’d been on the broadcast side and setting up a cooperative laboratory among competitors which was doing the broadcast industry as well, but the cable industry, not easy. And I had been working in a–PBS is a consortium, it’s a consortium of stations, and it’s the difficulty of running a big nonprofit like that with a lot of members was something I had learned as part of my PBS work because keeping everybody, listening to everybody that has an interest, has a stage. These are the public stations that programmers that developed–that were producing the content for PBS. All of this was a big consortium with all the difficulties of doing that. And I fortunately worked for a guy at PBS named Bruce Christensen who was the CEO. I was the CTO under him and I learned something about how you manage an organization like that and how you deal with the board level issues. And as I read this prospectus about CableLabs I thought these guys know stuff about managing an organization like that, and I was impressed. I was honestly impressed. But on the other hand it looked to be like a pretty risky endeavor.
BAUMGARTNER: Why is that? Why did you think it was risky?
GREEN: Well you have to bring all these people with diverse interests. They are competitive companies, not in the marketplace, but they were competitive in terms of their outlook on technology, their competitiveness in terms of programming. And they all have a different view of how the worlds should be technically. That was true in the broadcast area but broadcasters didn’t have much of a real technical base. That was done mostly by manufacturers deciding what television sets were going to be and so on. In the broadcast industry and the cable industry you looked at it and say you know you kind of can control that because you can control your source technology and your on-premise technology. So you can make and match and I got to thinking about it and I thought well you know it would be interesting to talk to these people. And the broadcasters were talking to me about running their laboratory, which I kind of favored because I knew all the people on that side and I didn’t know anybody on the cable side. But the broadcasters were kind of fighting about me because I’d come from CBS, the people from ABC and NBC were a little suspicious that I might, you know, progress for the CBS agenda.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh you might favor that, yeah.
GREEN: And so there was that.
BAUMGARTNER: So there were some concerns yeah.
GREEN: So I thought you know, okay, I’ll go talk to these cable guys. Well you know long story but there were something like two hundred candidates for the CEO job at CableLabs. I didn’t know it at the time but I put my hat in the ring and I read again through this information that I’d been given, and the more I thought about it the more I thought you know there’s something in this in terms of opportunity. I didn’t know anything about the industry and I didn’t know anything about the people. One thing I did know is that John Malone to me was a scary character, because I’m looking at it from the broadcast side and he’s been very successful on the cable side. And really doing amazing–
BAUMGARTNER: You’re probably the first person to say that, (laughter) just a guess I don’t know.
GREEN: I knew him only from articles and articles were biased on the broadcast side saying, you know, cable is taking away our business, right. So I was a little worried about the fact that he is the chairman of the board for CableLabs and for the nascent idea. I think at the time Dick Leghorn was president and John was the chairman of the board, I’m not sure exactly what that configuration was. This was — interesting story. I agreed to go for an interview and the way this worked is you had to go to Boston and there were twenty other candidates. These were out of the two hundred the twenty had been winnowed down, and you would talk to a group of CTOs and you would be interviewed by a group of the CEOs in the cable industry. Well, what happened to me, this is one of those apocryphal stories, but I had also agreed to testify for a congressman, it was a congressman at the time. Was holding a hearing on new technology in high definition and I had agreed to testify. But I thought it would be okay because he was going to hold the hearing in the morning. This was Chairman Markey who is now a senator, but at the time was a chairman of the telcom side of the House Committee in a very powerful job, and so an important guy to broadcasters. And I had been working with him on the side helping his staff understand the issues with digital broadcasting and high definition and things like that. So I was invited to testify and I thought, well, I’ll testify in the morning and I’ll get on a plane and I can be in Boston in the afternoon for the interview. So it seemed all okay–
BAUMGARTNER: Threading the needle there it sounds like.
GREEN: Yeah, the story of my life, you know I shouldn’t have done that. But the bottom line is I went to testify, the hearing got delayed. Markey had something going on so he just kept delaying the hearing. And it turned out that the hearing was going to be late and it would overlap any trip to Boston in the afternoon, I wouldn’t be able to get there in time to do the interview. So I had to call him and say, gee I’m sorry I’m really stuck here in the congress and I’m not going to be able to get there, but I’m still very interested in the job. And I figured that’s it, right.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh thank you Dr. Green we’ll give you a call maybe, yeah.
GREEN: Well I knew some of the candidates that were very strong candidates one of them was my boss at CBS who was interviewing for that job because he’d run RCA laboratories and he’d run CBS laboratories. So he had a strong background. There were people from the cable industry that I probably shouldn’t mention who were very strong candidates, known to the industry, strong technologists, strong backgrounds, smart people. So I figured that’s all it, you know, I’m an outsider that’s probably it. Well I got a call later on saying well Dick it’s too bad you couldn’t be here because we had the whole board together there, we had all the CEOs there together, but they’re interested in talking to you but we’ll have to do this on one-on-one basis because we’re not going to be able to get them all together again.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh it could almost work to your advantage right, now you get to talk to everybody individually. You have a captive audience with each one of them.
GREEN: Well in a way it was an advantage. It was scary because here I am facing a one-on-one with John Malone, right. And I don’t know him I just know he’s wicked smart. And I know anything I know he probably has thought about it and has a better insight into it. Anyway I interviewed all of the CEOs that were part of the board and there were ten of them altogether. Some of them I did interview as a group. I think I flew to Philadelphia and there were three or four met me there in the airport and we had an interview in the airport. But the net of all of that was I was really impressed with these people, and I was really impressed with the way they saw their industry growing, potential, how they looked at technology, how they were really interested in finding out what they ought to do in technology. Really good questions back and forth, and then the one, I want to cut the chase, is the one with John Malone. And you know I asked him first of all what do you think is going to be the future for cable. And the net of that was he basically said, the thing I’m worried about is satellite technology, direct broadcast satellite seems to me to be moving very quickly and I’m not so worried about telco. Telco competition is important but they’re kind of slower moving and the thing I think we need to look at is what we do about the satellite technology and how we compete with that. Anyway the net of it, we went back and forth and I learned a lot from the interview. I mean I would ask him questions and then we’d go back and forth on the answer and I found it just extraordinarily innovating. It was just I learned a lot, I got a lot of insight into strategic thinking in the industry. We didn’t talk much about the internal–we talked nothing about the internal workings of the cable industry. We talked about technology, we talked about the future, we talked about how technology would be evolving, what he thought could be done in a centralized way. He was particularly interested in The Cooperative Research Act which was an ‘84 act which made it possible for competitors in an industry to form a centralized laboratory and do cooperative research together. And CableLabs had been incorporated under that act and he thought this would be a great opportunity for the industry to pool resources, because he felt that the individual companies would not be able to afford the work that would need to be done and if it could be pooled together, and it could be under this act. So it was a real opportunity for the industry.
Well I came away from that thinking I’m impressed with the leadership in this industry. I was impressed with Dick Leghorn. I don’t know how much people know about him but he came from the aerospace industry, understood centralized laboratories, was a father of the satellite overflight technology, participated a lot in highly classified projects that were very technically oriented. And he was a cable operator and he was on the board. He had purchased a couple of systems out on Cape Cod and then as part of that process became a member of NCTA and wound up on the board and then put this idea forward. And apparently it had taken many years to convince the industry that this was the thing to do. And I didn’t know about that history but my feeling was I liked these people, I like what they’re thinking.
BAUMGARTNER: Who made the call for the offer? I mean was it from Malone or was it from somebody else?
GREEN: No, it was Leghorn. Yeah well I don’t, you know, who knows what John thought of me, I don’t know. I do know that I was higher risk than some of the other candidates that clearly had run research laboratories in the media side, had a good track record. I had run a laboratory at CBS, that television laboratory, so I had a lot of experience in digital and digital imagery, you know, I had a background in that sort of thing. But you know managing a diverse group of people, a board and all of that. And I said to myself I don’t know if I can do this but I’d like to try. I got the nod from Dick Leghorn, he called me and said we’d like you to take the job. And of course I had to wind down at PBS so there was about a six month overlap because we had a lot of things going on at PBS in terms of technological development with our network, and we were looking at advanced technology kind of coming into our business too on the public broadcasting side. So I took the job probably June of ’88 and then I didn’t really start full time until October but I spent that summer kind of half time going to Boston, the company was headquartered in Boston. That’s where Leghorn was, that’s where several of the key proponents in the industry, the CEOs in the industry were located. And so I went back and forth and got familiar with the industry, began looking into what the issues were, what technology we needed to pursue, kind of coming up with a game plan overall and presenting that. And I presented that to the board sometime in September I think. Well actually I met with the operators, which were more than the board, it was kind of the whole group of operators, talked about what I thought the technology directions ought to be. Stepped on a couple of landmines in the industry that I didn’t know about and that was–
BAUMGARTNER: What was one of them? Do you remember one of the landmines?
GREEN: Well you know I came in and looked broadly at the technology and I was trying to be careful not to step on anybody’s toes or step on a landmine. But one of the things I said is, this remote control, cable operators were renting most remote controls for the cable parts and it was like charging $3 a month for a remote control. So I said that doesn’t seem like a good business for me. Oh man, I found out some company–
BAUMGARTNER: Did you get some backlash on that Dr. Green, what, no we don’t go there. Okay. (laughter)
GREEN: Well, the smaller operators really– It was a tough business, very entrepreneurial and every penny counted in revenue. So I backed off of that one and we put that in as one of the things to study at CableLabs. And I took a much more positive view of it. And over time we kind of showed well that’s maybe not a good direction for us. It’s not the kind of business we want to be in because the problem was you had to interface with television manufacturers and cable box manufacturers, and there was a lot of history there. Anyway a long way of saying I guess I didn’t completely damage my opportunity as the CEO in the first meetings.
BAUMGARTNER: Clearly, because you were there for a long time. Well one thing you had mentioned, we’re going to get the broadband but you know when you came in video was obviously the focus of the industry. You’d mentioned that John Malone had identified satellite as something to be concerned about. So you were there when they were doing the analog to digital transition, right, so that was more about creating more opportunities to expand channel lineups and also the transition to HDTV were on your docket. But you know with those two what were the ambitions or the role for CableLabs in those two areas, or kind of the initial video aspect of your coming on board there?
GREEN: Well in that first outline for strategy for CableLabs there were four major projects. One of them was high definition. Another one was voice over IP, telephony on the cable system. Not necessarily IP, but voice and a–
BAUMGARTNER: Sort of a switch kind of thing yeah.
GREEN: Right. And the other two projects were internal, and you know long lost in history, but how to interface with television sets, how to better interface. We didn’t have the right kind of connections. There wasn’t HDMI at the time and we had a lot of trouble connecting to the cable box because it was kind of a standoff between a consumer electronic industry and cable because we both wanted it to be our customer. Anyway the net of that, those were projects. They eventually came to fruition or went off to table. The big ones, though, following forward, were HDTV, which was also how to transition from analog to digital, digital to HDTV and so on. And the other side was telcom services how to develop telcom services. It at first totally focused on analog voice on a cable plant. We weren’t even thinking voice over IP at that time although it was on our agenda. So I presented those tasks, the board approved it and we started off running it. We hired people. Long story, moved out here to Colorado and set up shop here in Boulder. That was the start. The progression of those projects of course as you point out were transitions and I still have the slides. What I tried to do is draw curves of how we should transition, and if you’re familiar with a Christiansen way of demonstrating the S-curve for transitions in technology we used those as guidelines. And the board really supported that, the executive committee in particular really supported that. You can draw this curve and you see you start out with analog and gradually flip over to digital. And you can plan your technological development as well as you can begin looking at your capital requirements for doing that. We did that for planning and of course the S-curve started out analog to digital, digital to high definition, high definition to IP and–
BAUMGARTNER: Oh you were already thinking about that, okay.
GREEN: Well we didn’t have the IP curve on there. We knew there was something happening we didn’t know what it was.
BAUMGARTNER: It ended up being IP okay, yeah.
GREEN: Because they’re all nested curves, how you progress, and you move to one to the other and you plan your technology accordingly. And we followed that, and on the telcom side a similar thing we started out with voice, analog voice, then transitioning to voice over IP, and then using that platform to do data. We also had another one in there, video telephony which is kind of interesting because we could never get that one going.
BAUMGARTNER: You needed the shift to IP to kind of enable that, but you didn’t know it at the time.
GREEN: Well, and the pandemic. The pandemic really pushed it over the line because everything was there, there was just not a demand for it from people. People didn’t like video telephony. We used to kid it’s the wave of the future and always will be. But anyway–
BAUMGARTNER: And then it just crashed on you and here we are. We’re doing it all the time, we all live on Zoom now.
GREEN: It’s amazing and we’re doing our oral history that way. But anyway you can see how we planned that and as a result we started working on these various elements. We were a big part in developing the standard for high definition and digital television. And long story there, but we had programs where we worked with programmers, HBO and Showtime, both worked with us on digital satellite transmission. Because there was a huge advantage in being able to use your transponder time on video distribution by using digital compression technology. So it was very promising. We started out with that. Actually some of our first specs on digital television were for distribution via satellite to headends. And HBO, we had some really good technology in place, just world class from people who were really thinking about this, and that helped us. We did the spec for them for the satellite transmission and then we started developing one for home transmission. And that same– It’s interesting because when I was at PBS we had started some digital work sending our audio on our satellite, PBS satellite distribution, digitally because we could get their audio that way. And so we had some experience and there was some overlap. It turned out at one time that if you had–these backyard dish people that were intercepting the PBS signal–
BAUMGARTNER: Oh the big giant dishes, yeah I remember those.
GREEN: It could pick up the cable signal too because it was very much the same. And PBS had, the fellow who took my job at PBS worked with this. So PBS used the same spec. So we actually had collaboration there which was a big benefit to manufacturers because we were kind of working on the same technology. Anyway there was a lot of cooperation early on, we worked with the broadcasters getting on air. One little element here, lots of stories about HDTV and digital television and how that went, not enough time to talk about that. But one of the interesting things there was the broadcast standard used an analog way of encoding digital information called VSB. It was a proprietary format developed by Zenith which was an American company. And so there was a revenue stream for them based on the over the air transmission of high definition television or digital television. In the cable industry we looked at that and said–
BAUMGARTNER: Hmm not going to work.
GREEN: Do you remember that?
BAUMGARTNER: Well no but I could already tell that it would be a nonstarter, you know. Proprietary, attached to another company, no and no.
GREEN: And we would have to pay revenue for it. So you know we flipped that. We said you know this is really the same thing as QAM, and you know QAM very well. At the time QAM was a standard in public domain that AT&T had been using for digital transmission on their microwave long lines for a long time. So it was well established, we knew it worked and so we said we’re going to use QAM, and of course it’s kind of the same thing. In fact it’s almost identically the same thing as ESPS with a little twist [34:20] which make it proprietary. So we developed QAM. Well, that was a big fight with the broadcasters. “You should carry our signal,” and we said no, we’re not going to, because we could use QAM to compress more information on our six megahertz cable channels than they could over the air, so it was an advantage to us.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh there was a technical advantage on top of it yeah.
GREEN: Yeah, you know all in all just a good deal for us. So we did that and in the end, because we could pick whatever standard we wanted to on the cable plan because we owned both ends. We could encode it and decode it, it didn’t have to go directly to a receiver it went to a cable box. And so we just went ahead and did it. There was a lot of flack at the FCC obviously because the broadcasters really wanted us to be part of their signal which would have limited our capacity, so we didn’t like it, we did what we wanted and it worked. And so we had really kind of a better standard for digital transition over the cable plant. It was a better environment than broadcast as well, so we could pack in more information. So that’s kind of when–
BAUMGARTNER: I remember that story on how that selection happened right, and QAM as we’re talking today is still out there, and you know is going to be out there for quite a while still. I don’t think the all-IP transition is going to happen relatively soon but it will be around. But one thing I do want to talk to you, I think it kind of ties back to the initial, you know, the digital video days particularly when QAM was like the way of things. As I’ve covered the video side of the industry, right, we’ve seen the shift to streaming services and applications that go to streaming media players and smart TVs, that have kind of taken the place of the old traditional set-top box and the old duopoly that the industry had. But part of that shift right, I mean CableLabs was an essential player during your time involved in the OpenCable application platform, Tru2way was the consumer brand, separable security with the cable card initiatives that were really focused on fostering retail video devices and driving more innovation in that category, right. But the market ended up going in a different direction of course and really kind of taking a life of its own. And I think it’s been successful overall but as you look back at that, how did projects like OCAP and True2way play a role in getting the market to where it was today? It’s not exactly the same thing but I think the general idea, the core idea, really was to carry forward to what we see today with a very competitive environment of retail devices.
GREEN: Yeah, well it’s a really good question. I think looking back on it when CableLabs was formed the technology development was done by manufacturers. You know Motorola and Scientific Atlanta had divided the market, they built the hardware, the headend, and they built the cable boxes. And they marketed that to the cable operators. The two were incompatible, they were proprietary, and the development was totally done by the manufacturers. And it was a good model, it worked for a long time. But when we came on the scene it was pretty clear that we had to find common ground, common standards, common technology that we could– so that the operators could really decide the technical strategy going forward and present it to the manufacturers and say this is what we wanted. A very different business model than the industry was used to. We were going to turn it upside down. And just so you know, I had been involved in the EBU, the European Broadcast System, which was a consortium of the broadcasters in Europe, and these are the broadcasters, BBC and the national broadcasters in all the European countries. And they had a centralized laboratory and that’s the way they worked. They would get together. They didn’t have the antitrust issues in Europe. The broadcast technology people would get together and say, okay what do we want as an industry, and they would define a specification and approve it and then take it to the manufacturers and say this is what we would like you to build. And the competitive marketplace, different manufacturers, would build that standard with their own particular elements which they could add to it, but it would work in common, in other words it was compatible. So that model removed– I had participated in that, thought it worked really well, we brought that in and put it in the cable industry. And we said, okay we’re now the cable operators, we’re getting together and we think this is what we want for technology. And it sounds like it would be a lot of tension and at first, yes, I ran into some people who were going to kill me from the manufacturers’ side because we were breaking them up. But the bottom line, it’s a better model because you can compete directly and you can add, as a manufacturer, you can add your own particular elements to it to make it attractive to the whole industry rather than just the segment that you’ve been supplying to. But it wasn’t an easy transition for them but I’ll have to say we bent over backwards to make it as easy as we could for the manufacturers because they were essential to any progress that we would make technologically. We needed them. As an industry we really needed them. We needed them to feel comfortable with what we were designing and building and we wanted them to participate in the broad market of the whole industry, small operators, big operators, everybody.
And fortunately that worked, mostly because the CEOs in the cable industry really said this is what we want to do and we want to buy CableLabs spec, we want to buy the CableLabs spec. That gave us the fortitude and the go ahead to develop these standards, so we did. And they started out with digital high definition, DOCSIS, on as you mentioned PacketCable, OpenCable, and all the others. These were centralized agreed standards and I think the podcast (https://www.lightreading.com/cable-tech/dr-richard-green-cablelabs-first-ceo-reflects-on-dawn-of-docsis-/v/d-id/784526) that you did is a really good summary of how that process worked and I don’t think we need to go over that here. But it was a well thought out process of how we would issue the spec, have manufacturers build it, certify that it met our specification, and then the cable operators would put it into operation. And the cable operators had favorites among the manufacturers based on market prices and various capabilities that were not necessarily part of our spec, they were additions to the spec, but the fundamentals would work. That’s how DOCSIS got done. I think your question is, we were successful on two fronts. Looking back very lucky I think in a lot of ways. Cards fell into place, the operators really supported us, the manufacturers really supported us, we were able to do digital, digital boxes, and then DOCSIS. Which was a totally new technology for the industry, very hard for the industry to transition to it because it was digital, it was data. What did we know about data?
BAUMGARTNER: Because they wanted to switch to the DOCSIS side, right. That was kind of next, one of the things on the progression. Because you know CableLabs was the conduit for DOCSIS, the spec for interoperable modems and network equipment and it spawned this multibillion dollar business. But obviously a very critical point, right, for the cable industry. I’ve read about some of the initial proprietary stuff that was developed and how it merged into the industry. And then at some point everyone’s like, well, we need to have something that is common for all the operators, perfect point for CableLabs. But what is kind of the brief genesis of DOCSIS from the CableLabs standpoint, and from your standpoint?
GREEN: Well I think the pivotal moment was, and you know this from the podcast, was a meeting of the CableLabs board in New York September 1995, September 11, 1995, as I remember. And the cable CEOs were sitting around a table. I presented here’s what going on in the industry. We think that we can transmit data over the cable plant. New service and we have some manufacturers that are building early equipment and they’re selling it to operators and people are getting some experience with this but it’s really nascent at this point. And the operators all said you know we’re all buying different hardware here. Let’s not do that, after all we’re a centralized technology agency, CableLabs, and we should be able to develop a specification that will work on everybody’s cable plant. And of course at the end of that discussion the CEOs all supported that idea. John Malone who was chairing the meeting summarized it by saying we direct CableLabs to go develop a specification. He said work with the manufacturers, work with the cable operators, get everybody on board and develop a specification that will be interoperable and can be a retail product. Now he didn’t say retail but at the time it was pretty clear that this could be a retail product because it would work on any cable system. So we pursued it as you know and developed a whole program of specification working very closely with the industry, with the manufacturers. An RFP that went out there were a hundred respondents, we had a hundred different manufacturers giving us cable modems at one time.
BAUMGARTNER: That’s amazing that there were that many because you must have been surprised that there were even that many that were even looking at that industry or that type of technology. But were all hundred legit or were there some like well that’s a stretch or wishful thinking or something you know?
GREEN: Well if you get back from this and you look at this as a manufacturer the cable industry has been a closed shop. No manufacturer wanted to go to head to head with the two dominant manufacturers there because they had the market sewed up basically. Then all of a sudden, and that’s video, right, that’s video. And then all of a sudden the industry decides, or CableLabs decides, maybe we can do a new service on here, totally open book. And then we also say it’s a different business model, anybody can build a modem, there’s the spec. You build it, bring it to us, we’ll test it. If it passes certification capital operators will buy it and put it in use. And so a lot of manufacturers out of the industry, smaller ones, bigger ones, you know, big commodity Toshiba for example, Thompson, big manufacturers, looked at it and said hey you know what this is a new market and we can make inroads into the cable industry. And this is a very different kind of product which has retail capability or possibilities and so on, and so on, and it completely changed the market for a manufacturer. We welcomed all these manufacturers and we worked with them. We didn’t charge them for certifying, we did all the tests because you know we had–
BAUMGARTNER: Initially you didn’t, there was no charge in the early days?
GREEN: No, you know my goal was make this easy for manufacturers. We want to make this easy because we want them to build hardware, and we want the best manufacturers building these modems. And so you know my strategy and to this day I’ve always said it should be free. The problem is with a hundred manufacturers we were being abused. People were bringing in modems that didn’t work and we were troubleshooting this for them.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh that’s very nice of you, yeah.
GREEN: It was too cooperative. (laughter) It did just what I wanted to do it was very cooperative.
BAUMGARTNER: So you do it for free and no good deed goes unpunished.
GREEN: So we had to start charging as a barrier to keep out frivolous applications and of course CableLabs revenue blossomed, I mean it doubled because we were charging and we had many, many manufacturers coming in for the test. It was good for us, we built a laboratory, really first rate people that could you know understand and do the tests. And you think about it this is a totally new business. The cable industry knows about video. They knew nothing about data, they knew nothing about the internet, I mean it’s a totally new business and it has to be learned. And the cable operators to their credit see this is the wonderful thing about the industry they saw that as an opportunity to grow, learn, get into a new business. They put in the capital, they hired new people, they even set up companies like @Home that were, it was owned by cable operators I mean, but it was commercial and the bottom line was it was to help cable operators make that transition to digital. And you know the early motion, you asked me when did I think it was a success. Well I’ll tell you.
BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, right, what was the seminal moment when you’re like this has some legs here you know?
GREEN: It took a while Jeff you know. I would look at it was complicated to put a cable modem into a customer’s house, took two people. One cable guy who would go out and make sure that the wiring in the house could handle the digital because– The problem, analog was pretty forgiving about crappy wiring in the house right. And a lot of wiring–
BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, there was no digital cliff right. It could get progressively worse but still be there. Digital you get to a certain point and it’s like gone right.
GREEN: Well what happens is if you pinch the cable distribution line in the house or you bend it what that causes is a reflection, the wave hits that and it goes forward but a little bit of it goes backward, it reflects. And that’s fine for analog because analog just muddies it together, but digital says oh-oh I’ve got two signals here which one is the right one, right, and it gets confused. And so you can’t–you have to have much better pristine transmission inside the house. A lot of houses were badly wired and it hadn’t mattered but when you trans– So you’re going to put a modem in a house you’ve got to send out a guy, he’d test, he’d say oh man this has got to be rewired and has to run a new coax into the house to the computer. That’s another thing, most houses didn’t have a cable outlet near their computer. And so you have one guy doing that, then you have to have another guy that really understands computers because he’s got to open the computer. In the early days what we did is put the modem in as a card on the bus inside the computer. So he’s got to crack open the customer’s computer, put this in, install the software, get this all up and running, make sure it gets a digital signal. And I’m looking at how much this costs and I think we’re never going to make back revenue for this kind of installation you know.
BAUMGARTNER: It would take you five years to get a return on it.
GREEN: We’re never going to advertise this, so I thought, oh man this is not good. We’ve got to do something about this, you know, I mean this is not going to work that way. The net of it was it did work. We learned how to install that stuff pretty fast at home, took up the role of assisting the cable operators in the head end, converting the head ends, helping them get digital head ends and going out to customers houses and installing this stuff. And then of course we eventually were able to go in ethernet modems and you know what the progression there was. But it was–
BAUMGARTNER: Gateways and where we are today.
GREEN: –profit first and you’ve got to look back and say man these cable operators deserve a lot of credit. That took guts, big commitment, big leap into new technology, you don’t have people that understand it. All kinds of unknowns, risks, and not a really good revenue stream, are you sure you want to do this?
BAUMGARTNER: Not in the early days but now, when you think about I guess the answer would probably be no, but especially when you explain the early days of how things went. I mean did you or do you remember anybody thinking that broadband connectivity, you know, the broadband business would surpass video as the cornerstone of the industry? And that at some point we’d even have some operators become broadband, take on this broadband first footing to the point where video is either they are kind of indifferent about to a degree. Some are getting out of it and saying we’re just going to do broadband. I mean not everybody, or maybe cede the video piece to like the over the top streaming services like YouTube TV. Because I would think based on the early days it would kind of seem unthinkable in those early days, but you know did you remember did you ever have a thought that broadband was going to do this or remember anybody saying this, like hey this is the wave? I mean I know people like Rouzbeh Yassini would say yes but I don’t know if he was the common thought.
GREEN: Well, yeah, I don’t want to take too much credit for this but the bottom line is, yeah I did. But if you’re sitting there thinking about this is, okay we’re in the video business, we have this video plant it distributes analog video, okay. And now all of a sudden we’ve got a new service here. It’s data, and you think, wow, data! I can put anything on that. And Rouzbeh was a real contributor to both the development of the modem. You know he built modems early on before we standardized DOCSIS and then he came over to CableLabs. He sold his company and he came and worked with us to help set up certification and everything. And he always had the idea in mind, yeah, we’re building a new platform, a digital platform. Now at the time if you were sitting in my seat at CableLabs you’d say yeah that’s really interesting but cable operators, 99% of their business is based on this old analog plant. They’re video people, they have a whole model of delivering great multichannel video to homes. And this is a totally new and different business.
Now what we did at CableLabs, what I did very early on is say, okay, you can look at the telco model and you basically say we can emulate that. What they did is digital services and then started piling stuff on that, their transmissions on that and there’s this whole hierarchy of standards that were relayed to packet distribution networks. Already out there, already extant, already standardized, packet networks. And you know if you think about it, the whole concept–actually the guy who originally thought of packet networks, I’ve forgot his name, you know one of the pioneers of digital technology, he actually came to speak to us after we started talking about packet networks. Because they already existed, they had been invented, they had been invented primarily because they’re self-healing. And the analog telephone network was very vulnerable. If you hit a switching center you could knock the whole network down. If you moved to this packet digital distribution, if one link is knocked out it automatically steers around it and finds a pathway to get where it–but great idea. So we had in mind, in the back of or at least I did in my head and I think a lot of people at CableLabs did too. Did the operators think this yet? Probably some of them did, but you know it’s a whole learning process to say okay so the fundamental is there, to get data was a big achievement by the industry to get that running. Once you had that running you have a packet network. So we developed a program called PacketCable and we standardized it. The whole thing is modeled after what the IT packet networks were internationally. Did we copy that? No, but we kind of used the same ideas. And the whole thing is, once you get a packet network you can send anything on it and it was very clear to me we’re going to put video on there as well. We’re going to distribute everything, right, and we’re going to close down that old analog network because we don’t need to operate two networks. And we were and we still do, we operate the old QAM network. Now it’s not analog anymore. Well it is, you know, the QAM is really an analog signal carrying digital information so it’s still kind of analog. And then the full packet network, which is all digital, so it’s a big transition but we have both, very powerful. As an industry we say, look we’ve got two bites at the apple here, right. So I didn’t feel– I get asked this question by some of the people, CEOs, former CEOs in the industry, why didn’t you go right to IP? And the answer to that is we had to make a transition. We had to operate both networks because both were producing revenue. So you don’t want to close down your revenue stream until you really have a way of a clear transition path. There were questions about it. Well you know one of the problems with digital is you’re streaming to individual customers, it’s an individual stream. We could run out of capacity. And a real issue: is the network capable of carrying all that data? If you take–and of course it turns out if you take the analog off, yeah, there’s a lot of capacity.
BAUMGARTNER: It frees up quite a bit of room, yeah, and then you start bonding channels and advancing DOCSIS. But again it’s all a part of a transition you can’t just flip a switch overnight. And I thought one of the great responses was– Remember at CES sometimes the cable group that would go to CES would go to the Four Seasons Hotel and hold like a conference with people like me, but a lot of the mainstream consumer media and stuff. And this was during the IT–when IPTV was becoming a big thing, like AT&T was getting out there with it. And their big question at the time was, well what’s wrong with you guys? Why aren’t you doing IPTV? And at the time IPTV was just about getting video to the TV and Mike Hayashi was at Time Warner Cable. He’s like well right now it’s about video to the TV and now we already do that. Not until it became multiscreen and everything else you know is when it became a little more important it felt like. That’s not a question but I mean I don’t know if you agree with that.
GREEN: That’s an excellent observation. Yeah, I think you know strategically on the staff of CableLabs we were thinking PacketCable, let’s make everything packets because we can just take so much cost out of these networks if we do that. Because we can use IT equipment which is available at scale now, it’s commodity, and it’s out there and all we have to do is plug that into our network. So you know we clearly had the idea let’s make that transition as soon as we can. The bottom line is though you have a revenue stream which is still, at the time, an enormous part of the revenue in the industry. So you can’t and you don’t really want to undermine that economic phase. And there’s really no good reason to, other than it’s a better technology if you want to get to it so you have to figure out how to do it in a transitional way. The truth is we did it really well for data, we did it really well for voice over IP. When it came to video we didn’t do so well because there were issues in the network about– You think about it the cable plant was transitioning to a digital system but it still was analog based. It still had QAM and it still had QAM video and that was working just fine so you don’t want to say let’s transition when you’re not sure you have the capacity. So there were some real issues. Now the bottom line on that is some companies did have the capacity and some didn’t, and you would have to take off some of those channels on analog in order to get the capacity to carry all digital. So see it’s a business transition, technology going forward. And then the other issue clearly was when you carry video from a media provider, a content provider, you have a contract. And in that contract it is specified how you’re going to get it to the house. You have to change all those contracts to say hey let me stream it. And you can imagine how it goes because programmers would say just a minute I don’t want you fouling up my program with your digital stuff, we don’t know if it works. You know all these issues that a programmer had that said, I’m not sure I want you to stream it so I’m not going to give you the rights to stream it, or we’re going to have a fight about this. So you know there were barriers, business barriers, intellectual property barriers that had to be transcended. And you know, Jeff, it’s a great disappointment to me that we couldn’t do that sooner and better because it’s in my mind of course it’s a better technology, it’s lower cost, it’s more reliable, it’s where we’ve got to be eventually.
BAUMGARTNER: Like you said it’s multifaceted, right. It wasn’t just one thing. You were kind of battling a litany of issues that had to be ironed out on the business side, the technical side.
GREEN: Well you know I would say my afterlife from CableLabs has been on boards espousing that position, let’s get out and do everything IP. I very often ask the question, how soon will it be until we can be all IP?
BAUMGARTNER: And what’s your answer, it depends right?
GREEN: Well you know every company is in a different place doing it, and every company has different business issues and so on. But that path is happening and you see it and it’s where we’re going to go. And in the industry I think we’ll find huge advantages in that. It interfaces–now think about it when you have all that, if your distribution and everything is IP and it’s all packet network, all your hardware and everything interfaces with telco. If you’re going to integrate cellular networks with your voice over IP they’re both–the telcos have been IP for a while right, and now we can plug right into them. And so you know all of that you know bodes well for integration, because in the end what you want for the customer is a seamless network. They don’t care how they get the signal, whether it’s coming over the air or it’s coming wi-fi, or if it’s coming on cable. They just want it to work and it should work because we have all the tools to do that. Plus if you think about it, all the services that people now subscribe to cable to get are based on you know IP apps. So we have our own app now, you know, and I think we’re getting there, we’re doing it, it’s been a tough transition in a lot of ways.
BAUMGARTNER: Ultimately you’re talking about convergence, I mean that’s kind of where the industry is going. With fixed wireless, yeah, that’s where we’re going to be.
GREEN: Well in looking at the cable industry in ’88 it was an isolated industry with its own manufacturing, its own technology, and in the future was clearly to become a telcom provider and be part of that much bigger world of all those services. We didn’t know what they were going to be, but we knew there were going to be services out there that were based on digital transmission and you know the industry needed to evolve to that. Did we see that clearly? Not really. I think, to get back to your original question, yeah we saw it and wanted to do it, but it was clear that there were a lot of problems to solve and we kind of went off on a packet. PacketCable I think was a real triumph, not well known from the industry point of view because it’s a spec, but it’s the fundamental, it’s the foundation. Well and then OpenCable was still analog, right. We’re still dealing with cable boxes, you know, we had to deal with proprietary security on the analog boxes, you know, all of that had to be transitioned away from. And for an operator, you think about, that’s something that has to be done very gradually because of the economic impact. So I think the industry has done a really good job of it. Would I have liked it to have occurred earlier? Yeah. Am I sorry that we didn’t get to it earlier? Yeah. But we’re there, we’re there and every day we put more IP-only boxes out. We get the savings from that, the network works better, networks that are future proofed for that reason, all good stuff.
BAUMGARTNER: Well you had mentioned some of your post CableLabs stuff. You’ve been on boards but as we get toward the end here when I talked to you last it was a few months ago from when we’re talking now I learned that you’re a composer of music right? So you can’t laugh. I mean it sounds like you actually made, you’ve done some pretty interesting things. So maybe just give us a peek into that window of your life kind of post CableLabs and you know some of the projects you’ve worked on.
GREEN: That’s an interesting question. Well, I’m still involved in the industry and love every minute of it. I’ve been on the operating companies boards for a long time. Shaw in Canada and Liberty Broadband, GCI, the Alaskan cable system is a subsidiary, a part of Liberty Broadband. And Liberty Broadband also owns a lot of the Charter stock big investor in Charter. So I’ve been plugged in, of course, probably most active in Liberty Broadband and Liberty Global in Europe. That’s been a very interesting market and kind of a bellwether for what’s going to happen in the U.S. I mean we see technical issues developing in Europe and they subsequently come along in the U.S. and it gives us a way of preparing I think. And again the main joy for me has been the people in the industry. Just wonderful entrepreneurial brilliant thinkers, good businessmen, good technologists, you know all the way around just a wonderful industry. My only regret is I wish I had gotten in it earlier. (laughter) I enjoyed broadcast but this is really fun on the cable side. So I kind of parried your question about composing–
BAUMGARTNER: Oh the music.
GREEN: I grew up in a family where my brother and I took music lessons very early on. And so we’ve always been interested in music. I was in a band when I was in high school and in the musicians unions always had a– You can always get a job New Year’s Eve right, so I didn’t know you didn’t play in a band on New Year’s Eve until I got clear out of college. My brother was very musical, he majored in music and had a masters in composing, a really first rate composer. So there’s something in the genes I guess. He was world class. I’m a hacker It was always to me a hobby. I at one time considered well maybe I could be a professional musician because I was in the musicians union and playing gigs, keyboard and piano primarily. And so I had an interest in music and I’ve always wanted to compose but never really had the time or the opportunity to do it. Now with all the technology that’s available for composers now I decided, you know, I can see how they’re writing scores, they’re doing it on laptops, right. And I thought you know it would be interesting so I learned– After I left CableLabs and a full time job I was very active on boards and some nonprofits so pretty busy, but I though I’ll pursue my hobby. And so I got a real fast computer, a gaming computer, and the software, bought the libraries of orchestral sounds so I could right orchestral music and I started writing music. And just playing around really writing stuff, you know, I don’t expect anybody else to listen to it, it’s more my own amusement.
But a friend of mine, Dave Wargo, who is on the Liberty Global board with me said– One day he called me and he said, I want to do some documentaries because for one thing these guys– His background is nuclear engineering, he has a nuclear engineering degree from MIT. And you know I’m doing these documentaries and one of them I’m working on, I want to interview these scientists from Los Alamos because they’re getting old and in fact they’re dying, and that story really hasn’t been told. And so he, you know, one thing or another I tried to get a crew together, we together got a crew from L.A. to come out to Los Alamos and shoot a bunch of video of these atomic scientists that worked on the development of the bomb. Anyway that interest turned into other documentaries and I said, you know, I’m listening to the music on there and it’s crap. (laughter) I said I don’t feel like these guys know what they’re doing. And he said well you know, he didn’t think it was crap but you know I’ll talk to them. So I talked to them and they said well okay why don’t you write some music? So I did.
BAUMGARTNER: You’ve already set the bar because you’ve got to be better than crap when you come in.
GREEN: Well you know the way it came back is, well your stuff’s better than what we’ve got. That was my call and then so I started writing music for these, and they’re on various topics. One is operations research. And it had to do with the technologies that developed during the war that really helped the U.S. to gain an advantage in the war, from atomic work, to radar, to operations research. And so I wrote the music for these documentaries. I think they’re pretty good. One of the interesting parts of that was in working with Dave on Los Alamos– And my background too, my training is theoretical atomic physics. And when I was in graduate school of course atomic physics was a big deal and so I specialized in that so I was very interested in it too. I’d never practiced in that area really but that was my training, so I had sympathy for this. So Dave said have you read this book American Prometheus? It’s about Oppenheimer, and I said no, and I got it. It’s a huge tome, it takes a long time to read it. But I’ve read it and thought this is really interesting. And he said you know, the guys in L.A. are telling me that they think it might make a good movie. And so we sat down and talked about it and he commissioned together with the production company we’d been working with in L.A. to do the documentaries, commissioned a script using American Prometheus as the guide and it’s very detailed. But if you haven’t read it it’s a really interesting book.
BAUMGARTNER: It’s on my list because I just saw the movie that you referenced.
GREEN: Well I’ll get to that, the net of all this is that Dave sponsored a couple of script writers, they wrote a script, it wasn’t very good. But one of the guys that was doing the voiceovers on our documentaries said you know I know some people out there, let me talk about this. Long story, but it came back Christopher Nolan was really interested in the book. Then the pandemic came along. Dave put a lot of time in working with producers in L.A. and Nolan, what Nolan did was read the book and then he went to London, locked himself in a hotel room for a month and wrote the script. And that movie is “Oppenheimer.” And Dave is an executive producer on it because he bought the rights to the book and then he worked with producers and Nolan really liked it and really took it on as a project. And our goal was originally, we really wanted to see a portrayal of what it was like for a scientist, especially a physicist during that time with the pressures of the need for development of the technology because it was needed as a weapon of war. And then what it was like afterward when the government kind of turned against Oppenheimer because of his earlier political beliefs. And so a really interesting kind of a basic hero, tragic story, and we kind of wanted, basically both of us wanted to see it portrayed as an honest individual, what it was like. And Nolan apparently believed it, I have not seen the final movie in a big screen. Did you see it in 70 mm?
BAUMGARTNER: No, I saw it at the IMAX though.
GREEN: No, a big screen I think it really needs a big screen. You know Nolan’s just first rate and he knew that Dave wanted it to be historically accurate and portray the individual accurately with a minimum of extra drama added. And I think Nolan really accomplished that and so we’ll see how it goes. Dave is the executive producer he may wind up on the stage I don’t know.
BAUMGARTNER: There you go, right, in Oscar season, there you go. Well the movie was great, it makes me want to read the book and dig into the story a little bit. Interesting relations but the last thing–
GREEN: Did you like it?
BAUMGARTNER: I thought it was very good, yeah.
GREEN: Did you like the movie? You’ve got to answer that.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh I loved it yeah, it was a great movie but it did make me want to read the book and you know kind of dig into the story a little bit further. But interesting so we went from music and somehow we got to Oppenheimer that’s great. Well last question–
GREEN: Well Dave was the producer of the documentaries and he’s the one who got me to the gig of writing the scores for these documentaries. And of course I couldn’t jump to features and really had not the expertise or the desire to jump to features at that point. But I’m you know I’m really interested in writing musical scores and I still am doing it as much as possible.
BAUMGARTNER: Well, last thing then. If you had to boil it down, right, because we’ve covered a lot of ground, a lot of things happened during your career at CableLabs and beyond. But what do you think your personal legacy is going to be?
GREEN: Oh gosh, you know I really have no idea. I think looking at it from my side I would say, what great fortune it was for me to be asked to come into the cable industry at that pivotal moment when technology was changing and advancing. And to be able to help the industry work through that, and you know the constellation of people and leaders, both the CEOs and the technical people. It’s just been a wonderful opportunity for me. And I’m very proud of what we were able to do at CableLabs. And the industry really deserves the credit because it took a lot of changing of ideas, concepts, business models, technology. I mean think about it. It changed everything, it changed everything and I was lucky to be there. So I guess the legacy is, what I like to say, I guess I’m just one lucky guy. We could even say one lucky SOB! (laughter)
BAUMGARTNER: Excellent, well that’s where we’re going to leave it then with our lucky SOB, Dr. Green, thanks Dick for the opportunity to talk to you and you know explore a little bit more about your time in the industry. It’s always a pleasure to speak with you and thanks everybody for tuning in to this episode of the Hauser Oral History series presented by the Syndeo Institute at the Cable Center. I’m glad you could join us.
GREEN: Yeah Jeff, and thanks so much for doing this, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope this is a valuable contribution to the library.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh absolutely.
GREEN: Thanks so much.
BAUMGARTNER: We have people nodding yes so a great job. Thanks everybody.