Interview Date: October 17, 2012
Interview Location: Orlando, Florida
Interviewer: Leslie Ellis
Collection: Hauser Collection
ELLIS: I’m Leslie Ellis. It is October 17, 2012. I’m here with Yvette Kanouff, who is executive vice president of corporate engineering and technology for Cablevision Systems. We are here at the Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando, Florida and Yvette, let’s start with some background. Tell us about your educational history. In German (Laughter).
KANOUFF: Okay, I’ll skip the German.
ELLIS: You went to early school in Germany?
KANOUFF: I did, I did. I went to school in Germany and then I went to college in America. So I guess if I have any words I get stuck on, that’s my excuse right. I studied mathematics. It’s interesting – I had an interest in mathematics early in life and I decided to pursue that. I actually worked as an algorithm engineer for 10 years. Really pursued doing the mathematics field and I came to cable because at the time cable was trying to push a bunch of video through fiber optics cable and I thought “Wow, that’s a lot of math; I can do a lot of that.”
ELLIS: How old were you when you knew that you had an interest in math and I’ll tell you how I was when I knew I didn’t have an interest in math.
KANOUFF: You first.
ELLIS: Third grade.
KANOUFF: Third grade, okay. It’s tough because it’s really fun and then you lose an interest in it and I think I went through that where I just thought it was really hard and I think that’s what most people will do. In the eighth grade, my math teacher in Germany asked me to solve an algebraic equation on the white board or whatever it was…
KANOUFF: Yes, at the time and I didn’t know how to do it. So I learned it and solved it right there in front of the whole class and I thought “Wow, this is fun.” It’s like solving a puzzle and I knew at that moment that I’d like to do more of these and never lost it.
ELLIS: Okay, so then you went on to – when I first met you, you told me your background and I was very humbled and I’ll get this wrong but it was something with the nose of an airplane and Department of Defense and helicopters and… Right?
KANOUFF: All those things. I was actually working on the radar system for the Apache helicopter and I was doing signal detection and classification on radar systems for the Apache helicopter. That’s why the whole signal processing it ties very much into what cable ended up having to do in the digital transition is figuring out how to do analog to digital. To do encoding, different encoding algorithms. To do transport. To do optics. You know a lot of various processes.
ELLIS: Technology isn’t everything as you say.
KANOUFF: Isn’t it?
ELLIS: But where did you go college?
KANOUFF: In Florida. I went to the University of Central Florida. I studied my undergraduate in pure mathematics and my graduate degree in applied mathematics.
ELLIS: Wow. Both at the same school?
ELLIS: Okay and then right from there is when you got into the algorithmic engineering for?
KANOUFF: Lockheed Martin.
ELLIS: That was Lockheed Martin and then what happened? Was there a step before that at FSN or?
KANOUFF: No, I went from there to the FSN and…
ELLIS: Full Service Network.
KANOUFF: Full Service Network at Time Warner Cable and it was interesting, I had a friend of mine that was pushing me, Johnny Green, and he was a great guy and he said you really should go over to this company, Time Warner Cable. They are doing fascinating things. It’s RF and they are taking it and making it digital and trying to push it through fiber optic cable.
ELLIS: Did he work there?
KANOUFF: He went at the same time and worked with me at Lockheed Martin and this guy, Jim Luddington, you know, was there.
ELLIS: This guy, right.
KANOUFF: Obviously Jim was just great. We’ve had a long term friendship. So Jim was the head of engineering and he was kind of the cable guy and I was from the other side of the computing, the software side and we just had not only so much fun at Time Warner Cable, at FSN but we’ve stayed friends all these years.
ELLIS: Is it weird, is it nostalgic, how does it feel to be here in Orlando talking about FSN, what is it 18 years later? 17 years later?
KANOUFF: Well, then again, we’ve all talked about that, all of us old FSNers. Mike LaJoie, Mike Hiyashi and Jim Luddington and so many of us worked here on that project and it was groundbreaking for the whole industry, right? So it’s fun. It’s great. A lot of good memories.
ELLIS: At Time Warner, at FSN you were director of interactive technologies, tell me more about that position? What all did you do?
KANOUFF: Well, the whole project was the first Video on Demand project in the world.
ELLIS: You were hired for this, right? You come in and help us do this VOD project.
KANOUFF: Well, it was funny because the very first thing was, as I came in everyone was use to cable and much…
ELLIS: Analog cable right?
KANOUFF: We need a software specialist. We need somebody who really understands software, so I came in to be a software specialist. That was the original goal. I understood the math behind what we were trying to do. Encoding and lot of modulation and we were testing different modulation techniques and we were trying to digitize and encode the first digital linear tapes, DLT’s at the time. So I did a lot of development actually, early on. Worked closely with Silicon Graphics, the software provider there. Worked closely with Scientific Atlanta. You know, we were putting together an 8600x into the indie workstation to put the set-top box together. So a lot of it was integration work, working with all of the different partners and then it turned into an operational role working as heading up the NOC [Network Operations Center] and managing all the machines we had there. And then later on in the process was really about becoming an app store almost. We were working with all of the application companies and I don’t know…
ELLIS: It’s stamps.
KANOUFF: Stamps. It was postage stamps were popular. Pizza buying, you know we had all of the Spiegel and Crate and Barrel. It was great. And I remember Mike LaJoie, of course now CTO of Time Warner, at the time we were setting up TWI, Time Warner Interactive and he was in charge of all of the applications development. So worked closely with that group to bring applications, new applications and get them certified. So you look at it today, we did so much in one place. It was QA, it was operations, Knock, development, scripting. Lot of hats.
ELLIS: So backing up to different modulations, was that back in the day when they were still deciding between this digital sideband or DSB or QAM [Quadrature Amplitude Modulation]?
KANOUFF: Absolutely. It was not decided that QAM was going to be the modulation technique which…
ELLIS: Somebody took their sign down at one of the shows because oops, we’re not doing that anymore. (Laughter) We’ve decided on QAM.
KANOUFF: Oh, that’s great.
ELLIS: It wasn’t DSB was it?
KANOUFF: I don’t know.
ELLIS: That’s what the broadcasters were using. It was something like that.
KANOUFF: We were testing a lot them at that time and so…
ELLIS: And the other thing was at that same period, a lot of the…I was a news reporter at the time…a lot of the things we were observing was the culture clash between the analog RF people and the Silicon Graphics, Silicon Valley people and here you are a software person bridging between the two. Did you notice any of that or were we just making that up? Was there a weirdness between…?
KANOUFF: I always thought that was a shame because it was very real. I mean, I came in and I was the cable, on the cable side, so I was the cable guy, for lack of a better word.
ELLIS: And the software specialist.
KANOUFF: Right and when I went out to Silicon Valley and I talked to Silicon Graphics, they saw me as one of them. So they said “Oh, finally somebody we can talk to.” So I think that’s a little quote, it was about like that. So we would go through code, we go through script. I remember that just trying to take the first video off of a DLT; I think that the Untar Command that I used for that ended up being something like 10 lines long. I mean it was just, what we had to do to transcribe bytes and it was fascinating, so yeah, it was a little bit that way, but I have to tell you, Leslie, I think that even today there has to be an appreciation for what it is that our plant does. There has to be an appreciation for RF and that’s a skill we can’t ever lose and I think that there was somewhat of a “this is what’s more important”, than our basic infrastructure expertise. And I thought that’s why I think it’s a shame. And then I think that to some extent from the RF side; it was like “Well, you guys are just wanting stuff. The plant’s more important.” And that war continued on for years. It’s so silly.
ELLIS: It’s still that way at home, when those days when broadband first started it was the data people versus the cable people. There’s always this “we’re smarter.”
KANOUFF: Right, if you don’t have the other one, you’re losing out. So I really stopped paying attention to trying to figure out which one won and trying to argue those sides and just tried to show each one of them is so important and we have to continue using each one. But I think that another was that for years it was thought that one side has to learn the other. Right. It was how can we take that RF engineer and explain to them IP engineering and have them end up being a router expert and that’s not why we have…?
ELLIS: It’s not feasible.
KANOUFF: I don’t know if it’s feasible. It’s just not necessarily required.
ELLIS: So then what happened from Time Warner to SeaChange, right?
KANOUFF: Yes. So it was interesting when we decided that we were going to, the last thing we did the last year at the FSN, is we wrote several RFPs and an RFP for the next generation set-top box. And RFP for the next generation VOD system. Basically taking all of the lessons learned and deciding, putting them on paper and saying if we could do them again, we want to do it in a cost effective really operational wide-scale way. We would …
KANOUFF: Pegasus, yes. That’s right. So my assignment because there were all of us and Bruce Williams was in charge of the set-top box or RFP and mine was the Video on Demand RFP. So after wrapping that up we went out for a vendor, for vendor selections and of course SeaChange was a vendor. And I remember deciding “Well, what do I want to do next as my next step?” and I remember Jim Chiddix talking with me and saying “Well, Yvette…”
ELLIS: “Well, Yvette.”
KANOUFF: “Well, Yvette” as only Jim can do, right? (Laughter) It was a great conversation and he said “Well, I really support it if you want to go to SeaChange. We continue to work together and you see through all of the knowledge that you have from the FSN years to really understand operation and what we need and build this platform.” So that’s what I did. I went to SeaChange to start the Video on Demand product line.
ELLIS: Oh to start it. They didn’t…
KANOUFF: It was zero.
ELLIS: What was it before that?
KANOUFF: Zero revenue. Zero product. Advertising.
ELLIS: Oh, right, right.
KANOUFF: SeaChange was 100% advertising platform. And I think that is part of that was the attraction too because you’d buy an ad system and it was a black box and it fit into the cable mentality at the time which we’ve come so far and changed so much. But at the time, you know, you’d buy the box, you’d put it in the headend, you’d put it in the rack and walk away and it runs.
ELLIS: But in the 4¾ inch VTRs? I came in through that door to cable too through ad inserts.
KANOUFF: Did you?
ELLIS: Well, anyway.
KANOUFF: So it was digitizing and getting rid of analog tapes, right? But it was kind of hands free, low maintenance. So how do we deliver a Video on Demand system that doesn’t require all these engineers that we required at the Full Service Network? So that was the goal – is to build a Video on Demand system that could really be scalable, really be cost effective and really be operationally feasible.
ELLIS: And what year was that? When did you go to SeaChange?
ELLIS: 1997 and did you start as — what was your title, like VP engineering?
KANOUFF: I was interactive technologies. I think it was the same title I had. I just kept the same title. They said what do you want your title to be? Oh, I’ll keep the same one. It wasn’t about the title, right? It was about the fact we were starting something new.
ELLIS: The work. So then how did that unfold? Building the company’s first VOD system?
KANOUFF: Worked with Time Warner. We basically continued the work that we had started. We built a lot of specifications. A lot of specifications that are even used today. You know, like the ADI spec and things. I remember four of us in a hotel room with a white, one of those little flip charts. What would we need to put in a spec like this? And gosh, they’ve stayed for over 10 years and really created a way for content to be delivered. Re-created the specification for content encoding so that everybody could encode the same way. So that you didn’t have to manually be involved in bringing content into the system. Signaling, you know, some of the DMCC work that’s even used today. We created the LSC spec and the SSP spec. It was a fun time and like I said it had a lot of longevity. And we launched the first system and it really was, I think, truly, we met all of the goals. It was a truly scalable, hierarchical storage. It was manageable and monitorable by real cable headend technicians, you know. It was very cool.
ELLIS: What was the first one you put in?
KANOUFF: Time Warner, of course.
ELLIS: Okay, I think it might have been Rogers. Rogers was very interested early on too.
KANOUFF: Yes, yes and I don’t know if you remember Cablevision, of course, my company now was also one of the first companies doing Video on Demand. Also Silicon Graphics. Same solution that Time Warner was using.
ELLIS: And what about your patents. You got a lot of patents through that period? How does that story go?
KANOUFF: Yes, I have patented with Lockheed Martin, during Time Warner on metadata and hierarchical storage. There’s certain, certainly a lot of lessons we learned. We always tried to go through and patent them and made sure that we protected our rights along the way.
ELLIS: Did you get paid when you get a patent?
KANOUFF: No, but…
ELLIS: Time Warner guys did– I know because [?] little check.
ELLIS: Little check.
KANOUFF: Little check. I’ll tell you what I like is Jim Luddington and I both, I’m not sure exactly but I think we both had left Time Warner by the time the patent came through that we had together and Jim had plaques made and I remember getting a mail from Jim and he goes “Here’s our patents and something to hang on the wall” and you kind of think about it every day whereas the money gets spent. That’s a nice thought, I like that.
ELLIS: Definitely. Show your mom that one right away.
KANOUFF: That’s right. Mom, look what I got.
ELLIS: Okay, so at SeaChange, ultimately up to president.
KANOUFF: President. Yeah, a lot of changes along the way. So started the Video on Demand product line. Very technical, very technical start. And then it quickly becomes about product management and really driving a larger view and then it really became about understanding the business aspect of it. So that’s fascinating. Always interesting to learn right? So really learned about the business aspect and really focused a lot on the strategy of the company. Ended up becoming chief strategy officer because we did have a lot strategic changes that we went through. And eventually as president and of course now Cablevision.
ELLIS: So talk to…was it at SeaChange where you started noticing the shift of – it used to be that operators would buy 80% hardware, 20% software but now it seems like it’s flipping. And you are very thickly involved in that world of software and that’s where you come from. Did that start for you at SeaChange where this massive shift to…?
KANOUFF: I’ll tell you a funny story, Leslie. Carl Rossetti, of course you know Carl. So I remember Carl Rossetti, I don’t even know if he knows this but he’s our classic example of what it is that our mantra was. So Carl Rossetti said “I have to be able to, if I’m going to buy something I have to be able to pick it up. I have to be able to put it in a truck and I have to be able to drive somewhere and that’s what I’m going to buy.” So that’s almost our mantra. So I’m like okay so Carl Rossetti said this right? So it was always if you had software, it has to be embedded on a piece of hardware and it has to be free with the piece of hardware because you are buying the piece of hardware and you’re putting it on a truck and it has to be something physical that you’re buying. So software was most of our expense. It was where all of our intelligence lies but we had to put it together in a box. And then what happens is you have a very large software staff so that when you’ve bought a lot you’ve had a good year. It’s a lumpy business. You know you buy a bunch and then the next year you need more and more features on top of it. So the year that you are not buying, you’re expecting a lot of features and that’s a higher expense than the other years. So I just realized that we have to make this shift. We have to make this shift for our industry and it was so hard. I remember…
ELLIS: It still is hard. I think it still is hard.
KANOUFF: It was really hard.
ELLIS: So what time frame were you talking about?
KANOUFF: Ten years ago now. I remember being in meetings and explaining why we have to separate it and you know from a pricing perspective that part of the conversation was 5 minutes. You’ve paid the same price and I’m going to take this much and allocate it to software and this much to hardware. You’re not going to pay anything different and everything’s good. Right? But we have to license it separate. We have to have — there are software upgrade licenses and things that are normal in the software environment…
ELLIS: That are new to cable operators.
KANOUFF: It was at the time and I remember them looking at me and telling me that I am just absolutely crazy and I remember having some really, really hard meetings and I think I had so many other vendors say thank you for paving the way for all of us.
ELLIS: There were days when Hiyashi would say “We buy hardware, the software is for free.” That’s how that philosophy went.
KANOUFF: That’s how it was. That’s the way that we packaged. So for us to separate it — I had meeting after meeting. It took years to really just set people up with “This is what we are going to do. It’s going to be effective this date. Here’s why it’s good for you. Here’s why it makes sense when you need the features you’ll have a software team that can build it for you.” Created the concept of software subscriptions and that was a real strategic change for SeaChange at the time and I think it was a real strategic change for the industry. And you might say that it is still that way but I think that industry does appreciate software so much now.
ELLIS: Oh yeah, it’s just, it’s so vast. I’m with Carl Rossetti. When people show me a new product like what is it? If you put it in my hand, what does it look like and it’s hard when it’s software because it just looks like lines of code.
KANOUFF: It’s funny because when we did start first selling; I remember the first tradeshow, the first real tradeshow with Video on Demand…
ELLIS: Where was it?
KANOUFF: Where is it, right? Without a user interface, what is it, what are you selling, right? Is it the box? What does the box do? Well it does a lot of stuff, here’s some slides. So we learned so much. I learned so much about marketing and boy, we better have that user interface. So we ended up buying a user interface company. We had the user interface and then it was “Oh, that’s very nice.” (Laughter) Look at all the intelligence back here, you know.
ELLIS: You went through that whole chapter of when the operators wanted to separate the streaming, what was it from the pump, the sessions set up, for the streaming, there’s something that they wanted…
KANOUFF: The streaming and storage. So you wanted the storage to be…
ELLIS: Because they grew at different rates.
KANOUFF: Yes and then you could do some centralized storage and shared storage. So to start, it was streaming and storage together off the same platform and then everything became memory centric. There are so many different stages that we went through, but yes, I’ll tell you what even before that, the big ask was to put the QAM inside the server. So instead of having an output card that’s either ASI or after that, Ethernet or put the QAM directly there. And then the next year, take the QAM out.
ELLIS: Encrypt it. Don’t encrypt it.
KANOUFF: There’s always something. That’s the fun of the industry.
ELLIS: Another of passion of yours during the SeaChange period that I think is bridging over now, if I could make an educated guess, is personalization.
ELLIS: That is something you were really big on at SeaChange and you are really big on now. Speak to that.
ELLIS: How do you define personalization?
KANOUFF: I think it’s a lot. It’s hard to define in simple way but I do think that the experience of the consumption is really, really important. And I think that as you look at different generations, it becomes even more important and everybody today wants my experience. I want to be able to customize it. I want to be able to make it personal. So there’s so many aspects to it. You can look at search and recommendations and it’s very obvious that you want your recommendations that are different than mine. And the power of personalization. If I give you a recommendation and I say “Oh, I watched the best movie last night. You really have to watch it.” That’s much more powerful than you opening a magazine and it says this movie is great because Joe Smith says it, right? So there’s the aspect of personalizing your user experience and being to see things the way that you want to see them and customizing that. I think that the whole user experience is important but I think that personalized content, personalizing your experience, social media, sense of communities and being able to do — there’s still so much that we have yet to do and we will.
ELLIS: Okay, let’s talk to the move to Cablevision which is this year. This summer was it?
KANOUFF: It was this March.
ELLIS: March, okay.
KANOUFF: Seven months.
ELLIS: I remember that I had put up some silly post on Facebook that I was disappointed in someone and I was at Burbank and you called me and you were like “Is it me? Are you disappointed? I’m sorry.” (Laughter) No, you’re fine. So how did it come to pass that you joined Cablevision.
KANOUFF: It’s interesting because Cablevision has been going through a shift and it’s real next generation look. We went through a whole branding campaign this year. We’ve gone through a new user interface launch and it’s all about the future of Cablevision being this platform for you not to worry about your cable, your basically video, phone, internet and we’ll take care of that for you. And there’s a whole branding campaign around what Optimal means to its customer base and so, I went to Time Warner because it sounded exciting. I went to SeaChange because it sounded like I was going to do something that’s exciting and I went to Cablevision because this whole shift of the next generation of Cablevision is exciting to me. So anytime we’re making a leap, I think that’s my area of expertise of really saying we’re going to launch all these new services. We’re doing Wi-Fi all over the place. We’re going to put Wi-Fi on trains, you know and really taking the industry to that next level of services, of infrastructure, of reliability, and of services that we can build on top of that.
ELLIS: Typical day, what’s the typical couple of day? I know one is not like the same. What all kinds of stuff are you working on?
KANOUFF: So, it’s very broad. There are a lot of different aspects that I work on now, so I have the IT area. So the typical things that you would see with IT. I have operations, so all of the headend and NOC and engineering and technology.
KANOUFF: So engineering and technology even that can be split into whole different facets because we do so much software development in house and we have the data network and we voice projects and we have the typical video projects. So there are always so many different things that we’re doing and many of them cross all of these areas. I’m a big fan of looking at collaborative architectures and that works out front. So I think that when we build a software infrastructure we have to involve the engineering side. I’ll go as far as saying IT. I know that Cox had a lot of work that they did in this sphere early on to merge IT and operations and the expertise in both of those. So we do try to do a lot of collaborative efforts.
ELLIS: Are you doing product roadmap kind of stuff too?
KANOUFF: We know we have a product group, of course, under Kristin Dolan and her group really defines the product direction as to where it is we want to be. We want to launch these services and we work very closely with that group in terms of what we can design.
ELLIS: So you kind of co-develop it and then your teams go build it?
KANOUFF: Well, what happens is that they’ll define what it is that we want to. It’s very hard to develop a product from one group, right? There’s legal aspects. There’s programming aspects. There’s the most important aspect which is of course what the consumer wants and how this helps the consumer. So all of that happens within the product group and then as to how we can build it, and how the right way is to build it. You know all of that happens in the engineering group. It’s very collaborative.
ELLIS: Okay. Today you and I participated in the first ever all-female technology panel at SCTE.
KANOUFF: It was great.
ELLIS: It was. It was fun.
KANOUFF: You did fabulous.
ELLIS: I wanted to get us right into the technology questions so there would not be any hint of coffee klatch, any stereotypical ladies stuff, but let’s talk about women and technology and your work with the SCTE to encourage more of that and what more can we be doing. What has your experience been as a lonely woman in technology?
KANOUFF: I knew you would ask me that question. You just have to.
ELLIS: You can ask it back. We agree on this.
KANOUFF: So, Leslie, you and I have talked about this. Nomi Bergman, we’ve talked about it and so many of the women that we respect and involved in this industry, we’ve all talked about it. And I think that you’ll agree that we just look forward to the day that we don’t have to talk about it.
KANOUFF: I think that I consider myself one of the guys. I don’t consider that to be an insult. I don’t think that there’s a boy’s club. I don’t think that it’s the guy place and I’m the only woman. It just happens to be that I’m one of the only women in this industry and it’s a shame. I was elected one of the first female chairmen of the SCTE but it was 14,000 members of voting. It was primarily men. I think 94% men and they voted me as the chairman. Did they do it because I’m a woman? No, they did it because I’m very involved in the industry and I have never seen in this industry that I’ve been in any way shunned for being a woman. It’s just awkward. I’m always the only woman in the meeting and I look forward to one day when we can just stop talking about it and we bring more women in. So we do have several programs for that and I know you’re very active in helping other women come into our industry too. And I appreciate that and I think we have probably have that obligation and we have to fulfill that obligation and we will. Then we’ll drop it.
ELLIS: Right, right. Didn’t Luddington’s remarks this morning — I thought were interesting, where he said he was talking about workforce development is like most of us, myself included, sounds like you included, kind of fell in to cable. Like I didn’t go “I know. I’d like to work in the cable industry.” It’s just like, okay I’ll write this manual and it happens to be for a cable company. Long story short, what can we be doing to attract more not just people but women into the tech side of the business and I have an idea too by the way.
KANOUFF: Really? I’d like to hear about. Yeah, you first.
ELLIS: So all these tech papers, SCTE wants tech papers, NCTA wants tech papers, not only to encourage people, women that we know who are in tech to write them but offer to mentor in the development of the idea. So to get more women public speaking, getting ideas out there.
KANOUFF: I wonder if we could do that through the Foundation.
ELLIS: Right through the Tech it Out mentoring program.
KANOUFF: Yeah, that’s a good idea. So I guess I spent a lot of time thinking about that. I know that you have. We’ve all talked about many times. You know it’s that if you look at the résumés that come across the guy’s desk, right? There’ll still just be 20 men, male resumes and there will be one female. So it’s not like the guy is saying “Oh let me pick the guys.” Right? First thing we have to get more resumes on the desk. So you go to the colleges, right? And you look at the colleges, well there’s less females than there are men. So item number one is educating colleges that this is a great career choice. Right? This is not about climbing poles anymore. It’s about true network infrastructure, software jobs. There’s engineering jobs. There’s real meaty…
ELLIS: Well, it’s finding the girl in 8th grade who stands up at the board to give the algebraic equation.
KANOUFF: That’s what’s nice.
ELLIS: Inspiring her to feel like that’s a puzzle, not like that’s torture.
KANOUFF: I think that’s where you go next. After the colleges you realize that the problem starts earlier and every time you look at it, it starts earlier and earlier. There’s definitely a disparity there where we have to get more education early on. That this is fun.
ELLIS: Okay. What advice would you give to someone wants to enter engineering and technology, just do it?
KANOUFF: Just do it.
ELLIS: Just do it. What is the wildest technology that you would like to see within the confines of what you can publically tell us? What piece of technology would you personally like to see?
KANOUFF: So, I like sci-fi because I’m an engineer and I think that’s a prerequisite and requirement. (Laughter) Tell me Doug doesn’t like sci-fi?
ELLIS: Oh, loves it.
KANOUFF: Of course. So I always liked the tricorder. I liked all aspects of the tricorder. Right? It’s dit, dit, dit. You know it’s like you have a broken arm, you know and I think the medical tricorder was just –that would just be so cool. If we had that, what that would do for healthcare and…
ELLIS: I didn’t think about all these, I mean I’ve got sensors on me right now for steps. You think about all these different sensors that are coming. I think your tricorder is cool.
KANOUFF: Medical tricorder. What do you think?
ELLIS: I like the jetpack, personally.
KANOUFF: Jetpack, how about just little, you know, beam me up. That’s better than the jetpack. The jetpack takes a lot of work.
ELLIS: Yeah, it’s fossil fuels.
ELLIS: Solar jetpack. Right. In your interview for CableFax Digital Hot List, you mentioned that the industry should never forget customer satisfaction. We usually think of customer satisfaction more from a marketing perspective, how does it relate to your role as a technology developer?
KANOUFF: A lot. Every day in everything I do. I think that as engineers and as operation staff in whatever role we have, we should wake up in the morning and think about our customers and leave at night thinking about our customers in everything we do. And so as we’re building a product we have the right monitoring hooks in it, we have the right management hooks in it. So I can build something that looks beautiful but something’s going to go wrong. It always does in technology. Can I fix it fast? What’s the customer impact of that going to be? So I think the number one thing is build things with solid architectures, to build things with a lot of monitoring capabilities, with solid tools. To be able to do configuration management. Disaster recovery. Geodiversity. There’s so many things. It’s all about the customer because if they have a bad experience, it doesn’t matter how pretty it looks for the 5 minutes you had a good experience, right? You have to be able to have them in mind behind the scenes and we could go on and on but that’s a very big deal.
ELLIS: This isn’t on the list but since we’re time stepping this. We’re living in this moment now where all your work, your SeaChange work and Cablevision work on RSDVR and network DVR is now kind of shifting into the cloud.
ELLIS: You guys have really taken a lead on that whole thing, so talk to that a little bit. What is, what are the big components of it? What was hard? What still needs to be done.
KANOUFF: Okay, I’m going to date myself because this will be fun sometime down the road. We have 104 petabytes of storage in our cloud.
ELLIS: That’s a lot right?
KANOUFF: It’s a lot today, so that’s why I said we’ll date this. You can laugh at this and go “Oh my gosh, she said 104 petabytes.”
ELLIS: 104 terabytes in October 2012.
KANOUFF: Right, in October 2012 this is what we had. And so it’s a lot of storage. I remember saying, I remember opening the refrigerator at FSN and saying this is a two gigabyte.
ELLIS: That’s a lot.
KANOUFF: We’ve come a long way, right? And so we have all this storage in the cloud and we’ve basically eliminated the need for whole home DVR. You know to have DVR that’s shared amongst the houses. You have a whole bunch of wiring technology that you have to do inside the house to share that content.
ELLIS: Because the tuners can go right to the…
KANOUFF: Yes, you just ask for it straight up from the cloud and its streams it.
ELLIS: Unlimited number of TV’s per household?
KANOUFF: Forget household. You keep thinking about the traditional way. TV, why does it have to be a TV?
ELLIS: Right, screen or whatever it is.
KANOUFF: It’s a screen right? It’s looking at things in the abstract. It’s all about personalization as opposed to a house or a family. So we’re really trying to remove all of that and trying to build an infrastructure that’s really scalable, that’s really forward looking. And so by having things like that in the cloud, you can have content flexibility across devices, across locations. So much that you can do with that and as technologies change, you can adapt the technologies easy. For example, encoding rates, encoding algorithms. Whatever might be.
ELLIS: On the personalization front and thinking things not in terms of the household but also in terms of this IP connected things on us, one of the challenges the industry has always faced is, the bill goes to the address. You’re in charge of IT now, how do you solve that puzzle?
KANOUFF: Yes. There’s a lot of ways to solve it. My favorite is what we’re seeing on the phones. You swipe the phone this way. I want to go to the phone and take the screensaver off and so it recognizes you by your finger and that’s one option. Another is by sign-ins which is more difficult. As we all have Wi-Fi devices, there’s self-discovery of devices and knowing who’s here because of your device. There are a lot of technologies that everybody is really evaluating as to how to get personalization in an easy way without having to do the manual “I am here now.” I think that the concept of a family is still important but I think it’s really going away from the standpoint of that personalized experience. There are a lot of technologies also here on the show floor for example, that look at understanding based on just a couple of things to really quickly figure out “Oh, that’s Leslie sitting there” because her first tune was to this channel or whatever it might be. A lot happening on that front. We’ll get there.
ELLIS: The other area where Cablevision has really led the way for the rest of the industry is with Wi-Fi. Dispersed, well in your footprint and now all the way down the eastern seaport. What’s going on with that?
KANOUFF: So we’re big believers in Wi-Fi.
ELLIS: And outside the home?
KANOUFF: Yes, inside the home and outside the home. We have about 40,000 access points outside of the homes today. We’re actively building more. We’ve been very vocal about it. On our earnings calls we talk about it proudly about it to our investors. We’re doing, I think I mentioned earlier Wi-Fi on the trains. We’re looking at it in the parks, in the train stations, on the trains. As far as it being a very important piece of giving value to our customers and allowing them to really always say “Well, I have Optimum at home or I have Optimum that I can take with me.” And then you know there are all kinds of fun applications that go along with that.
ELLIS: Yes, you could be somewhere else and you just have signals. It’s just there because you’re already authenticated.
KANOUFF: Authenticated, right. That’s right. We’re doing automatic authentication as well.
ELLIS: Okay, how do you keep up on the latest and greatest? What do you read? You’re in charge of all these things, especially the IT side. What do you read? How do you stay current?
KANOUFF: As far as staying current, I think I read when I feel that I have a weakness. So whenever…
ELLIS: Me too, that’s why I read constantly. (Laughter)
KANOUFF: That’s funny. You know so much, Leslie. You never cease to amaze me. It always impresses me.
ELLIS: Two inches deep. Three miles wide.
KANOUFF: It’s wide, really. I think that there’s always some new technology that “Wow, I don’t know anything about that,” so I need to buy a book. So I do always try to read on things that I see as a sense of weakness. A good example of that to me is cyber security. Cyber security is changing so much and there’s always some new attack and means.
ELLIS: Right and it’s very complicated.
KANOUFF: That there’s so many aspects to that.
ELLIS: I remember Bill Helms trying to explain triple DES to me ten years ago. Okay, that’s good.
KANOUFF: That’s as far as the reading side but listen to your customers. Watch what happens. I think that we can never stop paying attention, never stop learning, never stop watching what trends are, never get stuck in our own generation. You know typical things that I think that technology probably comes pretty natural to us because we’re curious.
ELLIS: What path would you recommend someone to take to get to where you are today?
KANOUFF: I think that are a few really, really important things. The number one is get involved. So don’t just expect things to come to you because you’re good. I worked so hard somebody’s going to see it. I’m going to get promoted right? Get involved. Be proactive. Be good. Learn a lot. Never stop learning and go get it. There’s so much opportunity here and especially in our industry. It’s just such a great industry. Our industry in still so big and yet so small. There’s so much opportunity to get involved. I would say just do that. Get involved. Just do it.
ELLIS: Very good. Okay, personal. On a more personal level, who are you outside of the workplace? What do you like to do?
KANOUFF: I like to do things that are somewhat uncomplicated. (Laughter) I love to hike. I love to camp. Love to backpack. I love to travel. My husband and I, actually my kids from the time they were babies, they always traveled. I do some so much technology every day. I think “I wonder what’s the rest of the world is doing?” I love going to China and Japan, Italy and France and just being amongst the people. Doing very simple things there. I love the food in each of those countries as well. That’s really what it’s all about. How about you?
ELLIS: What do I like to do when I’m not? Of course, I’m a beekeeper. I love dogs. I also love hiking. Camping.
KANOUFF: You being a beekeeper is very good for the rest of us because we get the honey.
ELLIS: Yes, you get the honey. A beneficiary.
KANOUFF: We should go hiking sometime
ELLIS: We should. When I come visit you at your… you can hike in Long Island?
KANOUFF: Yes, of course.
ELLIS: Alright, if you weren’t doing what you are doing, what career would you have liked to have followed?
KANOUFF: I like what I’m doing.
ELLIS: Where did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
KANOUFF: When I was little I thought I was going to be an actress which was funny. It was a long time ago. The eighth grade thing. I’ve been here for a long time. I didn’t really pursue anything else. I have nothing for you, I’m sorry. I’m so boring on that end.
ELLIS: Well, mine’s worse. I wanted to be a secretary because that’s what my mom was. I wanted to be a really good executive assistant and I figured if I could figure that out I could make good money. Not have a lot of responsibility. I mean nothing against executive assistants but I didn’t want to have make any big decisions. I just wanted to be good at that. So my mom was a court reporter. So I learned to touch type. I hope I didn’t just offend a whole bunch of people that I love. I meant it as a compliment. Okay, so where do you see yourself in ten years?
KANOUFF: I would love to think that in 10 years, I’m doing something really fun. Working on continuing new technologies and not the same stuff. We’ve accomplished what we’ve done today and I really hope that it’s something that’s groundbreaking and great. That we’re not even ready to talk about today. And I hope that we’re sitting here in 10 years talking about that too.
ELLIS: Me too. I don’t see a day of retirement for me. I like what I do too much.
KANOUFF: I hope that’s not the answer you were expecting.
ELLIS: No, no. I’m just saying a lot of people think about when they can stop working.
KANOUFF: But we’re having a good time. Right? This is great. Technology is the best field because it changes constantly and as long as it keeps changing, we’re still having a good time.
ELLIS: Job security. When we’re all done, when it’s done, what will you be the most proud of?
KANOUFF: I think that the answer to that is very clear to me. Actually it’s something that I know is very important to you too, Leslie and that is, it’s not about what we’ve done, it’s about have we done enough to help the people that are going to do great things tomorrow? I think that I still have many years yet to focus on that. It’s the enablement of others and it’s taking others and leading them to help create the thing that we couldn’t create. That’s the best though. Hopefully we’ll accomplish that. If we did, then we accomplished a lot, right?
Yvette Kanouff Oral History Interview done in conjunction with The Cable Center for the Hauser Oral and Video History Program, October 12, 2012