Geoff Shook

Geoff Shook, President of Buckeye Broadband

Interview Date: July 30, 2023
Interviewer: Jeff Baumgartner


Geoff Shook, President of Buckeye Broadband, talks about his start in the cable industry as an installer and his subsequent career. He started at Group W Cable in 1987, which was soon acquired by Comcast, and worked as an installer during the week and in ad sales on the weekends as advertising was his intended specialty. He then moved to advertising sales full time with ever-increasing responsibility over a 25-year career at Comcast. He talks about some of the people who influenced him, including Mike Bruce, Filemon Lopez, John Riedel, and Gary Waterfield. Shook describes how he was recruited by Buckeye in 2015 and talks about the company’s focus on serving local communities and the Brainiacs customer service initiative. He describes how he sees the future of linear video for operators, the desire to aggregate streaming services, and new IPTV products to enhance the customer experience. He talks about the constant evolution and opportunities for innovation in the industry, and would like to be remembered for keeping the customer top of mind and for building smart, diverse teams.

Interview Transcript

JEFF BAUMGARTNER: Hey, I’m Jeff Baumgartner, and I’m excited to be hosting this edition of the oral history with industry vet Geoff Shook. Geoff, it’s good to have you with us.

GEOFF SHOOK: Good morning. Nice to be here.

BAUMGARTNER: So I’m not going to ask you about all your past background; I’m not saying “When you were in elementary school, you know, what did you do?” So let’s talk a little bit about your background, though, and how you got into this business, okay? Starting with — I know it was Comcast in around 1998?


BAUMGARTNER: No, it was not?

SHOOK: No, no.

BAUMGARTNER: Well, then, I’m already off, so why don’t you fill us in?

SHOOK: So once I got out of college I was working in radio. And it became painfully obvious — I was newly married — painfully obvious that unless nine, ten people in front of me passed away, I was never going to make any money in that particular business in Tuscaloosa.

BAUMGARTNER: You weren’t going to be that patient?

SHOOK: Oh, no. Patience is not — (laughter) you talk to folks, patience is not necessarily my greatest virtue. So I went back to my academic adviser at the University of Alabama; his name was Frank Deaver — great guy, great man, and kind of an early mentor for me. And I asked him, you know, why he let me waste so much of my life (laughter) going into radio communications and broadcasting. And he said, “Well, you seemed to enjoy it, but yeah, you’re right, it’s hard to make real money any time soon.” So I asked him what he would do, and he — this was in the fall of ’87 — and he recommended that I go down to the cable company. It was Group W Cable at the time; Comcast had not purchased it. His exact words to me were, “Man, they don’t have a clue what to do. You get a chance to –”

BAUMGARTNER: They’re just winging it over there? (laughter)

SHOOK: — yeah, “You get a chance to get in on the ground floor.” And so I started applying and interviewing and I visit with the GM there, and finally they offered me a job. They offered me a job in early November of 1988 as an installer. Not —

BAUMGARTNER: Did you have any experience at all, or know much about cable, other than –?

SHOOK: Yeah, I’d — not cable, but I’d done side jobs and worked my way through school. My goal was to get out of school and not have student loan debt, and so I’d kind of worked my way through. And so I’d worked for companies to where I’d run wires and installed radio antennas and that kind of thing. I also repaired the old three-quarter–inch tape decks — I’d rebuild tape decks for the commercial insertion back in the days of independent third-party contractors. So I kind of knew what — I knew about —

BAUMGARTNER: Sounds like you had a feel.

SHOOK: I knew about the business. I didn’t know the business. And so I started in November of 1988 as an installer. One of the hardest conversations I’ve had with my wife was when I came home and I let her know that I’d left the radio station and that I’d taken a job with — Comcast, at that time, at four dollars and fifty cents an hour.


SHOOK: She was thrilled.

BAUMGARTNER: (laughter)

SHOOK: But she was very patient with me. I told her I had a plan, an idea and a plan, and she kind of hung on for the run, and has through all this time. So I actually started as an installer, shortly after I kind of figured out how to do all the — you know, that’s not falling out of bed. I mean, there are some complexities to the craftsmanship that’s involved in doing those installs. And then we had a tornado that came through town and I got a couple battlefield promotions. I worked on the weekends, though — I worked in the ad sales department, and I would shoot network commercials and build air reels so I could maintain some connectivity to what I really wanted to do, and that was to get into the advertising sales.

BAUMGARTNER: It sounds like you had an opportunity to not only kind of get in kind of on the ground floor, so to speak, but also it seemed like there was a lot of flexibility in terms of what they had you do, right? If you were a technician, you worked in advertising, there were different opportunities that kind of emerged as you went along that path in the early days.

SHOOK: You know, so my experience throughout life is you have to ask to get. Right? You gotta ask.

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, don’t ask don’t get. That’s perfect.

SHOOK: So, yeah. So that opportunity opened up. A couple of things broke well for me, while I was doing the two gigs — I didn’t take a vacation for the first two and a half years, because I was scared half to death, quite frankly, that if I took vacation, I’d lose that ad sale, the production part of that, the foot that I had in that business, which is really where I wanted to go. And so we had a couple of things break well. Performed on a couple of levels that delivered some pretty decent results, and next thing you know I’m moving into ad sales, and that — met some folks there that really helped me, and career took off from that point.

BAUMGARTNER: One thing we like to ask is, who are — maybe who was an influence, who was a big influence or a mentor during the early stages of your career, right? You’d mentioned, hey, there were some people, but is there anybody in particular that kind of surfaces to the very top?

SHOOK: Yeah, there are a couple. And I do hold these gentlemen with the absolute highest regard. I just — I got to tell you, telling them “thank you,” right, doesn’t even begin to encompass my gratitude for the patience, (laughter) the patience that they showed me. There’s a gentleman by the name of Mike Bruce that I met when I was in Tuscaloosa in ad sales, and we connected and he kept expanding my opportunities, right? He would say, all right, can you go do this? And I’d go do it and do it relatively well, and then he’d go, “Okay, well, that’s great. Now, can you do this?” So Mike Bruce was —

BAUMGARTNER: Sort of “go spread your wings.”

SHOOK: Yeah.

BAUMGARTNER: That’s kind of what it sounds like.

SHOOK: Not just encouragement, but, hey, I believe there’s an alternative way of doing this, right? It was never a better way, it was, there’s an alternative way of thinking about this. So he challenged me not just from a skill-set perspective, but from a thought-process perspective. He helped me look up beyond kind of the right here, right now. And then Filemon Lopez, who ran ad sales for Comcast for years, and then later in my career ended up reporting in to for quite a while on the operations side. I gotta tell you, I love that guy. He is a phenomenal leader, a great teacher, and just a great coach. So — now, I have to be clear on this: I’m relatively coachable, right? And so I have had great, great teachers, great coaches, throughout my career. Those were the first two, but they’re not the only two that helped me grow my — kind of expand my horizon, right, and my knowledge base.

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah. Now, when you were in — kind of in the early going, how long did it take, or when did you kind of get a sense or a feel that, hey, this might be an industry for me for the long-term? Because again, a lot of folks in the industry don’t come out of college and go, hey, I’m going to go into the cable industry, right? And then you kind of get into it and you’re like, hmm, okay, there’s some good opportunity here, but when did that become apparent to you?

SHOOK: 1991-ish.

BAUMGARTNER: So not long after.

SHOOK: About three years after I got started. And I won’t go into the gory details here, but, you know, we were working with some good folks, but back in the day, right, there was a particular way you did ad insertion, and it was just dumb. (laughter) I mean, I don’t know how else to put it.

BAUMGARTNER: How so? Was it too manual, or was it –? What was dumb about it?

SHOOK: It was before — so what was dumb was that you could not place advertising — back in that day, right, and this is going to sound so crazy to folks, but back in those early ’90s and late ’80s, I could not run a commercial in SportsCenter. You could not buy a specific spot. What you did was you built a tape, you took a three-quarter-inch — a one-inch tape, and then it moved to a three-quarter-inch tape — and you would put 99 commercials in a row, bing, bang, boom, right? And then the tones would run, and it would play the next commercial, the next two commercials, that were in sequence. It was called sequential insertion. And it would go all the way to the end of the tape and back it all the way up. Well, we’re in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and, you know, one of our big deals there is the University of Alabama and our football team. And I was amazed —

BAUMGARTNER: I did see a game there one time. Sorry to interrupt you, but, yeah. It’s quite an experience.

SHOOK: Really? I’ve had season tickets since I was 18 years old. I love it. So I was watching a ’Bama game on ESPN, and I noticed a bunch of PSAs and cross-channel promotions, and I just couldn’t get over the fact that they didn’t sell this game in Tuscaloosa. If you can’t sell —

BAUMGARTNER: It’s like, what an opportunity, right?

SHOOK: Yeah. If you can’t sell Alabama football in Tuscaloosa, you’re in completely the wrong business. And when I went in to say, “Why do we do this?”, and it was, like, “Well, this is –”

BAUMGARTNER: This is how it’s done.

SHOOK: “– this is how it’s done.” And at that moment — and I did. I remember telling the sales manager —

BAUMGARTNER: Hey, what’s wrong with you? (laughter)

SHOOK: This was, I guess, 1990? And I remember looking at the sales manager and she goes, “Yes, you can.” No, you can’t. So it was one of those yes, you can/no, you can’t/yes, you can/no, you can’t.

BAUMGARTNER: It’s like, it is possible if somebody wants to really do it.

SHOOK: Right, and so we worked through a couple of things, a couple of challenges, and sure enough, we were able to sell — but that’s before we went full random — shortly thereafter we went full random, to where you could schedule it. But at that particular time, you couldn’t. And it was so simple — I built a separate air reel, and just would go swap the tapes for the games. And it was at that moment I went, holy cow. Yes, the horizon is open.

BAUMGARTNER: You’d struck something there, yeah.

SHOOK: No, just, it made me realize that this was kind of a burgeoning industry. Dave Scott used to say that “It most certainly is an industry; if you look on the horizon you can see the smoke.” So it was kind of a new — I realized it was going to be an opportunity. But with any opportunity, right, you’ve got to have the right standard-bearers. You’ve got to have the right people promoting you and championing your endeavors. So it’s really not about me or what we did as much as it is the opportunities that I was afforded and the lessons that I was taught.

BAUMGARTNER: It feels like it was kind of an era where you could invent, to a degree, and if people were saying, “Hey, if this is not possible, maybe it is possible,” so —

SHOOK: So I’ve always been kind of an inquisitive — back in the day, an inquisitive kid. You know, why can’t we do that? ’Bout drove my mother nuts, but that’s just part of me being me, I guess.

BAUMGARTNER: Okay. Well, great. Well, then, how did your career path go then from, you know, you said Comcast and what you were doing there, but I think the date I had here was like until 2013, and I saw you have sales manager, GM, regional VP of technical operations — kind of what was the next step? And then we’ll get into Buckeye.

SHOOK: So very, very, very quickly, there came a window of time when I was in the early years, early ’90s, early to mid ’90s, where — of course back then Comcast didn’t have the divisions, right? You had regions, and so in the south central region, there were five or six different systems that they had, smaller systems where all the advertising was turnkey. They had third-party representation. And the desire was to bring that in-house. And because I had a technical background and a sales background, it just kind of worked to where I got teed up to help bring these, for lack of a better way to put it, bring these systems in-house. So you would go in and you’d organize, you know, the back office, you’d organize the actual purchasing of the equipment office, the creation of the rate cards, sending out the letters. All the stuff, right, that comes in the logistical efforts. And from that opportunity came — it was my first move with Comcast; we moved to south Mississippi — where I was an account executive in that system that we brought in-house, and then sales manager. We did some pretty sporty things from a sales manager perspective, from a systems perspective, good growth. I’m a very process-oriented guy. I joke that I have the attention span of a ferret. So if I don’t have a process, then I can get lost. So we worked through a sales process, it worked pretty well, we put good results on the board, and then I ended up with an opportunity to move to Atlanta, where I ran a region for ad sales.

And, you know, I believe that leaders lead from the front, right? My grandfather told me when I was a kid, there’s a reason the bridle is in the mouth of the horse and not in its rear end, it’s because you lead your horses from the front. And so part of that was a pretty regular cantor of travel. So I would travel 12 out of every 13 weeks in a quarter.


SHOOK: I’d be in the systems — I’d be in, you know, a system on Monday morning, I’d get home Friday afternoons, spend the weekend with my wife and my kids, and then Sunday afternoon or evening, head out so I could be in the system on Monday. So I did that for several years, and I learned a great deal. That’s when — you know, I learned a great deal from Mike Bruce. Filemon was just a wonderful leader and mentor and coach and example, standard-setter for us, but it just got too much. I’m listening to my daughter sing at a talent show at her school on my mobile phone, and that was it. That was the moment that I decided — that was it. I decided, you know what, I cannot — I’m not doing this anymore. I can’t travel like this. I don’t know, quite frankly, how I can maintain the appropriate level of inspection of expectations remotely — my head wasn’t there yet. And so I went into, another great teacher, very patient leader with me, John Riedel, who ran the southern division for Comcast, and kind of shared with him kind of where my head was. And the next thing I know, he’s afforded me the opportunity to move to Chattanooga, get back into operations. When I would go — when I was in ad sales and I’d go into a system, the very first meeting that I would have, in every one, is I’d sit down with the GM. Because it was important. I always treated the GM of the system as our number-one client, because they were facilitating everything that I was meaning to sell, right?

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, he was a customer, or she was a customer, yeah.

SHOOK: So I was really — I was blessed. I had really great rapport with the general managers across the systems I was responsible for. And John saw something in me and afforded me that opportunity, and said, you know, if you’re interested, we’ll move you there as a GM; if you’ll do x, y, and z, then we’ll promote you into a VP role. And I went, let me build a plan.

BAUMGARTNER: And I don’t have to be on the road all the time.

SHOOK: That’s right. I picked up, like, nine weeks of life, just life, leaving Atlanta and leaving ad sales in a move to Chattanooga. Still worked hard, but I could get home for dinner. There is a sales consultant-type guy, his name is Jim Dole, who shared with me once — he traveled a good bit, and he said, “You know, I don’t measure the days away from home as travel, I measure missed dinners with my family.” And that is something else —

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, that probably struck you.

SHOOK: — that I kind of went, oh, my God, you know?

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, it makes you think — hey, what’s important to me?

SHOOK: That’s right. So moved to Chattanooga, did some — again, built a really nice team there. We did some nice things there, and then the opportunity to move to West Palm Beach. Showed up in late 2006 —

BAUMGARTNER: Is that when you took up surfing?

SHOOK: No. Dude. This body is not meant for surfing. Quite frankly, this body is not meant for the beach. But I got to move to west —

BAUMGARTNER: (laughter) Okay. That wasn’t on your bio, I just wondered, you know.

SHOOK: That’s more Marc Cohen nonsense, helping me with that. But moved — left — in ’98 I moved to Atlanta. In ’97, ’98 we’d move to Atlanta and started the regional ad sales thing. And then in 2001 moved to Chattanooga, in 2006 moved to West Palm Beach, where I came across a guy that had an immeasurable influence on the way that I look at the business, and really helped me — I don’t want to say “take the rough edges off.” you know, I’m pretty goal-oriented —

BAUMGARTNER: You said process is your thing, yeah.

SHOOK: Yeah, and there’s a way to have a process without being an overbearing ogre.

BAUMGARTNER: Too regimented on everything? Okay.

SHOOK: Right. His name is Gary Waterfield, and Gary was pretty focused but had a good way of relating with others. And so, like I said, Jeff, I have been blessed beyond my ability to reconcile in my mind’s eye — I have — it’s just amazing to me, if I look back at my career, how when I needed some guidance and some coaching, guess what? Somebody came up. There’s an old saying that when the pupil is ready, the master will appear, and that’s pretty evident in my career.

BAUMGARTNER: Okay. Well, I’m going to jump ahead a little bit, because at this time you’re at Buckeye Broadband as we sit here, right?

SHOOK: Mm-hmm.

BAUMGARTNER: And you’ve been there since 2015, so what drew you there?

SHOOK: Well, there are a couple — I’ve actually been in Toledo now with BCI, with Buckeye, longer than I was in any one place at Comcast over a 25-year career.

BAUMGARTNER: Oh, because you were moving around.

SHOOK: Right, moving around. So when I left Comcast in 2013, quite frankly, I was just tired. I was somewhat disenchanted, because the — it seemed as though to me, and this is — an editorial comment, not necessarily the view of the station or its affiliates, but it just seemed as though to me that the business was getting, the industry was getting further from the external customer, right, and what that external customer wanted. And it came down to economics, and I get it, right? I mean, I got it then, I got it now, but it was just disheartening, you know, looking at some of the customer experience and what I felt was the path that we were exploring. But that’s, you know, okay. That’s — there are leaders there that had higher levels of responsibility and accountability for me, so they’re going to do what they need to do.

So I got out of the business completely. I moved home, I moved back to Tuscaloosa, we were down in West Palm in Miami for a while. That’s where I ended up reporting in to Filemon again for a while. And had varying degrees of expansion and contraction in the areas of responsibility that we had as the division and the region itself to continue to evolve. And it was a wonderful time there. I spent more time there than I did any other stop in my career. Like I said, great teachers and great people that we got to work with. But home is home. And so when we agreed to — fell out of love with one another and agreed to see other people, (laughter) you know, I moved — we moved back home to Tuscaloosa. And I wasn’t even interested in getting back in the business, and I got a call from an old friend of mine that I worked with down in south Florida that invited me to Toledo to play golf over Fourth of July weekend, 2015. And so we went.

BAUMGARTNER: Very fortuitous round, it feels like, yeah.

SHOOK: Yeah. My wife called me — I was — I had a business there, I was running a small business, and my wife called me from Toledo. And she said, “Dude, this is a recruiting trip, and the answer’s no. We’re finally home — we’ve spent 25 years trying to get back here, and I’m not interested.”

BAUMGARTNER: So she knew this. She felt it?

SHOOK: She had that — she felt it. And I was like, “Nah, coming up to play — will you relax? I’m coming to play golf. I mean, good God.”

BAUMGARTNER: What are you talking about? (laughter)

SHOOK: And so we came up there, and then I get a phone call to come back and to consult, right?

BAUMGARTNER: Oh, I see, so that was the step function toward — (laughter)

SHOOK: It was, you know, it was, “Hey, will you meet with the team, I want to pick your brain, yada yada yada.” And so that was the first week of August, and by the first week of September I had a job offer. And it was compelling, but I was home, right? And so it took a little bit of convincing of myself — you know, I don’t like to sell people on jobs, because the buyer’s remorse is too great, but I had to convince myself that this was the right move. And there were really three things at Buckeye, Block Communications, and philosophy, that really meshed with mine to the T. One is an overarching commitment to local. One of the first things that Allan Block, who’s the chairman of the board of the company, right — he’s one of the Bs in BCI, right, Block Communications – said was that, I know you come from Comcast; don’t you ever come to me with an idea of taking our call center to a third party. We will answer our phone calls here. We will find a way to make it work, but it’s important that our customers, right, when they call in, that they get to speak to someone here. It’s important. So that commitment to local.

Secondly, he launched a program called Brainiacs. So for years, right, the cable industry, we would support the service to the side of the house, right? Now, we would go inside the house and we’d run service calls, but, you know, the stuff inside your house, your equipment, that was a you thing. Right? The Brainiacs support our customers’ user experience to the end of their fingers. So they are, you know, Apple-certified, they’re trained, right, Microsoft-certified, so that if you call in and you’ve got a problem with your computer, we can work on it remotely, or we can send people out. And I want to make it clear —

BAUMGARTNER: Is that built into the service or is this like a white-glove premium type of thing?

SHOOK: Both. So there was a standalone charge for that, and for — coming out to hang a television for you, right, you know, the —

BAUMGARTNER: Oh, the mount it on the wall? Which is — I don’t want to do it. I’m going to make a mess.

SHOOK: — oh, yeah. Yeah, we do it all. That’s right. So we charge for that. But if you call in, right, and you can’t get into your email, or you’ve had a new computer, we’ll help you set it up and we’ll help you access what you can do. We can do that remotely, right? We can dial in. So it was that level of customer support, right, that meshed with my opinion as to how we should treat the outside customer. And then finally, I was fortunate that a couple of the systems that I worked with at Comcast had their own local network. I’m not talking about leased access or local origination. They built — in Mobile, Steve Thomason and Russ Aaron, they built a sports network that was purely Mobile, right?

BAUMGARTNER: Oh, like high school —

SHOOK: Yeah, hyper-local content. And then when I was in northwest Georgia, in Rome, Georgia, they had their own news network. I mean, they did their own nightly news. Rome is a part of the Atlanta DMA, right. It’s about 65 miles outside of Atlanta, and the thesis around that network was, well, nobody carries, covers, Rome for their news, so we’re going to. Bob Barr was a congressman for years out of Rome — he would have to go do his press conferences in Atlanta so that he could get the local media.

BAUMGARTNER: So he could get coverage. (laughter)

SHOOK: So I’d had that experience. And so when I looked at Toledo, they had launched — about 13 years previously they had launched — it’s called BCSN, the Buckeye Cable Sports Net. And then a sister network, BCSN2, that expanded into some arts and entertainment. And again, the whole mission was local. Local, local, local. In Mississippi, where we own — if you quarter the state of Mississippi and you look at that northeast quadrant, we have a great percentage of the homes passed there. And we launched MSS, Max South Sports, right — again, something that’s hyper-local. So essentially, the thing that attracted me — it’s a long, drawn-out diatribe — the thing that really drew me to it was the commitment to the community. We’re going to focus on local. And quite frankly, we do it well. We’ve taken some things that were done really well, we’ve improved it where we could, we’ve adapted well through a very hectic period of time. And, you know, I get — I am particularly blessed that I get to work with some really smart people, some really good people.

BAUMGARTNER: Well, I think it’s interesting, because, I mean, Buckeye, just the name “Buckeye” implies local, you know. Everyone’s like, hey, this is connected to the community. But I also thought it was interesting that you were there during the time when Buckeye Cable System became Buckeye Broadband —

SHOOK: Right as I got there.

BAUMGARTNER: Around 2016, yeah.

SHOOK: Right as I got there, we took the focus off of Cablevision and we placed it on the broadband.

BAUMGARTNER: Well, yeah. I thought that really fit a trend, right, where operators were kind of taking this broadband-first stance. So even though it happened as you were arriving, what do you think about that? What did you think about it at the time? It seems like a smart move and one that’s been kind of replicated across a lot of other operators.

SHOOK: I think it made perfect sense. I think that — and we can see it in legislation today, the focus and the energy and the effort put on broadband access. It was just — as usual there with BCI, they were kind of a step ahead. I think it made an abundance of sense. I thought it was smart when they rolled it out. I think it puts the focus where the focus needs to be or will need to be on a more hypersensitive basis.

BAUMGARTNER: It feels like connectivity is above everything right now.

SHOOK: Yep. So, you know, one of our taglines is, “Connected when it counts.” So yeah. Facilitating that broadband connection — and, you know, it’s not specific to Internet, right? The broadband connection’s also applicable on the video side of the equation through our IPTV launch, right?

BAUMGARTNER: Well, that’s another thing, is, like, broadband’s front and center, connectivity, but what role does video still play in the business, right? I mean, where do you think it’ll go from here, and how important do you think it’s going to be for operators to essentially have their own video services and video infrastructure, right? Because there’s a lot of — there’s virtual MVPDs, there’s a lot of SVOD, you know, but at the same time there’s kind of a different opinion or strategic focus with operators. Some are like, hey, we’ll support all the streaming stuff but we still want to have our own service; some will cast that aside and just focus on third-party streaming. Where do you fit in, or where do you think it needs to be?

SHOOK: So I don’t think it makes sense for us — now, I’m not judging anybody else; everybody’s got to review their business and build their specific plan. For us, I don’t think it makes sense just to go cold turkey, right, and just say we’re out of the video business.

BAUMGARTNER: And just get rid of it.

SHOOK: — I just, I can’t — when I look at the exposure to our financials, but more importantly, the relationship that for 50 years that we’ve built, that we’ve built the business on video. The prospects of alienating those customers and forcing them to find some other way to watch, you know, whether they want to or not, I just, I don’t think it makes sense for us from a customer-experience perspective. I think that clearly, the video business is evolving. And, you know, I could spend two hours sharing my thoughts on why, why this is. None of this on the video side of the equation was not predicted back in ’92 with the Cable Act. We knew exactly where this thing was going to end up, and that’s exactly where it’s ended up. As far as what the programmers are able to do, re-transmission versus — and all those things, right, it generates some — a great deal of heartburn and anxiety. From a business perspective, since this is for industry folks, you know, although our EBITDA contribution of video has declined significantly over the years, right, there is still some. Now, it’s debatable whether there’s enough there to cover the total cost, right. It’s the whole —

BAUMGARTNER: Does it still make money, though?

SHOOK: Just a little. Just a little.

BAUMGARTNER: Okay. Well, I guess a little’s better than none, right? So — (laughter)

SHOOK: Well, at the end of the day, you’ve got to figure out how to replace it, right?

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, yeah.

SHOOK: So I was talking to somebody, a vendor, not too long ago, and they said, well, you know, there’s just not a whole lot of money there anymore, and so we think you should do this. And I said, well, is it your money? Well, no. Well, it’s pretty easy for you to tell me that we should just hit the lever on the side of the tank and go ahead and flush that part of the business when it’s not your money. So I think that what our mission is, right, and where we are building our plans, is how we transition. It was — and I wish I could remember who said this, but I read it not too long ago, that one of the OTT providers said that one of their biggest — I’m paraphrasing here a good deal, so I’m taking some liberty here.

BAUMGARTNER: Take some liberties, yeah.

SHOOK: But the way I interpreted what they said was, the biggest challenge that OTT providers have right now is the lack of aggregation. That they really need to have some way to aggregate all the over-the-top providers so that there’s some one-stop shopping. And it was — I read that and went, well, you know, hello? Hello? We’ve been doing that for 50 years.

BAUMGARTNER: We’ve been bundling forever.

SHOOK: Right. And what —

BAUMGARTNER: I think it’s a re-bundling now.

SHOOK: Right, and what you’ve done is, now, is you’ve created this chasm in the economies here to where in some cases the direct consumer is cheaper than what you’ll sell it to us for.

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah. So that’s not real good for —

SHOOK: So I think that — I think everything in life works on a cycle. And I think that if — for those folks that can think back to cable television 1975, where you had the local broadcasters, two community character generator channels announcing bake sales, garage sales, and church services, and then WTBS or WGN, right, you might have had 12 channels. I believe, and I’m kind of an outsider here, but I think that that worm is going to turn completely and that we’re going to get back. So where I’m looking at it is, do we continue to fight the decline, right, and fight the OTT providers? Or do we embrace it and do we then convert — and I think it’s where a hyper-local sensitivity comes into play, that we create this basic tier, right, and we turn back the clock.

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, because it feels like, you know, the bundle blew up —

SHOOK: And then we supplement all those —

BAUMGARTNER: Got fragmented, and now it’s all kind of re-collecting. It’s going to look a little different, but you still — because you still want the — because what’s gone on, right, is some of the best content is going into the DTC, over the top, and it’s kind of stripping away the pay TV bundle, which —

SHOOK: But you still need the broadband. You still need a way to get it.

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, that’s the common —

SHOOK: Which is another reason why you asked me earlier about the change in positioning of the company. I think it was incredibly smart and with great vision there. So I think — how I imagine it is in four or five years, having a basic tier that may not have — we may not — this is not a commitment statement, right? So I don’t want to give — but I can imagine a —

BAUMGARTNER: This is Geoff’s opinion, yeah.

SHOOK: I can imagine a universe, how’s that?

BAUMGARTNER: I like that.

SHOOK: I can imagine a universe where there’s a local tier with specific local channels that supplement all the OTT stuff. And I’ll tell you, we are about 90 days into a new device — we have an IPTV product, StreamTV, and it’s a replication of our analog linear QAM channel lineup on an IP basis. And so what that does is it creates a more reliable service, because we get the aircraft carriers out of the house, right? The old boxes that have been there for 30 years.

BAUMGARTNER: I’ve never heard them called that, but yeah, that’s an interesting way to describe it. (laughter)

SHOOK: And so we have started utilizing a much smaller device, it’s a lot cheaper, and it facilitates — We utilize TiVo for our IPTV product, and this box, which — it’s an Evolution box that I have been thoroughly impressed with, because it integrates — and I realize it’s not the only one, but man, it does it really well, and it integrates through the Google sort — you can put all your OTT on there, and you put in your passwords. And so now it is an entertainment access point, right, that I think starts to lay the groundwork for that whole idea that we have local content, you know, local tier, perhaps you have a digital antenna that’s based off an app that you can put on it, and then —

So again, for those programmers that may be watching this, I’m not advocating that we get out of the cable television business. I just don’t know what the next four or five years are going to look like as they continue to — I don’t even want to qualify it as “raising rates.” As they continue to jack our rates to a point to where, you know, we have to question whether or not it makes sense. Typically, you’ll take a rate increase to reflect the video rate increases that we see. Well, at some point, that’s going to reach a stratosphere that is just stupid, that’s just dumb, that our customers are going to voluntarily opt out. Well, why do I want to help facilitate that? So, I think there’s a way we can kind of reinvent what the video experience is, and I think conceptually, the way I look at it is, let’s get back to our roots as far as what CATV was developed for.

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, it feels like it’s kind of moving back — it’s going to move back in that direction. And so we have a little bit of time left, so a couple things I wanted to ask you, just kind of looking forward and a little bit of reflection. What kind of wisdom would you impart to somebody who’s interested in entering this industry? You know, particularly because there’s a lot of change, maybe disruption to a degree. Some are getting into mobile — I mean, the business is really transforming.

SHOOK: So I would say this. It’s funny. In the role that I’m in, right, I actually get asked this question. I would tell you that, again, history — I believe history always repeats itself. And I think that the very elements of this business that attracted me back in ’87 and ’88 are still relevant. It’s not that we don’t know what we’re doing. That’s — and I don’t think that was fair back then either. But there is opportunity on a continual basis to innovate, and people miss this, I believe, and iterate, right. To take something that works and figure out how to make it work better, how to make it work smarter. And then to innovate, to take our industry and say, wait, there’s something completely different, or a different approach we can take to this. So philosophically, if — I sound like my dad here. If young people, right, (laughter) are — I never thought I’d come to that point in my life.

BAUMGARTNER: Here we are.

SHOOK: But, right, here we are. But I think that’s one of those things that I think should pique, can pique, the interest of folks that are wondering whether or not this is a relevant business to enter into. Does that make sense?

BAUMGARTNER: Yeah. I think it does, because — it’s funny, because I’ve covered the industry for a while, and when you’re talking about, like, cyclical things, I think whenever there was something new on the horizon or different, it was always, “Oh, that’s the death knell of the industry.” And yet the industry is very good at adjusting and kind of resetting the course.

SHOOK: For some it was.


SHOOK: But for others that kept their eyes open, right, and their ears, and — connected to our communities, it provided opportunity. You know, it’s funny. I believe that there’s no plateau for value, right? You’re either building value for what you do, your company, and who you are, or you’re detracting value from it. There’s no plateau.

BAUMGARTNER: It doesn’t stay the same, yeah.

SHOOK: I think the same thing holds true for our industry, that it is constantly evolving, and you don’t ever get to a point to where, okay, we’ve evolved.

BAUMGARTNER: We’re good.

SHOOK: Right? We’re good, right? We’re either evolving or we’re sliding.

BAUMGARTNER: Interesting. Well, last thing. So what do you think your personal legacy is going to be in this industry, or what do you hope it will be?

SHOOK: You know, (laughter) so, Jeff —

BAUMGARTNER: That’s a tough question.

SHOOK: It goes back to what we were talking about before the interview. Have I reached a point to where, historically, my experiences are important or even are relevant to the big picture? And it kind of confuses me and scares me to a certain extent just a little bit. I think that what I — what my desire is, right, is that from a legacy perspective, that when people think about how I ran our business, my sincerest hope is that people will look at it and say “He kept the customer top of mind.” We have three — at Buckeye we have three types of customers, and they’re all, to me — It’s like sitting in a three-legged bar stool and one leg is shorter than the other, how uncomfortable that rocking is? I think that if we put too much focus on one of the customers versus the other, it creates that uncomfortable feeling.

BAUMGARTNER: You’re kind of out of balance on it? Yeah.

SHOOK: So — out of balance. So I think that we have to zero in and focus on the customer experience, both external customer, internal customer, and stakeholder, right? The ones that are writing the big checks, so that we can deliver. But if I take focus off — too much focus off of one group versus the other, you know, when the sun sets, and we leave it in that position, to where we rock, then it makes it difficult to catch up the next day to try to level that out.

So I think that from a legacy perspective, it would be that, A, I was more than willing to look and think and hear new ideas. I don’t have the exclusive on a good idea. One of the things that I’m proud of — and I don’t necessarily do a good job of talking about me, it’s kind of uncomfortable for me, but I’ll tell you that I think that one of the things that I’ve done exceptionally well, as egotistical as that might sound, is I build good teams. I’m not afraid, I’m not nervous about hiring people that are smarter than I am, or that have a different set of life’s experiences. I am a diversity proponent in that I want difference of thought, difference of experience, difference of mentality, education, all those things. And so I think that from a legacy perspective, those are the two things, is that I kept our customers top of mind every day, all three types, and that we managed to deliver value on a daily basis, because we embrace — I embraced the differences that we have in one another. I think that’s what makes us strong, and that’s kind of what completes the circle, if you know what I mean.

BAUMGARTNER: Perfect. Well, Geoff, I think that’s where we’re going to leave it. Thank you so much for your insight, walking us through your career, talking about some things that are still on the horizon for the industry. And it was a pleasure to get an opportunity to talk to you.

SHOOK: Thank you very much for the opportunity, Jeff. Great to meet you. Appreciate it.

BAUMGARTNER: You too. Thanks.

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