Review: Making Connections – Time Warner Cable and the Broadband Revolution
by Leslie Ellis // October 03 2011
If you’ve ever been pushed into the dreary corner that is defending the innovativeness of the cable industry, check out “Making Connections: Time Warner Cable and the Broadband Revolution,” which hits shelves tomorrow (October 4) during a reception at the New York Public Library. (Editor’s note: It is available in online form at http://history.timewarnercable.com/ as of Oct. 5.)
In the foreword, Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Glenn Britt explains the mission this way: “Some people will find this history to be of interest, and I’m sure others will wonder why in the world anyone bothered to write it down. My hope is that this small volume and accompanying online materials are able to satisfy the former without offending the latter.”
Spanning six chapters and 209 pages, the book is a vivid, navigable read. Tons of photos, including one of the napkin drawing that inspired the build of what we now know as the Road Runner broadband service. Prefer video? Hover that iPad over any of a dozen QR (quick response) tags, to watch related video snippets.
Historically, Making Connections covers all the big milestones – the beginnings of satellite delivery, the franchise wars, the regulatory setbacks, QUBE, video over fiber, the “summer of love” that begat the industry’s consolidation, in the early ‘90s. Digital video, video on demand, broadband.
Beyond that, there’s confidential strategy reports, colorful characters (Bill Daniels, June Travis, Steve Ross, Fred Dressler) and lots of lesser known fare. Example: HBO’s “Thrilla In Manilla” always gets first mention when discussing the earliest days of satellite, but did you know that the first original program on HBO was the 1973 Pennsylvania Polka Festival? Or that the company’s earliest marketing honchos came in droves – from Avon?
Likewise for the tale about Time Warner technologist Mike Hayashi, whose cell phone rang at the 2000 Consumer Electronics Show – a call for then-CEO Joe Collins. “Joe, this call is for you,” Hayashi said, handing him his phone.
“Collins paused. ‘Oh really?’ he said into the phone. He ended the call … and immediately returned to New York,” having just learned of the company’s merger with AOL.
The book teems with candor, about that decision (“It wasn’t clear that there was any there there” – Jim Chiddix), and the frugality of the company: “Don’t spend a nickel extra” (about Monte Rifkin); a lavish getting-to-know-you luncheon thrown at a country club in Columbus for (then-new) Collins. He glanced at the menu and asked instead for a hamburger.
At times, Making Connections is a little inside-baseball. The ending chapter is a tad light on the “where we’re going” — but overall it’s a meticulously researched and entertaining encapsulation of the MSO’s and the industry’s technological and business accomplishments, over six decades.
Written by Scott McMurray, VP of History Factory, with Anthony Surratt, (VP/Corporate Communications for Time Warner Cable) as executive editor, the book is clearly a team effort. (Even the end notes are interesting.)
As Britt notes in the afterword: “Whatever decisions the company makes today and in the future, we are influenced not only by what’s happening in the present, but by what has come before.”
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.