Book Review: Broadband Era Through a Time Warner Cable Prism
If you’ve ever been pushed into the dreary corner that is defending the innovative nature of the cable industry, check out Making Connections: Time Warner Cable and the Broadband Revolution, which hits shelves Oct. 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.”
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Spanning six chapters and 209 pages, the book is a vivid, navigable read.
There are tons of photos, including one of the napkin drawing that inspired the buildout of what we now know as the Road Runner broadband service.
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As a history book, 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 and broadband.
Beyond that, there are confi dential strategy reports, colorful characters (Bill Daniels, June Travis, Steve Ross, Fred Dressler) and lots of lesser-known fare. Example: HBO’s “Thrilla In Manila” 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 America Online.
The book teems with candor about that decision: “It wasn’t clear that there was any there there,” said longtime cable chief technical officer Jim Chiddix. Also about the frugality of the company, epitomized by the saying: “Don’t spend a nickel extra.” There was the lavish getting-to-know-you luncheon thrown at a country club in Columbus, Ohio, 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, vice president of History Factor, with Anthony Surratt (vice president of 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.”
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