The Cable Guy, Revisited

I'll never forget the backlash from a column I wrote 10 years ago, when I was the brand-new editor of Multichannel News. I had the temerity to slam cable systems for hiring subcontractors to do their installs. Many subcontracting companies wrote some pretty heated letters to the editor. One was even unprintable.

My column did not paint a very flattering picture of installers. I wrote about the goon who had come to my own door years earlier and did a "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am!" install. He arrived in a filthy, rusty, dented white truck. The truck had no signage indicating that he was even representing what was then Tele-Communications Inc. of Westchester County, N.Y.

I had my doubts, but I let this seedy looking person into the house, even though I was home alone. In retrospect, this installer could have been the character Jim Carrey played years later in The Cable Guy, a film that parodied cable-system employees.

I will never forget my first cable hookup. Nor will my husband let me: I did flub it.

Honestly, I only turned my back on him for five to 10 minutes to flip a load of laundry or answer the phone. But it was enough time for the installer to drill a gaping hole through the side of the house-in the living room, no less-and run a line under the Oriental rug. He was supposed to snake the wire behind the wall. But I guess he was in a hurry and took a little shortcut there.

Segue to now: Like the consolidation that has permeated every aspect of the cable industry, there's been an accompanying seismic change with subcontractors. Many of these outfits no longer operate as stand-alone entities.

In 1998, Crest Communication Partners-a private equity-investment firm and a company whose advisory board once included Leo J. Hindery Jr.-invested in Viasource Communications.

Since then, Viasource has bought up eight subcontracting companies throughout the nation, and it is still shopping for more "best-in-class companies," according to president and CEO Craig Russey, who is also floating an IPO to raise more capital.

While the fledgling Viasource now has competitors that are trying to emulate its business model, Russey asserts, "We created this space," advising others that want to play in this area to make sure they are sufficiently capitalized.

Indeed, Viasource's client roster is impressive, including most of the top 10 cable MSOs and DirecTV.

Today, Viasource's 3,500 employees do far more than install basic cable. Viasource, for example, won the Time Warner Cable contract to install Road Runner in New York City. On top of that, it has a national long-term contract to do the installation for AT & T Broadband's cable-telephony rollout.

One of the reasons why Viasource is so successful, according to Russey, is because the company provides a career path for its employees, who are well-versed in all delivery platforms, and not just cable.

He added that in the old days, employee turnover was 150 percent, with installers quickly jumping ship and heading for more lucrative opportunities, like unionized utility companies.

Employee retention is key to Viasource's success, Russey acknowledges, and his firm invests heavily in training, giving its employees incentive to succeed.

So as cable continues to roll out more new, enhanced services, companies like Viasource may be able to help them even more, given the shortage of highly skilled tech workers.

Viasource is far less likely to send a Jim Carrey clone to install your subscribers' cable-modem services, given the fact that they all go through charm school.

And yes, they are branded, down to the trucks and uniforms.