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Cablevision's Digital Dynamo

It was probably preordained, from the time she wrote her master's thesis, comparing cable programming offerings to the variety found in an old-fashioned newsrack, that Kristin Dolan would end up working in the cable industry.

As a child, Dolan, now the senior vice president of video and digital product management for Cablevision Systems Corp., thought she'd be a teacher some day. When she pursued higher education at the State University of New York in Albany and Pace University in Manhattan, she studied English and publishing science.

But that master's topic — and an internship at American Movie Classics — introduced her to the industry where she has spent her entire professional career.

She finds the topic especially ironic now, since Cablevision has launched Mag Rack, an on-demand video version of an old-time newsstand. There, subscribers can view special-interest video "magazines" such as Yoga Retreat
and Your Next Car.

DINNER: NOT JUST FOOD

You can't get more immersed in the Cablevision corporate culture than Dolan, 37. She's married to president and CEO James Dolan and is the daughter-in-law of chairman Charles Dolan. Her mother is also a Cablevision employee: Rosemary Aigner works as an executive assistant in the MSO's media-relations department.

"Even at the Thanksgiving dinner table, you've still got major executives at the table," she said, noting that the conversation inevitably migrates to business issues. It's a pleasant way to get the benefit of the views of the senior Dolan, whom Kristin praises as a visionary.

Talk at the dinner table helped mold her second big project at the company, iO Interactive Optimum digital television. That branded digital package enables consumers to access 28 digital channels, video-on-demand and subscription VOD, 20 video magazines, digital music and up to 50 premium channels. Digital customers also have access to high-definition television services.

Penetration of the product has soared, following a disappointing launch two years ago. Customers seemed uninterested in the new toy in the post-Sept. 11 world and adoption was impacted by bad publicity, stemming from early-adopter complaints about glitches such as screen freeze.

ENHANCED OFFERINGS

But now iO is available throughout the company's 4.4 million home footprint in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and customers must take the service to maintain access to premium programming. Cablevision reported 755,300 digital customers at the end of the third quarter last year, for a 26% penetration ratio. That's an impressive take rate, especially when you compare it to third-quarter 2002 numbers, when the company said it counted 80,400 digital subscriber homes.

Cablevision has continued to enhance the product, adding a Spanish version in 2003 and adding one-click access to subscription VOD. During the first two weeks that function was available, 1,000 customers used it to upgrade their service, the company reported at the time.

Referring to the launch of the product, Kristin Dolan said, "[Charles Dolan] gave great guidance … with my father-in-law, you learn to dream big dreams."

In fact, the launch of iO is just the most recent of many memories from her career in cable. "I went to the first customer and delivered the box," she said proudly.

Asked how she balances her work and personal life, she concedes there isn't a lot of separation between the two realms.

"If I'm not working as a senior vice president, I'm still the CEO's wife, or the chairman's daughter-in-law," she said. It's a lot of responsibility, but a lot of fun, too, she said.

"I'm becoming a [New York] Knicks fan," she said. "I'm getting into hockey, too." [Her husband is the chairman of Madison Square Garden, home to both the National Basketball Association's Knicks and the National Hockey League's New York Rangers; Cablevision also owns both teams].

When she's not working, or watching Cablevision's clubs, Dolan's building bonds with her four step-children; Charlie, 16; Ryan, 14; Aidan, 12 and Quentin, 9.

"I was a Deadhead [a Grateful Dead fan] in college," she said, so music is something she's found to share with her ready-made family. They've used their "connections" to score tickets together to see the Dave Matthews Band, The Who and other stellar acts when they appear in New York.

When she can escape dry land, she enjoys sailing in the family's 20-ft. sailboat and training their new Rottweiler puppy.

Though her husband's family has been a huge influence on her life, Dolan said the most meaningful lessons in her life have come from her mother, whom she observed tackling the challenges of being a single parent.

"My mom told me, 'Always respect people. People can go from the corporate mailroom to the executive suite and they deserve respect at all levels.' That's really helped me," she said.

Dolan supervises a large group of people and "in my office, there's no hierarchy."

NOVEL IDEAS

Though she loves her work, Dolan's life wish list includes broader travel opportunities, plus literary aspirations.

"I'm a massive Anglophile. I'd love to have more time to proactively travel, to research history," she mused.

In keeping with her English major, she frequently has a book nearby. Currently she's making her way through a Peter Sellers biography, Mr. Strangelove.
She'd like to write a book of her own someday, but not about business, she stressed. No, someday she hopes to have the time to pen a novel.