Entrepreneurs: Bonds That Last

Somehow, it makes me sleep more soundly knowing that the Cable Entrepreneurs, a feisty band of two dozen small MSOs who formed their own "club" in 1988 to lobby their own causes, is alive and well.

In a page-one story this week, "Cable's Real Old-Boy Network," Multichannel News
editor-at-large Linda Moss gives us an insightful update on what the guys are up to and why they still bother to meet, even though only about 10 of them are still active in the business.

After all, these are the guys who built what's now a thriving industry, and one that has consolidated into eight large companies. Not at all amazingly, their ranks include the likes of John Rigas, the former chairman of Adelphia Communications Corp. and his former friend — and current foe — Leonard Tow.

Tow headed Century Communications, the rogue MSO which would not deign to even become a member of the then-National Cable Television Association.

Other warring members are Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network chairman Leo Hindery and Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Chuck Dolan. They remain at loggerheads because Dolan won't put Hindery's network — and its exclusive New York Yankees games — on his Big Apple-area systems.

The very existence of this group speaks volumes about what the cable industry is all about, how deep its roots are — and how deep they remain. Cable's not just about the big headline grabbers like Comcast Corp., which will soon swallow up AT&T Broadband to create a behemoth MSO.

To me, it's just as fascinating — and maybe more so — to report on Bresnan Communications Inc. president Bill Bresnan, who sold his systems to Charter Communications Inc. several years ago. He's now back in the game again, having bought some AT&T Broadband systems in Wyoming.

The Entrepreneurs Club is not a bunch of aging cable pioneers counting their money and trying to find something to do with their time. They still care deeply about the industry they created from nothing. While the cable-television industry might be the bond that brought them all together, they get something more out of their participation — deep friendships that money can't buy.

Maybe that's why it's so interesting to cover this industry. Cable people are different animals. They can be incredibly candid and refreshing — or secretive and exclusionary.

As an outsider to this industry 12 years ago when I first signed on as the editor of Multichannel News, I was warned how tough it would be to penetrate this closely knit good-old-boy network.

But that was not my experience. Many of these guys (not all, and you know who you are) welcomed me. They were eager to tell their stories at a time when they were on the precipice of being re-regulated. That happened in 1992.

The Cable Entrepreneurs Club is not the lobbying force that it was, but the fact that it still exists speaks volumes about where cable came from and where it is going.

Soon, we'll learn more about this group. Almost two years ago they hired a writer to pen an authorized biography of their members.

Many of us in the industry were interviewed for that book, and were asked to comment about a pretty interesting bunch of innovators. We've all been asking, where is the book?

Given the temperaments and egos of this cast of characters, this book is almost predictably late. One of the entrepreneurs told me that many of the members, including himself, didn't like their chapters and are now in major rewrite mode.

Hopefully, the finished product will be as colorful as its subjects, and not sanitized by the egos of those who want to rewrite history.