Time Warner Cable executive vice president of programming Fred Dressler will retire at the end of this year after 30 years at the No. 2 U.S. cable operator. Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead talked to Dressler about his cable accomplishments and his thoughts on the industry's future.
MCN: What would you consider as your legacy within the cable industry?
Fred Dressler: I feel fortunate to have been with a group of people that help build this company and, along with other companies, built an industry. There was virtually nothing here — there were a handful of cable systems scattered around the country doing retransmission of signals in the mountains.
When I got in the business we were building 12-channel cable systems and trying to figure out what to put on them. Today, people take cable for granted. I guess that's part of the legacy … we've become part of America. It's been a great run.
MCN: One thing that has changed over the years is programming costs. With licensing fees consistently rising year after year, do you think that dynamic will change?
FD: I wish I had a crystal ball. All I would say is that things can't continue the way they are now because our customers' ability to pay is limited. So, we're going to have to figure out a way — whether the politicians win with a la carte; or whether we're more creative and come up with tiers and packages that satisfy the customer's needs, both from a viewing perspective and a cost perspective — things do have to change, because the bubble's going to burst if we keep going at it the way we are today.
MCN: You've been an advocate of programming tiers. Do you think Time Warner and other cable operators will continue to fight for tiers once you leave?
FD: I hope that I at least shined a beacon on the issue and tried to come up with a creative solution and I think tiers are a creative solution. The resistance [to tiers] is from the networks, not the cable operators, and I don't think it's from the customers. I think the more they resist that the more they leave it open for government intervention.
MCN: Talk to me a little about [your replacement, senior vice president and chief programming officer] Melinda Witmer and what she brings to the table.
FD: Melinda and [senior vice president and chief business affairs officer] Lynne [Costantini] are both excellent, so it was very tough to figure out how to do this — we didn't want to lose either one of them. [Note: Both served as senior vice president of programming for Time Warner Cable before their recent title changes.]
In this instance, Lynne had skills that were more transferable into another area, so she had an opportunity to grow and for the company to use those skills. We ended up with a win-win situation where they both could get new responsibilities and neither one of them had to leave the company and feel they got passed over. I think they're both talented people.
MCN: Any words of wisdom you want to leave the cable industry?
FD: I just hope that we're able to capitalize on the superior technology that we have. I think that if we continue to improve customer service, we will squash the competition in the long run and be successful. I don't think we'll eliminate competition, but I don't think we'll have anything to worry about if we pay attention to the customers.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.