Keeping Optimum at an Optimum

Gemma Toner

Comcast Corp. may have the most high-speed Internet subscribers, but customer for customer, perhaps cable’s high-speed Internet MVP should be Cablevision Systems Corp. senior vice president of high-speed data products Gemma Toner.

After all, at 26%, Cablevision leads the industry in high-speed penetration, boasting 1.1 million subscribers. And the MSO operates in one of the most scrutinized markets in U.S.: the New York City region. To have the highest penetration of cable’s most successful new service in the country’s toughest market says something. “The mission is to integrate the Internet into everyone’s lives seamlessly, and there’s plenty of room to grow,” Toner says.

Born in Ireland, Toner attended Philadelphia’s Villanova University. After graduation, she worked for publisher Ernst & Whinney. She joined Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp. in 1988 and moved up the ranks to senior vice president of new media development at American Movie Classics, where she developed new media and interactive applications for the network.

Her work at AMC made for a natural transition to Cablevision’s high-speed efforts in 2000. “We knew we had this great product, and we needed to both build a category and build a brand,” she says of Cablevision’s Optimum Online service.

Her boss, senior vice president of consumer product management and marketing Patricia Gottesman, is obviously pleased with the results from Toner and her team. “Gemma is an outstanding leader, particularly when it comes to drive and business discipline.”

One of the reasons for Optimum’s early success, Toner says, was the self-install option. Although some observers believed self-installs would be too complicated, they actually appealed to early adopters. “The other piece we’ve done is to keep our marketing message very clear: We’re the fastest; the pricing is simple, and we have terrific customer support,” she says. “We also set out to warm up this product. We put faces and emotion around [Optimum Online].”

At home, Toner uses the Internet with her three-and-a-half-year-old son. “We do lots of interactive media,” she says, noting that the youngest generation treats broadband like any other entertainment media.

Increased integration with cable’s other products is on Optimum Online’s growth list. The company has launched a sales channel on its iO: Interactive Optimum TV service, the kind of convergence that Toner says consumers will see more of in the future.