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Panasonic’s Liao to Run CableLabs

The search for Richard Green’s successor at CableLabs is over, with the selection of former Panasonic Corp. of North America tech guru Paul Liao.

A veteran technologist, Liao is a familiar face to many in cable. He’s been a key proponent of CableLabs’ Tru2Way initiative and has been a fixture at cable and consumer-electronics shows.

Panasonic, where Liao has been chief technology officer since 1996, was one of the first consumer-electronics companies to embrace the Tru2way standard.

A well-liked and knowledgeable executive, Liao appears to have many qualities similar to Green — a sharp technological mind and a diplomatic demeanor. Through Panasonic, he has direct knowledge of the business behind the technology.

“The fact that he would want to come and lead the cable industry from a technical standpoint is quite a vote of confidence in the potential of our networks,” CableLabs Chairman Brian Roberts said.

“He’s not a cable operator, but he understands the reality of how hard it is to take our legacy platforms and evolve them,” Roberts, the Comcast chairman and CEO, said in an interview. “He understands Washington. Paul has worked in so many different places that are the center of the media and telecom space.”

CableLabs considered more than 100 possible candidates to replace Green, the first and only CableLabs CEO, Roberts said.

“I’m stepping into some pretty big shoes,” Liao also said in an interview. “Dick has done a fantastic job.”

When Green founded Cable Television Laboratories Inc. as the industry’s first research-and-development combine, in 1988, there was no DOCSIS, the standard that enabled the cable-modem and high-speed Internet over cable. Cable also didn’t have a phone product then.

Now cable is the leading source of high-speed Internet access and the phone product is growing in popularity and profitability.

Perhaps showing some of his diplomacy skills, Liao was reluctant to reveal his top priorities for the consortium.

“I have a bunch, but it’s a little too early to talk about them,” Liao said.

“CableLabs is a consortium and one thing I learned from my days at Bellcore is that you need to consult with your members and make sure you’re doing what is right for all of your members,” he said.

“One thing for sure is my goal is to make CableLabs the thought leader in the industry.”

Roberts said the next two to five years will see crucial technological advances, with rollouts of “wideband” DOCSIS 3.0 high-speed Internet service, interactive television applications, wireless broadband and advanced advertising.

Liao’s experience on both sides of the consumer electronics and cable equation and his leadership qualities will be a big advantage, he said.

The CableLabs board, aided by search firm Heidrick & Struggles, reviewed more than 100 candidates, Roberts said.

Prior to Panasonic, Liao held a number of positions at Bell Communications Research (Bellcore) and Bell Laboratories. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University and is a recipient of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Millennium Medal.

At the 2008 Cable Show, he spoke at an OpenCable Applications Platform developer’s conference, as well as to a Cable & Telecommunication Association for Marketing group, about why consumers like the concept of a set-top built into a TV set.

His cable connections also extend to the annual Consumer Electronics Show and he also participated in the annual chief technical officer panel, put on by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, in 2006, where he called OCAP (the technical name for Tru2way) “absolutely critical.”