Yvette Kanouff has played a role in just about every major technology breakthrough in the media industry over the past three decades: Video-on-demand (she was director, interactive technology at Time Warner Cable during its storied Full Service Network days), streaming video (she developed algorithms that allowed video signals to be compressed enough to be transported via fiber) and everything in between. In 2020, she received the Lifetime Achievement Technology & Engineering Emmy Award for her pioneering technology work at companies like Cablevision Systems, Time Warner Cable, Cisco Systems and SeaChange International. Nowadays she is focusing on helping other tech companies become successful as a partner with former Cisco chairman John Chambers in his venture capital fund, JC2 Ventures. Kanouff, who among her many board seats also is the chair of the Cable TV Pioneers, spoke with Multichannel News senior content producer, finance Mike Farrell. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation.
MCN: You have played a major role in several technological developments — VOD, DVRs, streaming and more. How do you think the industry has shepherded those technologies? Did they work out the way you thought they would?
Yvette Kanouff: I remember talking about changing the way we consume content, from Blockbuster to interactive playout on your TV. In the beginning, we got a lot of pushback; there were a lot of skeptics. Time Warner boldly led the way and the results speak for themselves. VOD was a huge success, followed by streaming. We couldn't start with streaming, as only 14% of the U.S. had access to the internet, so I think the combination of VOD and broadband really changed our lives. It's very gratifying. We built the first app store, also on a TV, and look what that has become on mobile devices. Our compression and playout work was key input to the creation of the DVD; there are so many great ‘firsts’ that our industry created. I'm proud to have been a part of them.
MCN: You were in a pretty exclusive club when you first broke into the cable industry as one of the few women in a senior tech role. Was it tough in the beginning? Were there people that helped you along the way?
YK: It certainly wasn't easy. Many times I was the entire statistic of women in tech in my area. It was a bit tough to see how the ‘first impression’ was that I must not be technical, but I proved those people wrong. As a mathematician and computer scientist, I always loved what I worked on and dove deep into innovation and development. In the end, I had wonderful work environments, thankfully with more diversity as time went on. My mentors were all men, they were great and supportive. I will always be grateful to [former Time Warner Cable EVP] Jim Ludington for bringing me into this industry, and we remain great friends today.
What books are on your nightstand? I just started Alaska by James Michener. My favorite author is Alexandre Dumas, he is verbose but his books are so amazing.
Bucket list vacation spots? Iceland. Antarctica.
Favorite TV show of all time? Vikings (pictured)
Favorite App? Candy Crush
Recent memorable meal? Steak at the Snake River Grill in Jackson Hole.
MCN: Have attitudes changed as well? I remember you making a speech several years ago where you spoke of a baby shower that was given for you at your mostly male office.
YK: What a great memory! Twenty-five men at a baby shower — they all decided that, if I had women at work, these women would likely throw me a baby shower, therefore they decided that they too can do such an event. With beer and pizza. I told them that I couldn't drink beer, but they decided they can, so we had the world’s best baby shower, with pizza beer and every gift was the same — diapers. So fun and special! This is a great example of how great a work environment can be when gender is not seen as a barrier.
MCN: You made a pretty seamless transition to venture capital a while back. How is what you're doing now different from what you did at Cisco, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable and SeaChange?
YK: I was lucky enough to have the legendary John Chambers ask me if I would consider being a partner in his venture firm. An offer like that doesn't come around every day, so I took it. It has been a blast! We work with entrepreneurs and innovators every day. Many times I jump in to help with critical engineering issues. It's a lot of fun. And I still get to work with all of my industry colleagues as we partner with so many companies that we have worked with for years. We even host JC2 innovation days to help collaborate, it's really amazing.
MCN: What do you see as the hottest topics in technology today? What are you looking for in a company that wants to partner with JC2 Ventures?
YK: I'm particularly fascinated with the transformation of customer experience — with AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) and new approaches to customer experience tools, we are changing how people interact with companies. Quantum is another field that I am particularly fond of. Of course, we do a lot of work in advancements in cybersecurity. That said, the list is never-ending — supply-chain automation, learning, blockchain, IOT, NLP, automation, no-code/low-code, everything AAS, smart edge, 5G/10G, AR/VR, genomes, nanotech, I could go on and on. Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80.” There is always something new to learn and it’s so important that we never stop being curious. I'm certainly not bored. ▪️
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.