As the cable market consolidates, the number of operators has decreased. Who are the major players, and can they cope with the might of BSkyB and the ambitions of BT?

As the cable market consolidates, the number of operators has decreased.

Who are the major players, and can they cope with the might of BSkyB and

the ambitions of BT?

The UK’s cable industry has come a long way over the last decade but it

still faces a number of hurdles before it realises its full potential.

The number of houses connected to cable hit the one million mark earlier

this year, and cable connections are expected to outstrip satellite

subscriptions by about 1998.

According to recent cable figures from the Independent Television

Commission, the number of telephone lines installed has risen by 124 per

cent over the last year and television subscriptions have grown by 48

per cent.

As subscriptions have increased, the number of cable operators has

shrunk. From around 62 operators a decade ago, there are now fewer than

20 and further consolidation is expected to reduce that number to around

three or four large operators.

The industry has also been characterised by the growing number of cable

operators seeking a stock market listing. Bell Cable was the first to go

to the market, and was followed by TeleWest last November and the US-

based Nynex Cablecomms in May.

But it’s not all plain sailing for cable operators. They are still

struggling against the might of two giants - BT and BSkyB.

The cable industry has lobbied hard to ensure BT is not allowed to

compete against it in the provision of entertainment services until the

next decade.

Cable companies have also asked the Department of Trade and Industry to

investigate what it regards as the anti-competitive practices of BSkyB,

the cable and satellite broadcaster 40 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch,

which dominates pay-TV programming in the UK.

The complaints relate to what cable operators describe as BSkyB’s anti-

competitive ratecard which is used to set the prices of BSkyB

programming broadcast on cable.

Meanwhile the industry body, the Cable Communications Association, is

putting pounds 10 million behind a generic advertising push next year in

a bid to drive up subscriptions and reduce the high rate of ‘churn’ -

the number of people who take out subscriptions and let them lapse.

Julian Aston

Julian Aston is managing director of the Associated Newspapers-owned

Channel One

There is no doubt that the Associated Newspapers chairman, Sir David

English, is still very much in the driving seat at Channel One, which

was launched on 30 November 1994 as the country’s first city-based

rolling news and features TV channel. It broadcasts 24 hours a day,

seven days a week.

As managing director, Aston runs the day-to-day business of the cable-

only channel.

Aston, 51, started as a floor assistant at the BBC in the 60s, working

his way up to become a director and producer.

In 1984 he was involved in the development and launch of satellite

programme services, including Music Box and Premiere for Thorn EMI’s

cable and satellite division.

In 1988 he formed New Era Television - a consortium with Associated

Newspapers and Yorkshire Television - to supply programming to BSB’s Now


Aston led the successful bid for, and launch of, Teletext, the UK’s

first electronic information and television text service, and was its

managing director. In November 1993, he headed Associated Newspapers’

bid to launch Channel One. He was appointed managing director a month

later. He claims his proudest career moment was ‘launching Channel One

on the date and time we said we would - that’s not very common in this


Among other achievements was the channel’s acquisition of the

Performance Channel in November 1994. Aston says he is now looking

forward to launching other stations as Associated builds the Channel One

network. Channel One launches in Bristol later this year, with

Manchester next in line.

Also on the drawing board are plans to brand the channel more clearly.

‘Cable viewers can surf between 20 and 30 channels and they want to be

able to recognise and know what they are watching,’ Aston argues.

Power Rating from rival companies: One star

Alan Bates

Alan Bates is chief executive of Bell Cablemedia

Bates has been chief executive of Bell Cablemedia, the UK’s third

largest cable operator, since 1994 when the company was born out of the

merger of the cable interests of Bell Canada International, Cable and

Wireless and Jones Intercable.

Bates studied mining engineering at Nottingham University and then

joined Ford Motor Company as a programme operator.

After a four-year stint at East African Railways in Kenya, he moved to

Rowntree Mackintosh.

He was managing director of the computer services company, Hoskyns

Systems, and deputy managing director of Hoskyns Group before becoming a

board director at AGB and managing director of its Audits of Great


He then set up shop as a company director. In 1988 one of his clients

was East London Telecommunications, which operated in the Tower Hamlets

area. Jones Cable Group made a successful offer for the troubled cable

operator and Bates was later invited to become managing director of its

new UK operation.

He says his proudest career moment was supervising Bell Cable’s entry on

to the stock exchange, an initiative that kick-started investment in the

UK’s cable industry. Low points include ‘the poor relationship between

the industry and BSkyB and the distortion of the free choice in the


His key achievements have been the bringing together of Bell Cable from

three disparate parts, expanding the company from 600 to more than1,400

employees and building the cable network below budget.

His future goals are to ‘make the company profitable and to be a force

in the information superhighway in the UK’.

Power Rating from rival companies: Three stars

Don Cruickshank

Don Cruickshank is director general of Oftel, the UK telecommunications


Cruickshank is highly regarded in the industry as the man who has fought

to keep BT off its back and helped prevent its premature entry into the

on-demand entertainment market.

As director general of Oftel, which has a remit under the

Telecommunications Act 1984 to monitor and enforce the conditions of

telecommunications licences as well as maintain and promote effective

competition, Cruickshank wields considerable power.

Cruickshank, 53, completed an MA at the University of Aberdeen before

qualifying as a chartered accountant. After completing an MBA in 1972 at

Manchester Business School, he joined McKinsey and Co as a consultant,

leaving in 1977 to become commercial director of Times Newspapers, and

in 1979 was promoted to general manager of the Sunday Times. In 1980 he

moved to Pearson as managing director of the information and

entertainment division. Between 1984 and 1989 he was managing director

of the Virgin Group and took up his current job at Oftel in 1993.

While speculation about the shape of the future regulator of the media

in the wake of the White Paper on cross-media ownership is rife,

Cruickshank seems well placed to take a leading role with a single

regulatory body is set up.

Power Rating from rival companies: Four stars

Jon Davey

Jon Davey is director of cable and satellite at the Independent

Television Commission

Davey has been closely associated with the development of cable and

satellite services in Britain for 14 years. As head of the broadcasting

constitution and licensing division of the Home Office in 1981, he

signed the first licences for the pilot scheme of subscription TV that

started on some cable systems in that year. He was appointed secretary

to the Hunt Inquiry into Cable Development and Broadcasting Policy in

1982 and took charge of formulating the government’s policy proposals

and the preparation of the Cable and Broadcasting Bill 1984.

Davey was the first, and only, director general of the Cable Authority

when it was set up in January 1985. He took up his present job when the

CA was replaced with the ITC.

Having been one of the midwives of the cable industry, Davey says that

one of his personal highlights was getting connected to cable in 1993.

As for the future, he faces the prospect of changes to the regulatory

structure in light of the White Paper on cross-media ownership that

advocated the creation of one regulatory body for the media. Davey

believes the regulation of broadcasting should be handled separately

from telecommunications. He is against Labour’s proposal to allow BT to

compete in the entertainment market, believing the extra competition

will be damaging to the cable industry.

Power Rating from rival companies: Three stars

Eugene Connell

Eugene Connell has been president and chief executive officer of Nynex

CableComms, the second biggest cable operator in the UK, since September

1992 - almost a year after the company was set up in the UK

Born in Jersey in the US, Connell completed a masters degree in business

before joining New York Telephone in 1960, where he held a number of

posts. He was on loan to the Mayor’s Office of New York City as deputy

director of operations until may 1981.

Connell’s achievements are striking. He took Nynex to the stock market

and its listing on the London Stock Exchange and Nasdaq in June 1995

valued the company’s issued share capital at pounds 1.3 billion. The

offer raised pounds 383 million.

From putting together a business plan for the fledgling Nynex

CableComms, he has seen the number of company employees grow fivefold

over the past two years alone to 3,100 and the number of customer access

lines (for both telephony and television) grow from 40,000 to 300,000 in

the same period.

In the spring of 1993 Nynex CableComms doubled in size when it signed a

deal with Pacific Tel, Maclean Hunter and US Cable to acquire the

franchises to reach 1.7 million homes in the North-west, making it the

largest contractor mass in the UK, and the second largest in the world

behind Hong Kong.

Connell was instrumental in the signing in May this year of a memorandum

of understanding by Nynex, Bell Cablemedia and TeleWest to develop on-

demand multimedia broadband services. His low point, Connell says, is

upsetting residents when ripping up roads to construct the network: ‘We

have learned an awful lot and will not make those mistakes again.’

As for the future, the key issue is increasing penetration. ‘The

telephony side has been strong so far but we have been disappointed with

the cable side,’ says Connell, who believes the development of video-on-

demand services will help, as will better quality programming such as

the new Disney channel.

Power Rating from rival companies: Five stars

Kelvin MacKenzie

Kelvin MacKenzie is managing director of Live TV and executive director

of Mirror TV

Just as Sir David English is regarded as the driving force behind

Associated Newspapers’ television ambitions, the Mirror Group chief

executive, David Montgomery, is the man behind its plans.

However, Kelvin MacKenzie is the man in the hot seat, responsible for

day-to-day running of Mirror Group’s Live TV, which launched in June

this year.

MacKenzie left school with one O level and started in journalism when he

was 17. From 1972 to 1978 he worked at the Sun as a sub-editor, rising

through the ranks to night editor.

He edited Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post from 1981 to 1984, returning to

the UK to edit the Sun until 1994. MacKenzie left to become managing

director of BSkyB, where he lasted six months, before joining the Mirror

Group as executive director of its television interests in September


MacKenzie is already credited with driving out Live TV’s managing

director, Janet Street-Porter, in September. Twenty staff were made

redundant two weeks after Street-Porter left as MacKenzie started to

stamp his authority on Live TV. All indications are that the station

will revert to a more tabloid news-style channel, and move away from

Street-Porter’s rolling news, views and celebrities magazine approach.

Recruitment ads declaring ‘no current BBC staff need apply’ appear to

support the speculation.

MacKenzie is increasing sports content by striking deals with regional

football teams to cover their games. He has signed a deal to carry the

opening of the Rugby League World Cup.

For many in the industry, MacKenzie and cable are an unknown quantity.

Some people in the cable industry confide they admired Street-Porter for

producing a different type of programming and regard her departure as a


Power Rating from rival companies: One star

Alan Michels

Alan Michels is chief executive officer of TeleWest

Alan Michels is president and chief executive of TeleWest

Communications, the UK’s biggest cable operator, which is 27 per cent

owned by US West.

New Jersey-born Michels holds a history degree from Rutgers College and

an MBA degree in finance from Rutgers University. He spent 13 years with

RCA Corporation in several key positions, including director of

financial analysis for RCA Global Communications, before joining US West

in 1987.

While with US West, he spent more than three years as a vice-president

of finance and corporate services for Applied Communications, a

previously owned subsidiary of US West, and was director of corporate

financial analysis for US West. Immediately before his appointment as

president and chief executive of TeleWest Communications, Michels was

chief financial officer and vice-president finance and treasurer for US

West New Vector Group.

Michels says his proudest moments were ‘getting up every day and going

to work - and being associated with very committed people’. Pushed to be

more specific, he pinpoints the flotation of TeleWest in November, which

raised pounds 380 million, citing it as a turning point for the cable

industry and a sign that the industry had a future. Other achievements

include TeleWest’s pounds 679 million agreed merger with SBC CableComms

in June this year.

Michels admits that TeleWest has a job to do in winning the hearts and

minds of customers, but says the company has made great strides: ‘In two

years we have increased the number of channels in the basic package from

25 to 40 with the cost per channel falling dramatically for the


Unlike other rival companies, Michels says he views BSkyB as a partner;

not an obstacle, arguing that it makes no sense to get into a bidding

war for programming.

Power Rating from rival companies: Five stars

Joyce Taylor

Joyce Taylor was until last month chief executive of United Artists

Programming which manages six cable and satellite channels: the

Discovery Channel, Bravo, TCC, the Learning Channel, Country Music TV

and the cable-only Parliamentary Channel

UAP handles their research, brand management, ad sales, scheduling

distribution and engineering. UAP is owned by Flextech, which is in

turned 51 per cent owned by TCI.

Taylor completed a business degree at Strathclyde University before

joining the BBC as an assistant floor manager. She later returned to

University to complete an MSc and spent eight years making educational


She took her first step in the cable industry, regarded at the time as

‘the common enemy’, in 1984 when she joined Clyde Cable Vision as head

of local programming, moving up to head of programming.

In 1988 she realised she was ‘in the construction business not the

programming business’, a stage that she describes as the low point in

her career, and jumped ship to join UAP as head of operations where she

launched the Discovery Channel.

‘After all the heady evangelism of cable and what it would bring I saw

the difficulty it was having in attracting investment. You couldn’t sell

the technology without the programming,’ Taylor says.

In 1991 she became chief operating officer for UAP, taking over

responsibility for marketing and programming activities. She was

appointed chief executive in 1992, replacing Adam Singer who moved to

TCI as vice-president.

In October this year, Taylor announced she was leaving UAP. At the time

of going to press, she had not announced where she was going. But

industry sources said she would not be leaving the cable sector.

Power Rating from rival companies: One star


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