NCTA: A Fancy Gala for a Terrified Industry

Cable executives gather for Hall of Fame

As the vast majority of cable show attendees kicked off the first night of NCTA with a Cubs game or a dinner or an open bar somewhere downtown, industry bigwigs flocked to the Cable Hall of Fame awards ceremony for their own party last night. Al Gore could be seen at the predinner cocktails mingling with a large group of party-goers that included TiVo CEO Tom Rogers and Time Warner Cable chief Glenn Britt.

The Cable Hall of Fame awards are, in a sense, the Oscars of the cable industry. Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner’s CEO, received an award this year—joking that “when I first heard about this . . . I thought, ‘My career is over.’”

Maria Bartiromo was also among the winners. She thanked Roger Ailes and former NBC CEO Jeff Zucker, among others, in her acceptance speech, and took the opportunity to take a pointed and public swipe at her former boss at CNN, Lou Dobbs. “I realized I had hit a ceiling at CNN,” Bartiromo said. “I sent [a] tape to CNBC, and they hired me as an on-air reporter . . . [Dobbs] said, ‘Maria, you’re making the biggest mistake of your life right now.’ Being here tonight, of course, tells a different story. Thank you, Lou, for the opportunity.”

Former Colorado senator and current president of the United Nations Foundation Timothy Wirth was also honored with an award. Wirth was a senate champion of the 1984 law that effectively brought the modern-day cable industry regulatory framework into being. “There’s an old saying in the regulatory world that the ins try to keep the outs out,” Wirth said. “We need all of the ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to [make things change].” Wirth was, ostensibly, talking about the political world on whole, but the implications for the cable industry were very clear.

The winners represented a variety of faces from the cable industry’s old guard, and this ceremony, as with so many other awards proceedings, waxed nostalgic about the industry’s first days. The tenor of the evening stood in stark contrast to the day’s discussions which focused, in part, on the frightening changes afoot in an industry under threat from the rise of Internet video. As former Senator Wirth put it, “The question is: How do you change the rules? How do you make sure the new technology, the new ideas, the new ideas can come in?”