After playing a seminal role behind the scenes in cable television for more than four decades, industry pioneer Char Beales announced her retirement Thursday.
Beales was an influential player as cable TV evolved from a business that delivered television signals to consumers in remote areas into an industry powerhouse with hundreds of channels that compete with major broadcasters for programming and national advertising.
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“Char’s impact on the cable industry has been enormous,” Barbara York , senior vp, industry affairs for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said in 2009, when Beales was inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame. “She’s been the single reason CTAM exists today and has been as effective as it has been.”
CTAM originally stood for Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing. Founded in 1975 to put on industry conferences, it began to grow in importance after Beales took over as CEO in 1992. It has helped the cable industry more effectively reach consumers with marketing campaigns to outline cable's benefits, and has worked to make industry executives more professional with programs like its annual executive management training at the Harvard Business School, CTAM U.
In her time with the trade association, Beale worked hard to stress that cable was the only way for television advertisers to reach audiences by specific age and earning groups through niche programming that attracted like-minded audiences, such as ESPN, the Food Network, MTV and Bravo.
“I got involved in the development of cable advertising,” Beales said, “because we evangelized that cable was going to be a great place for advertisers to reach targeted audiences.”
“Char has been an enormously positive influence on CTAM and the industry,” Julian Brodsky, vice chairman of Comcast, said at her Hall of Fame induction. “She’s charismic, she’s intelligent, she understands the issues that surround our industry and where CTAM fits in with it.”
Over the years, the role of the industry trade association grew to include marketing Movies On Demand and though its program called CableMover, which helps cable companies keep subscribers when they move from one home to another. CTAM provides thousands of leads to cable systems each year, to help find and retain customers.
The trade group also organizes cable's portion of the TCA tours in Los Angeles. At the most recent, 24 different cable programmers participated. It also presents its Unplugged education program, regional networking events, Wired webcasts, the Mark Awards (for excellence in cable TV) and produces the daily CTAM SmartBrief newsletter for its members and the media.
Until this year, CTAM’s biggest event was the annual Summit, which at its peak in 2005 attracted about 3,400 participants when it was held in Philadelphia. But two months ago CTAM said it would no longer hold that conference. In cancelling the 2013 event to be held in New York City, the trade association's board said it reached an “inflection point” that was part of a three year effort to evolve the organization to meet cable’s needs today.
Beales said at the time that following years of industry consolidation, there are fewer bigger cable operators and they have the size and staff to handle their own marketing through centralized operations. That is very different than when she started and there were hundreds of small operators who were good at laying down cable and stringing wires, but not very good at selling themselves.
Going forward, CTAM will hold a number of smaller targeted events each year. It will focus on educational programs and helping cable MSOs (multiple system operators) with cooperative marketing campaigns. CTAM has also announced plans to hold an Executive Forum, an invitation-only event for mid-level executives to discuss solving problems.
With the cancelation of the Summit and the new focus, CTAM expects to cut about 25 percent of its workforce. At one time it had 33 employees. Recently it had a staff of about 25.
Beales will stay on at least until the end of this year while the group’s board searches for and selects her successor.