Tony G. Werner - EVP & Chief Technology Officer, Comcast Cable
Tony Werner's HOF Speech
The cable industry is a busy place right now, but Tony Werner, Comcast Cable's executive VP and chief technology officer since 2007, has his eyes firmly fixed on the future. "We try and focus on a combination of pieces," says Werner. "We try not to lose sight of where we are and what's important, but we spend our time focusing more on emerging trends and where we are going, and then building the right technology platform with the right elements to compete in the upcoming years. There's a lot of focus on video content, and on making the receiving of that content more convenient for customers."
Werner recently finished leading Comcast's $500 million analog reclamation project, internally designated Project Calvary. Over the past few years, Comcast converted all of its 23 million customers to digital-only systems by delivering digital set-top boxes to them for free and then helping them install those boxes.
That effort, which freed up bandwidth in every Comcast market, preceded Comcast's Xfinity rebranding campaign, in which the company is marketing bundled HDTV, digital voice, high-speed Internet access, video on demand, and TV on the Web services to all Comcast customers. The additional bandwidth resulting from Project Calvary allowed Comcast to add as many as 40 new networks to some of its systems, upgrade broadband speeds and provide other new and enhanced services.
"It's hard getting a big company to move in concert, and Tony did that," says Steve Burke, Comcast's chief operating officer. "That was one of his big wins."
The ability to mobilize a big organization to realize a brand new idea is a hallmark of Werner's professional style, says Neil Smit, president of Comcast Cable Communications and former CEO of Charter Cable. "Tony is really talented at projecting future trends and then figuring out how to bring them to life," Smit says. "He develops technology solutions that address both present and future business needs, and he has an ability to sniff out exciting new technology developments and sift through the winners and losers very effectively. He's able to say ‘here's a great idea and here's how I can develop it, given our infrastructure.'"
Now that Project Calvary is complete, Werner is considering what comes next. Topping that list is creating ways for Comcast customers to use the company 's array of services with their Apple iPads and similar smart devices. To that end, Comcast has released a suite of mobile apps for Apple's iPad, iPhone and iTouch that allows Comcast customers to access their at-home services, such as digital video recorders. Under Werner's leadership, the company is taking those applications a step further with Xfinity Remote, which would essentially bring customers' living-room television service to their mobile phones and pads.
"The best way for us to approach all of these new technologies is to get out in front of them, stimulate that ecosystem and try to provide products and services that consumers are going to want access to," Werner says. "We start by considering what will create value in a consumer's mind."
Another area of focus for Werner is the "IP-ification" of all of Comcast Cable's services and technology. "Video is one area, but we also are continuing to develop and evolve our underlying platform so that it supports new services, whether those are Web-based or something else," Werner says.
Werner came to Comcast from Denver-based Liberty Global, where had been senior VP and chief technology officer since 2001.
"Tony is first and foremost a great engineer," says Mike Fries, president and CEO of Liberty Global, which operates cable systems around the world. "He understands the zeroes and ones. That's critical in our business, which has reinvented itself many times. But he also has a great business mind. He's clever strategically and operationally, and he knows how to connect the dots between technology and people."
Prior to working at Liberty Global, Werner was chief technology officer at Denver-based telecommunications firm Qwest, and he has held senior management positions with Aurora Networks, TCI/AT&T Broadband, Rogers Communications, and RCA Cablevision Systems.
Werner graduated from Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minn., with a degree in telecommunications. He got his start in the cable industry working for a small cable operator in Texas, then worked in Canada and other places before settling in Denver.
Werner, who with his wife, Laurel, has two children (Mike, 24; Cara, 21), was persuaded to move to Philadelphia-based Comcast Cable after CTO Dave Fellows departed in 2006.
"We needed someone who could lead the industry in thinking about technology," says Burke. "He had done that job for TCI, and at the time he was with Liberty Global with John Malone. Every time we did the search, we would come back to the fact that we should try to get Tony. It wasn't easy getting him because he was very loyal to Malone and Liberty, but eventually we were able to convince him that it would be worth it.
"I think he liked the idea of working for a company that was going to take the lead in the cable industry," Burke adds. "If you work for one of the largest companies in the country, you get a chance to see big ideas put into action, and you get a chance to change the course of the cable industry."
Werner is likely to soon get a chance to work for even a bigger, more influential entertainment company, should Comcast's proposed merger with NBC gain regulatory approval as expected.
"There are some technologists who are pure technologists and who are great thinkers, but sometimes don't have the ability to couple that with practical business aspects," says Smit. "Tony has both of those skills. He understands the technology and he's very future-focused, yet he has the ability to keep all of it within practical business terms."--Paige Albiniak