EVP and Chief Technology Officer, Comcast Cable: Tony Werner

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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.”

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