Looking Back and Looking Forward with Rocco Commisso – #Summit23

It could be argued that the broadband we enjoy today rests on a foundation largely built by the original cable television pioneers. Those pioneers and their hustle that built an industry from scratch are heroes to Rocco Commisso.

The first half of Commisso’s career was spent learning from those entrepreneurs, especially Alan Gerry, founder of Cablevision Industries. The second half of his career has been about applying that knowledge to the company he founded, Mediacom.

In the above interview, filmed at ACA Connects Summit 23 in 2016, Commisso relates his story of being a 12-year-old immigrant who received a soccer scholarship and graduated with an MBA from Columbia University.  As a media industry financier in the late 1970s, he fell in love with the fledgling cable television industry.

His founding of Mediacom was at a time of uncertainty as the impact of the 1992 Cable Act and competitive threats from new players were being felt. Like the pioneers before him, Commisso’s focus on underserved and underperforming markets meant Mediacom’s service areas were in small towns and rural locales.

Mediacom’s base was from acquisitions financed via debt. Commisso points out that the ability to meet one’s debt obligations is a reflection of one’s credibility. He is proud of Mediacom’s solid credit ratings which allow them to pay lower interest rates, meaning more money for capital improvements.

At the time of the above interview, this meant $4.2 billion in capital expenditures compared to the 3.6 billion spent acquiring the systems. In his February 2022 Chairman’s letter (PDF), this figure had grown to a cumulative total of nearly $13 billion.

And these expenditures represent an investment in U.S.-based infrastructure. Those investments have paid off as it has allowed Mediacom to adjust to a shifting business. He stresses the importance of broadband for the company’s future.

It is the investment in people through its workforce that makes Commisso proud. In another ViodiTV interview, Italia Commisso, Rocco’s sister and Mediacom co-founder, indicates that the people who work there are the foundation of Mediacom.

This is reflected in the local nature of their business.  They were ahead of the Work from Home curve as Commisso states that most of their technical employees don’t have to go to the office. Presumably, this gives them more time to spend with customers.

Interview Highlights

00:17 – Commisso provides a brief overview of his path from immigrant to financier.

01:41 – He expresses his admiration of the hustle, creativeness, and leadership of the early cable entrepreneurs.

02:28 – He talks about the “window of opportunity” and how that led to Mediacom.

04:02 – The opportunity was in smaller markets overlooked by the bigger companies.

06:07 – Commisso discusses the relationship between debt and credibility.

07:19 – Money spent on cable and broadband infrastructure cannot be outsourced to another country.

08:18 – Retaining local roots is an important part of Mediacom’s success.

09:24 – Their continuous investment has allowed them to adjust to a changing market.

10:31 – The future is broadband, but that also opens up the possibility of extending to locations that wouldn’t make sense in a traditional cable television environment.

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