NTL Chairman Does Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

24 January 2003

Ousted NTL chairman George Blumenthal clearly heeded Dylan Thomas’s exhortation with his very public soldier’s farewell which quoted Charles Dickens and Abraham Lincoln.

In a valedictory unsigned email to his former staff (obligingly forwarded to MediaGuardian), US citizen Blumenthal left his readers in no doubt that his departure was involuntary, “a decision imposed on me by others”. He also took the opportunity to settle a few old scores, not least with former NTL managing director/chief operating officer Stephen Carter, appointed this week as the first ceo of new supra-watchdog Ofcom [WAMN: 23-Jan-03].

For those who enjoy the artform of acerbity laced with Disney, here is the full text of Blumenthal’s [purportedly verbatim] email …

Wednesday January 22, 2003
God bless all of you !

In November 2001, I vowed to myself that I would make NTL the best company that I could for all its constituent stakeholders, regardless of what would be my position with NTL in the future.

To all associates:
Soon I will be leaving NTL, the company I co-founded with Barclay Knapp in 1993. It is not my desire to leave, it is a decision that has been imposed on me by others.

I will never forget that moment at a communications conference in Florida on October 29, 1992, when I learned that 30% of the households in Birmingham, England purchased telephone service from their cable company. To hear that statistic was so electrifying to me that I figuratively floated back to New York. Well the past 10 years have witnessed both great "highs" and great "lows", and to quote from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens.

2001 - the worst of times
1. From management presentation by Stephen Carter on April 27, 2001 … Forbidden words and phrases:
“But Barclay used to say …”
"But George told me …”

2. Home Division raises prices - thus NTL provides less for more

3. NTL begins carriage of Sky News and Sky Sports - thus permitting BSkyB to promote the hell out of themselves to NTL customers.

2001 - the best of times
In December 2001, in the wake of disappointing third quarter results, I empowered a group of true believer loyalists to examine NTL’s existing business assumptions. Some of their accomplishments are listed below.

I. We realized that cable modems were our most unique product. So we moved our 2002 year-end target from 280,000 to 480,000 but we actually reached 517,000! In doing so, we probably set a new world record for the pace of cable modem penetration by going from 4% to 19% of our subscriber base in one year. By way of comparison, on January 1, 2002, we had 118,000 cable modems in service.

II. We terminated the development of ICMS 5.1 and we substantially scaled back the commitment to IBM for outsourced data services. NTL will save at least £500,000,000 over life of the IBM contract.

III. We launched the Harmony program based upon the proven in-house developed SABS platform, which is not only substantially less expensive to implement, but which gives us substantially more functionality than that envisioned by IBM’s ICMS 5.1 program.

IV. We consolidated 28 customer data bases into a single data warehouse.

V. We introduced our new “one bill” customer statement. This will substantially improve the life of our customer service reps as well as please our customer immeasurably!

VI. We significantly curtailed purchased advertising in favor of intensive use of our own in-house TV channels.

VII. We instituted “price based” advertising ("high speed access from £14.99") and eliminated brand based advertising. (“One line is all you need”) as President Bush said, “It's the offer stupid!”

VIII. We realigned our sports programming efforts to make them consistent with NTL’s needs.

IX. A whole host of other great developments !

Finally and most importantly, we returned the company to the people who really care about it and by that I mean you. We seized control from the management consultants, the tooth paste marketers and the other Carterets [sic]. Thus, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat!

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Gettysburg address
Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

After digesting this three-hankie epistle, one insider is said to have observed: “There wasn’t a dry seat in the house.”

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff