Cable Television, Careers in

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


The National Cable Television Association reported in 1999 that there was a 500 percent increase in the cable industry workforce between 1975 and 1998—from 25,000 full-time employees to more than 125,000 (Lacey et al., 1999). This major trade organization predicts further expansion of employment opportunities as a result of the need to rebuild and upgrade systems and as new service offerings such as digital video, data delivery, and high-speed cable Internet access are made available across the country.

Most of these jobs will be within one of the three segments that serve as the primary employers of the cable industry. The local cable system directly provides cable service to homes and communities. Multiple-system operators (MSOs) own and operate more than one cable television system. Cable networks provide some of the programming offered by the cable system. Joseph Dominick, Barry Sherman, and Gary Copeland (1996) report that cable is a decidedly blue-collar industry with most jobs falling into the technical or office/clerical category. The number of subscriber households basically determines the size of the staff needed. The vast majority of workers are employed by the thousands of operating systems around the nation.

Local cable systems require the combined efforts of a variety of skilled persons in providing subscribing customers with a clear television signal delivered directly to the home via cable. In smaller systems, one person may perform more than one function. These functions fall primarily into five areas: management, technical staff, administrative staff, marketing/public relations and advertising staff, and programming and production staff.

Management oversees all aspects of the operation. The general manager, as head of the cable system office, is responsible for conducting the operational affairs, interpreting and applying the policies of corporate management, and coordinating all functions of the system. The general manager's duties include recommending policies for system growth, overseeing budget and fiscal procedures, and developing employment and personnel policies. Department heads from the other four divisions report directly to the general manager and comprise the upper-level management of the local cable system. Qualifications for the position of general manager include a college degree in business administration and industry management experience.

The chief engineer is the head of the technical department, a position that requires superior management skills as well as first-rate technical knowledge. The chief engineer oversees all technical aspects of the cable system and supervises all the activities of the engineering staff. These responsibilities include equipment planning and installation, construction of facilities, specification of standards for equipment and material, proposing new technical services and developing new products for use by the system, directing construction activity, and giving technical advice to the various staff system-operating managers. Because the majority of the capital outlay and operating expense of a cable system involves the purchase and installation of costly equipment, the chief engineer also assists in preparing the capital budget and general development plans of the system. Qualifications for the position of chief engineer include a degree in electrical engineering and/or equivalent experience.

A number of technicians serve in the technical department under the direction of the chief engineer. Among these are the chief technician, trunk technician, service technician, and bench technician. The chief technician is the most highly skilled member of the technical staff and supervises all of the other technicians. This person is primarily responsible for maintaining equipment at the headend, that point at which all program sources are received, assembled, and processed for transmission. In addition to technical duties, some administrative chores such as setting performance standards, conducting salary reviews, and handling personnel matters are required. The trunk technician is responsible for the trunk line or main artery of the cable system. The service technician works more directly with the customer, either in the home or on the poles, lines, and amplifiers. The bench technician operates the repair facility of the cable system. Qualifications for the position of chief technician include an industrial background and electronic training plus extensive hands-on experience. All of the other positions require some electronic training, and a strong electronics background is certainly helpful.

Generally, the position of installer is considered the entry-level step for a cable technician's career. This person prepares a customer's home for cable reception. At least some trade school background with demonstrated mechanical aptitude is desirable.

The office manager heads the administrative staff and is responsible for the smooth operation of daily business activities. This person monitors the customer service department and supervises office staff training, hiring, and work assignments. Experience in office administration and personnel management is a plus for this position.

The customer service representative and the service dispatcher provide a direct link between the technical staff and the customer by monitoring and coordinating communication between the two. These positions may require no more than a high school diploma and good communication skills.

The same person may fill the accounts payable, accounts receivable, and billing clerk positions in a smaller cable system. Regardless, these positions are fundamental to the successful financial operation of a system. Qualifications include two years of college with a strong bookkeeping and business background. Some larger systems hire a full-time accountant/bookkeeper, while smaller systems often use an outside accounting firm.

Cable systems often have a public-affairs director and a marketing director as part of the upper-level management. The public-affairs director represents the cable system within the community, working with local government officials and civic groups. The marketing director is responsible for increasing the number of subscribers to the system. Qualifications for these positions include a degree in public relations or marketing and related experience. Research is a valuable component of many marketing departments. The person holding the position of researcher should also have a degree in marketing.

Sales representatives work on two levels within a cable system. The first is to sell the services of the cable system to homes, apartment complexes, and hotels and motels. The advertising sales representatives market the cable system as an effective medium for advertising the products and services of other businesses. Qualifications for these positions include at least a high school diploma and a public relations, advertising, or sales background.

The fields of programming and production have shown substantial growth within many cable systems. The areas of local origination, public access, and governmental or educational access provide career opportunities for persons with a degree in communications and hands-on experience in production. In those systems that produce their own programming, a staff is usually necessary to handle the production. This staff would likely include a producer, assistant director, and various studio technicians to handle audio, lighting, and editing. Qualifications would include a degree in communications and/or an electronics background and hands-on experience in the respective fields. Some large cable systems maintain their own construction crew for ongoing work on new systems or expanding and upgrading existing systems.

Multiple system operators (MSOs) own and operate more than one cable system, sometimes as many as several hundred. For the most part, but on a much bigger scale, their personnel structure is quite similar to that of the individual cable system. On a corporate level, these larger systems consist of various department heads and staffs in administration and management, engineering, sales and marketing, public affairs, human resources, finance, and legal affairs. The qualifications for these positions, while similar to those in the individual cable system, do tend to have higher requirements in terms of educational background (in some cases an advanced degree) and in terms of more related experience in the respective field of employment.

One of the fastest growing segments of cable television is production and programming. Career opportunities with cable programming networks (such as basic cable, pay-TV, and pay-per-view) include many technical positions, as well as positions in the sales, legal, communications, and administration divisions. There are two types of programming: original and purchased. Original programs are those that are produced either in-house or contracted to an independent production company. The purchased programs include feature films that have already had a theatrical release and television series that have previously been aired on broadcast television. Again, personnel requirements are very similar to those in local cable systems and in MSOs. Qualifications tend to include college degrees and job-related experience, often garnered in an individual cable system.

The number of American households being served by cable television is more than 70 percent and growing daily. It is, therefore, no surprise that career opportunities in this exciting industry continue to expand at an equal pace.

See also:Cable Television; Cable Television, History of; Cable Television, Programming of; Cable Television, System Technology of; Educational Media Producers; Public Broadcasting; Public Relations, Careers in; Television Broadcasting, Careers in.


Dominick, Joseph R.; Sherman, Barry L.; and Copeland, Gary A. (1996). Broadcasting/Cable and Beyond: An Introduction to Modern Electronic Media, 3rd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lacey, Amy; Hopkins, Ryan; Barrows, Allison; Green, Richard; and Kirchenbaum, Adam, eds. (1999). Careers in Cable. Washington, DC: National Cable Television Association.

Hal Hughes