cover image Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business

Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business

Mark Robichaux. John Wiley & Sons, $27.95 (310pp) ISBN 978-0-471-23639-9

In 1973, 29-year-old John Malone became the CEO of a debt-ridden Denver cable company, Tele-Communications, Incorporated; in 1998, he sold TCI for $48 billion. In the intervening 25 years he frenetically built a cable and media monopoly. Robichaux, an editor at the Wall Street Journal, pens an account that is part Horatio Alger success story and part cautionary tale of the abuses of unfettered capitalism (the latter a more timely narrative these days). Malone is a complicated hero; focused and driven, he built his empire largely through clever, complicated financing deals that sidestepped bank rules and taxes and enriched an inside group of shareholders. In the spirit of ""charge as much as you can for a product...and spend as little as you can get away with,"" TCI, the author says, provided shoddy service to cable subscribers and bought out potential competitors to keep the cable industry an insular cartel. When local governments protested, Malone cut off service. Robichaux doesn't make much of it, but it's notable that junk bond financier Michael Milken and the former CEO of Global Crossing, Leo Hindery, appear in these pages as Malone's trusted friends. Although he cooperated with Robichaux for this book, Malone doesn't (as do minor characters like Ted Turner) spring to life from its pages. In this, once again, the reclusive Malone seems to have gotten things his way.