Gustave M. Hauser, one of the first forces in cable television, dies at 91

In the 1970s, when Gustave M. Hauser, an international lawyer, was President and CEO of Warner Cable Communications, cable television wa...


In the 1970s, when Gustave M. Hauser, an international lawyer, was President and CEO of Warner Cable Communications, cable television was still a local, uninspiring business in rural towns, providing just over $ 5 per month. connections to homes. who otherwise did not have access to television.

Spurred on by his boss, Steven J. Ross, iconoclastic president of Warner Communications, Mr. Hauser embarked on a daring experiment in Columbus, Ohio: to create a service that helped usher in the modern era of multichannel digital cable television.

In December 1977, Warner unveiled QUBE, an experimental cable television system offering a bouquet of 30 premium channels featuring movies, sports, children’s shows and documentaries. The system not only offered customers content not available on broadcast television; he also introduced new technology to bring them this content. QUBE innovations included the first cable decoders and remote control devices.

To attract subscribers to QUBE, Mr. Hauser needed attractive yet affordable new programming. Seeing this programming would define the cable television market.

Its concept of inexpensive premium channels led to the development of Movie Channel, Nickelodeon and MTV, as well as interactive computer services like pay-per-view television. All of this transformed the way Americans watched television.

Mr. Hauser died on February 14 in an assisted living facility in New York City. He was 91 years old.

His death, which was not widely reported at the time, was confirmed by his wife, foreign affairs and human rights lawyer Rita E. Hauser, who said the cause was complications of dementia.

Under Mr. Hauser, Warner Cable won franchises across the country. Following his lead, popular new channels like ESPN, CNN and HBO have emerged to increase the popularity of cable. During his tenure, Warner grew from 200,000 rural subscribers to over four million subscribers nationwide.

“When I got into this, it was clear that this was not a business that I or many others wanted to be in,” Mr. Hauser recalled in an interview for this obituary in 2015. “J ‘was one of the first to think about what that could be, and not just write an article, but do something about it. We tried everything and it immediately showed that people really wanted it. “

Leo Hindery Jr., managing partner of InterMedia Partners and a pioneer in the cable industry who ran AT&T Broadband and other companies, called Hauser “visionary.”

“QUBE was a very far-sighted look at what multi-channel TV could become,” he said in an interview, also in 2015.

QUBE demonstrated the viability of the cable industry and opened the floodgates for municipalities to award Warner Cable a predominant share of new cable franchises across the country. In 1980, Warner obtained franchises covering 1.1 million of the 1.6 million homes receiving cable service.

“The main factor behind Warner’s recent successes, as confirmed by analysts and competitors,” the New York Times wrote in November 1980, “has been its ability to use its two-way systems – the most advanced interactive television service in the world. industry – as a means of distinguishing Warner’s proposals from those of its competitors. The key ingredient in Warner’s recent franchise wins has been QUBE’s appeal.

In a market that then had 17 million subscribers, Warner’s growth was notable.

After making Warner Cable an industry giant – it became Warner Amex Cable Communications in 1979 and, after several changes of ownership, is now MTV Networks – Mr. Hauser decided to leave and start his own cable company. . In 1983, he founded Hauser Communications, which he transformed over the next 10 years into a successful and highly regarded cable provider, with properties in Washington and Minneapolis, among others.

In 1993, he sold his business to Southwestern Bell for $ 650 million in a deal that rocked the US telecommunications industry. It was one of the first mergers between the telephone companies and the cable companies, and at the time it was the most important.

Mr. Hauser and his spouse in 1988 established the Hauser Foundation and began a life of charitable giving, particularly to Harvard and New York University. (He graduated from Harvard Law School; she began law school there but graduated from NYU.)

In 2011, the Hausers donated $ 40 million to Harvard to launch the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching. Mr. Hauser was a strong supporter of the use of advanced technologies in education, and their donation was aimed at bringing the university to the forefront of new methods of teaching and learning, including massive open online courses, which offer open access to courses with unlimited participation on the internet.

“This was inspired by Gus’ long career in technology and communications,” said Drew Gilpin Faust, then president of Harvard, in 2015. “He and Rita were very excited about the possibilities available to the company. teaching through these new technologies., and Gus was a longtime champion of Harvard technology upgrading.

Gustave Hauser (he later added the initial of the middle name, which means nothing) was born on September 3, 1929 to Jewish parents who immigrated to Cleveland. He had three older sisters. His father, Abraham, from Poland, made and sold hats. His mother, Stella, originally from Russia, was a housewife

Mr. Hauser graduated from high school in hopes of going to Harvard. But he couldn’t afford the tuition, and instead he enrolled at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve) in Cleveland. However, he made it to Harvard Law School on a scholarship.

After graduating in 1953, he was drafted into the military. He ended up at the Army Military Police School in Augusta, Georgia, where he taught law classes. As he was about to leave the service, Harvard Law School invited him to join its faculty as an instructor.

Mr. Hauser met Rita Eleanore Abrams, one of the first women admitted to Harvard Law School, on the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Mass. They married in 1956. Fascinated by international law, the couple lived and worked abroad for several years.

Back in the United States, Mr. Hauser found work at the Pentagon in the office of the defense secretary’s attorney general. He then joined General Telephone and Electronics (later simply GTE) as legal advisor to the company’s international business arm. This position earned him the appointment of General Manager of GTE International, marking his entry into the world of communication.

In 1969, shortly after President Richard M. Nixon took office, Mr. Hauser was appointed by the President to found the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which aimed to help companies do business in the foreigners without fear of their assets being expropriated in developing countries, which was not uncommon at the time.

“Before that, there was no insurance against expropriation,” Hauser said.

In 1971, he joined Western Union International, a spin-off company of Western Union, as executive vice president.

Besides his wife, Mr. Hauser is survived by a daughter, Ana Burtnett, and a grandson.

Mr. Hauser has kept abreast of technological developments throughout his life. He and his wife based their philanthropic efforts on a simple philosophy.

“We are people who want to do philanthropy by donating our wealth during our lifetime,” he said in 2015. “We don’t create philanthropic works in perpetuity like the Ford Foundation, where someone go find some money when you’re gone. If you want to do it, do it.

Mr Hauser said he was very proud of his ability to envision future trends. “Everything I have been involved in, I have always looked to the future,” he said. “What I did in the cable business, I continued as a non-profit in other areas. And that makes a huge difference.

Jordan Allen contributed reporting. Alain Delaqueriere contributed to the research.

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