Comcast Corp.'s programming gatekeeper, Matt Bond, is the executive who is essentially in charge of trimming an estimated $270 million from the huge MSO's content costs this year.
It's a powerful but high-pressure gig: Ensuring the promises Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made to Wall Street are kept.
Industry veteran Bond, a lawyer, joined Comcast last December as executive vice president of programming. He succeeded Tom Hurley, who moved over to serve as president of the Comcast Digital Programming Center.
Within the cable industry, Bond's fans and detractors alike agree he's a smart and savvy negotiator.
"He was the perfect hire for that job," said one network chief. "He has the combination or being a nice guy and dealing with you professionally, but then also being tough and good at his job.
"There are plenty of people who negotiate by being jerks, and there are people who are nice and who are bad at their job. It's like, 'Wow, good for us, bad for that company.' "
The 40-year-old Bond, who is temporarily living in an apartment two blocks from Comcast's offices in Philadelphia, has been putting in long hours, until 10 or 11 p.m. at night.
"I've been working pretty hard, but it's been great," Bond said. "It's the best job in cable."
As part of what Bond calls "the integration process," he and his team have been scrutinizing and comparing Comcast's and AT&T Broadband's affiliation deals with cable networks — well over 100 contracts.
Bond said he is checking the rates in those deals and "looking where we have rights … to get programming at the lowest possible price. … It's two sets of deals, and they're different in many respects, so you've got to really integrate them."
Bond spent years in the programming department of Tele-Communications Inc. and its successor, AT&T Broadband, where he was head of programming.
Before joining Comcast, he was executive vice president of affiliate relations for the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network, the New York-based start-up regional sports service that became embroiled in a nasty public brouhaha with Cablevision Systems Corp. over carriage terms.
"My time at YES was definitely a great educational experience," Bond said. "It really gave me a good insight into the issues and challenges on the network side, so I really think I see both sides of these issues. It's helpful in trying to craft these programming deals."
Nonetheless, at least one critic claims Bond's developed amnesia about how hard it is to be on the cable network's side of the negotiating table.
"Being beat up on the affiliate-sales side has been expunged from his memory," said one industry veteran. "He is back to the hard line."
Added one affiliate-sale official: "Matt lets you know where he thinks you should be, and you're better off taking his cue. Otherwise, you could find your calls not being returned and your competitor getting in the door ahead of you."
Court TV, in the midst of tough talks with Comcast, has pulled two jokes alluding to its difficult negotiations.
At a recent dinner honoring Roberts, Court TV CEO Henry Schleiff and executive vice president of affiliate relations Bob Rose appeared in a video where they appear beat up and wounded after purportedly returning from talks with Comcast. Court TV also had T-shirts made up that say "Bring back Hurley."
Bond saw the video clip and is aware of the T-shirts.
"If you know Henry, he's got a sense of humor, and he's a gregarious person, so I didn't think it [the video] was offensive," Bond said. "He's just trying to express some humor and get a laugh."
Bond said he really can't say if his approach to negotiations is more hard-nosed than Hurley.
"I worked on the other side of Tom in the YES negotiation, and he's a highly capable and professional guy," Bond said. "I don't know if I'm any tougher or less tough, its always hard to judge your own behavior."
Notwithstanding his appearance in the video clip, Rose had some kind words about Bond.
"He is tough, as he should be," Rose said in a written statement. "He negotiates with integrity; plus he returns calls quickly, respects creativity, keeps an open mind, and is always interested in talking about strengthening the long-term partnership."
Added Rose: "Comcast is doing exactly what every head of affiliate relations would be doing if they suddenly found themselves sitting in Matt Bond's chair. Is it a challenging environment? Of course it is.
"However, as of today, Comcast is using its newfound size as leverage, and it's doing it appropriately."
One affiliate-sales chief said that unlike Hurley, Bond is making an effort to communicate with programmers.
"There's a dialogue coming from their end," the executive said. "Matt Bond is at least telling you what's going on on their side, what their wants are, what their needs are, what he can do, what he can't do, and usually why. So even though he's as rough or tougher than Hurley, there's a context to it."
Bill Goodwyn, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for Discovery Networks U.S., has sat down with Bond to hammer out deals on many an occasion.
"He's always found a way to get what he wants for his company, but also provide an opportunity for the network to build a business as well," Goodwyn said.
Oxygen just won an extension of its carriage deal for AT&T's old systems, and is hoping for rollouts on Comcast systems. Not surprisingly, Oxygen chief operating officer Lisa Hall sang Bond's praises.
"Matt Bond is a dream," Hall said