Comcast's Neil Smit, the Ex-Navy SEAL Poised to Rule the Cable Business

Neil Smit

The Comcast CEO would preside over 33 million video subscribers if the $45 billion Time Warner Cable merger wins approval.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

If lawmakers allow Comcast's proposed $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable, a mild-mannered former Navy SEAL named Neil Smit arguably will become the most powerful and scrutinized executive in pay television.

Smit, 55, CEO of Comcast Cable since December 2011, is traveling the U.S. to convince investors that TWC's 11.4 million TV customers would be better served merged with Comcast and its 21.7 million video subscribers into the world's largest cable company. The executive, who earned $18.3 million in 2012, would oversee integration of Comcast-TWC.

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During the final quarter of 2013, Comcast added 43,000 video subscribers, the first time it showed a quarterly gain in seven years. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Smit is to maintain that momentum as a larger company. He also will be charged with upgrading TWC's technology, most notably in delivering to new subscribers X1, a cloud-based operating system available in every Comcast market.

The Philadelphia-based Smit, recruited by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts from rival Charter Communications in 2010, is well regarded for his technical prowess. During the past two years, Comcast has launched 40 products. "Smit is a hands-on technophile," says analyst Matthew Harrigan.

Peers say Smit has the coolness under fire and attention to detail one would expect from a retired Navy lieutenant commander. That could help grease a merger pilloried by consumer groups. "There is a lot of pressure on Comcast given its scale, especially from Washington," says Steve Birenberg of Northlake Capital Management. "Smit would ultimately bear the responsibility for Comcast to be viewed as a decent corporate citizen, something that could impact the company's financial success."