Comcast says Watson promotion about cable chops, dismisses old wireless pedigree

Comcast Center headquarters in Philadelphia. Image: Comcast
In his new role role, Watson leads all of the cable company’s operations and business functions, including sales and marketing, the product teams for Xfinity Internet, Xfinity X1, Xfinity Voice and Xfinity Home.

Amid Comcast’s announcement of a huge cable-industry management transition Monday, much of the media attention was paid to Neil Smit, the publicly shy former U.S. Navy SEAL who was moving up and out of the CEO role at Comcast Cable and into the Vice Chairman position once occupied by Michael Angelakis.

Seemingly lost in at least some of the narrative was the three-decade company veteran assigned to manage the biggest cable operation in North America and its 91,000 employees, Dave Watson.

Indeed, following a former SEAL Team Six member on stage is no easy task. But Comcast said Watson, who has been quietly working as the No. 2 executive for a cable company that is suddenly experiencing steep growth in both customers and revenue, was the logical selection to replace Smit. And it insisted this isn't about the company's upcoming move into the wireless business.

RELATED: Comcast Cable ups Watson to CEO, moves Smit to new role of vice chairman

Watson, 58, has spent the last 26 years at Comcast Cable, most recently as chief operations officer. However, prior to joining the cable unit in 1991, the University of Richmond graduate served as president of Comcast Cellular, guiding the company until it was sold to SBC Communications. He had previously headed sales and marketing for Bell Atlantic Mobile and Metrophone. 

Comcast representatives told FierceCable, however, that Watson's wireless past—now nearly three decades behind him—isn't as relevant as his recent cable-business leadership record. With Smit looking to transition his career pace due partly because of health reasons, Watson was the most logical choice for the CEO job, having also played a significant role in the cable division's suddenly ample momentum. 

Comcast reported its first pay-TV subscriber growth in a decade last year, adding 160,000 customers for the year. And it continues to add high-speed internet users by the millions. 

Comcast officials also dismissed reports that Watson had been passed over in 2010 for the Comcast Cable CEO job in favor of Smit, noting that Watson was placed in the COO position at that time. 

In his new role role, Watson leads all of the cable company’s operations and business functions, including sales and marketing, the product teams for Xfinity Internet, Xfinity X1, Xfinity Voice and Xfinity Home, the Comcast Business division, as well as oversight of Comcast's three operating divisions. He also oversees Comcast Spotlight, the company’s local advertising sales unit. 

The cable business' three regional divisions will continue to report to Watson, who lives with his wife in Radnor, Pennsylvania, and has two grown kids. Also reporting to him will be the product-development team headed by Tony Werner. 

"Dave knows the business and has a track record of delivering results," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement.

Editor's Note: The story was updated on 3/21/17 to include comment from Comcast representatives.