ACA Taps Comcast Exec Shema as COO

Robert Shema is making a pretty big job transition, leaving the country’s biggest MSO to work for the smallest cable operators around.

But he said he’s looking forward to the task at hand.

The American Cable Association, the lobbying group for independent operators, last week named Comcast Corp. veteran Shema as its vice president and chief operating officer, two new posts.

“That’s the most exciting challenge you can have, is helping people that really need the help,” Shema said.

Before joining the ACA, the Pittsburgh native spent eight years in various posts at Comcast, working on acquisitions, corporate affairs, regulatory issues and programming negotiations.

Most recently, he worked in Pittsburgh as Comcast’s regional senior director of government and community affairs, serving a 860,000-subscriber division that stretches from Cleveland to West Virginia.

He’ll now report to ACA CEO Matt Polka.

Shema was one of about 20 candidates for the COO position, said Polka.

“He had the blend of experience that we need in policy, communications and operations,” Polka said. “He really distinguished himself.”

Shema will focus on communications, operations and policy issues for the ACA.

That permits Polka to concentrate on key areas such as programming costs, media consolidation, retransmission consent and the 109th Congress’s possible re-examination of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

“Matt is already succeeding on his own, but the poor guy is just run ragged,” Shema said. “I’m the support guy. I’m here to take care of the day-to-day grind work, the invoices, the office mechanisms, improving the communication process with members and with elected officials.”

The Pittsburgh-based ACA counts almost 1,100 member companies serving more than 8 million subscribers.

“I see my role as a cheerleader,” Shema said. “Matt’s the champion. I’m the cheerleader.

“He’s the one that’s out there basically doing all this stuff and I’m the guy who’s going to go out and tell the members, 'Hey, see what Matt’s doing. Get excited about it. Get involved.’ ”

Shema started with Comcast in 1996 as a paralegal in its Philadelphia corporate offices. At that time, Comcast had 2 million subscribers. “Back in those days, [former Comcast vice chairman] Julian Brodsky still walked the halls,” Shema recalled.

“I was fortunate enough to work at Comcast when you kind of had to be like an ACA kind of guy,” he said.

Shema relishes the chance for contact with cable operators out in the field, building their businesses.

“It’s where the rubber hits the road,” he said. “These guys are living this stuff every day. … What I like most about this job is talking to the folks out in the field. Matt has been talking to the guys out in the field while he’s talking to a congressman at the same time.”

In his new role, Shema said recently he was talking to the president of a tiny cable company who’d been “up on a ladder because they had a windstorm, and the lines were down.”