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A Consummate Diplomat: Comcast’s Kerekes Knows the Art of the Deal

Diana Wechsler Kerekes
Vice President, Video Content

Becoming a gifted communicator came early for Diana Wechsler Kerekes: As an only child of Romanian and French Tunisian parents, in a multi-generational household, kitchen table conversations unfolded in four languages.

“My mother spoke to me in French; I answered her in English. She spoke to my grandmother in French; my grandmother responded in Romanian,” Kerekes explains, adding: “I spoke Romanian with my grandmother. My father and grandmother talked in Romanian, my mother and father in French, and my father and I in English.”

It’s not surprising, then, that Kerekes is distinguished by her ability to find common ground in a career draped in tricky negotiations. Perhaps biggest among them was her work to help build what is now PBS Kids Sprout, a round-the-clock pre-school channel with four implausible parents: Comcast, Sesame Workshop, PBS and HIT Entertainment.

“Instead of coming in like an 800-pound gorilla, which can happen in these kinds of business deals, she played a role of diplomacy that was rare and is really what made it work,” said Sesame Workshop CEO Gary Knell.

At the time — 2004 — Kerekes was working the Sprout deal within Comcast’s Programming Investments division as vice president and general counsel.

“It was the perfect deal that should never have happened,” said Comcast Programming president Jeff Shell. As a negotiator, Shell said, “Diana is very kind, yet very tough. She’ll take a firm position, and quietly reiterate it. And she won’t move.”

When the fledgling network hit a bump in finding a CEO, Kerekes was a natural choice: She knew thoroughly what each partner wanted to accomplish. She stepped in as interim GM in 2005.

“She’s a good listener, she’s nice, she’s kind, you feel that she has your best interests at heart,” said Comcast Interactive Media president Amy Banse, who hired Kerekes into the company in 2003. “As a result, people want to do business with her. She gets things done.”

Alex Fragan, president of domestic TV distribution for Summit Entertainment LLC — a relatively new movie studio known largely for its hit Twilight franchise — worked with Kerekes most recently on the day-and-date release of the wildly popular teen movie.

“The release pattern was unique in that it [Twilight] came out Friday night at midnight,” yet its biggest audience was young, Fragan said. It was also the first time a movie with more than $100 million in revenue had been released on VOD at the same time as DVD.

Kerekes helped to usher in the long-coveted “day-and-date” VOD format as Comcast’s vice president of content acquisition, where she also helped to procure content for and from ’05 to ’07.

These days, the unassuming Kerekes runs the Comcast On Demand video-product line, which necessarily includes interactive TV (EBIF), dynamic VOD advertising, cross-platform and the “TV Everywhere” concept.

That means collaborating with studios and content owners (after the contracts are signed) to “provide customers with the best entertainment content anywhere” and drive revenue and as many views as possible, Kerekes says. It’s an exercise in big numbers: In 2009, the Comcast On-Demand library contained over 17,000 video assets and delivered 350 million views per month.

This year, it’s all about adding more titles and making it easier for consumers to find them. Programmers and studios involved with helping Kerekes “surface” new content on new screens say they appreciate her intuitive and strategic mindset.

“She’s just really honest and a great creative partner,” said HBO senior vice president and general manager of affiliate sales Shellie Wright Brindle about working a cross-platform effort with Kerekes for the network’s upcoming epic Pacific. “It’s not 'me, me, me,’ it’s 'us, us, us.’ ”

Prior to Comcast, Kerekes worked from 1990-93 as a corporate attorney for Boston-based Burns & Levinson; then she moved to New York in 1994 to work in corporate and securities law, first for Shea & Gould, then Squadron, Ellenoff. She moved to Philadelphia in 1997 to join Safeguard Scientifics as senior corporate counsel.

Her core value: Respect. “If there is a foundation of respect, then you can work through any type of conflict,” Kerekes said of her approach to life.

Including family. After graduating cum laude (and one year early) from Boston University’s College of Liberal Arts in 1987, Kerekes returned to BU for a law degree — where she met her husband of almost 17 years, Zoltan, who is from Hungary.

“Romanians and Hungarians typically hate each other,” Kerekes said of breaking the news, which included religious differences, to her father. “Zoltan jokes that he met first the family dog, then my grandmother, then my mother. Father last.” (All is well now.)

When she’s not working at the video epicenter of the nation’s largest cable operator, Kerekes is busy with “baseball clinics, soccer and swimming,” referencing son Alexander, 8, and daughter Théa, “six and a half.” (Both have appeared in Sprout interstitials.)

It’s partially her children that fuel her belief in VOD, she said. “I can’t watch anything on linear, because my kids don’t get to sleep when they’re supposed to go to sleep,” she laughed. “It’s not 9:00, it’s 9:50. So it’s a great thing for somebody like me.”