FORTUNE — Testifying in the e-book antitrust trial last June, Apple’s (AAPL) senior vice president Eddy Cue estimated that in the 24 years he’s been signing up digital content for the company he’s negotiated not hundreds or thousands but tens of thousands of contracts.
In the case that put him on the stand last June — as star witness for both Apple and the DOJ’s antitrust division — he was negotiating e-book rights with publishers using what he described as his usual modus operandi: Setting a deadline, offering identical terms to all the players, and keeping each of them apprised of how close Apple was to the critical mass it would need to enter a new market.
In the Bloomberg story that got so much play Wednesday — Apple Said to Plan New TV Box Amid Time Warner Cable Talks — Cue is back on stage in a scene with all the same dramatic elements.
This time Apple seems to be trying to herd video producers and cable operators into deals timed to the unveiling of the next version of the Apple TV set-top box, reportedly in April. It remains to be seen whether Steve Jobs’ little “hobby” is ready to graduate into a device worthy of the new treatment it’s getting on Apple’s online store, where it’s featured as the fifth product line, right there alongside the iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac.
What gives Cue’s reappearance special poignancy at this juncture is that Apple — having fiercely resisted the inquiries of Michael Bromwich, an antitrust monitor who by his own admission wanted to “crawl into” the company and interview all its board members and top executives, including Cue — just got an appellate court to rein the monitor in.
Bromwich was assigned the task by Judge Denise Cote. She’s the U.S. district judge who decided last July that Apple had conspired to fix the price of e-books and that Cue, despite his denials, was the conspiracy’s ringmaster. (Apple has appealed her decision).
In her 160-page ruling, Judge Cote made it clear that she did not find Cue’s testimony particularly credible. On the contrary. “Cue’s denial of prior knowledge of Sargent’s trip to Amazon,” she wrote at one point, “was particularly brazen.”
Did Cote suspect that Cue might be up to his old tricks? Did she hope that Bromwich, by crawling inside company, might find out?
Perhaps. What we do know is that Eddy Cue has been a busy man, and that Apple, for whatever reason, has fought hard to keep the antitrust monitor out of his hair.