In Rogers president and CEO Nadir Mohamed’s office hangs a haunting portrait by Vancouver photographer Greg Girard. It’s a lone building in Shanghai’s old quarter, standing tall but fragile, surrounded by rubble and newly encroaching skyscrapers. Mohamed tells Iain Marlow that Rogers’ wireless and cable empire is not similarly under siege.
MLSE is obviously in play. How interested is Rogers? It’s funny you started with MLSE—it’s the one thing that I kind of look at and go, “Anything I say leads to speculation, so I just want to not comment.” What I can do is talk about media generally, because I think it puts how we view content in perspective. When I think in terms of what we want to be known for, I’m convinced it’s the right place to be—that intersection of content and distribution. And sports is one piece of that. How do you make it work across different platforms, devices, applications? That’s the sweet spot. We’ve now got all of the Blue Jays games on Sportsnet. We’ve secured the Oilers and the Flames on long-term, exclusive, multiplatform deals. Extend that on to cricket, knowing the mix of Canadians going forward. That, to me, is a case where we’ve picked an area where we want to be leading and we’ve gone at it.
Rogers has been battered by the new competition more than people expected, with players like Wind Mobile undercutting older ones. What do you make of the narrative of gloom that’s descended on the company? I remember, two or three years ago, we talked about wired going to wireless, linear broadcast going to the Web, conventional media going to digital. We knew those big-picture changes were about to take hold.
At the same time, we talked about new competition, whether it’s product maturity, new players getting into the business, Bell and Telus upgrading their wireless networks to HSPA. In that context, we set a game plan. We’ve been very focused, specifically within wireless, on continuing to lead on data. And if you look at performance all the way through Q1, right in the midst of everything you referred to, [we had]the highest number of smartphone new customer activations ever. Wireless data continues to grow at a staggering rate—30% growth in the quarter. And 45% of our customers now have smartphones. The flip side of it, in the context of all the new competitors, customer retention is hugely important—arguably more than acquisition.
What’s happened to Fido? I’ve heard it’s squeezed between your new Chatr brand at the low end and the Rogers brand at the high end. One of the things we’re very disciplined about is, how do you make sure that each one of the brands gets to truly take advantage of its positioning—and what you don’t want is brands bleeding into each other. With Fido, we feel very good about the positioning. We’re building the brand attributes so that segment of the market goes, “That’s the company.” With Chatr, same thing—it has a very different cost structure, a very different brand attribute. The multibrand strategy has actually allowed us to play differently in different markets. So, how we compete in Quebec’s going to be different from B.C. or Ontario.
Do you see something happening in Canada similar to NBC’s $4-billion bid for long-term United States broadcast rights to the Olympics? As you know, we partnered on the Olympics in Vancouver, and that partnership will continue through to 2012. We don’t see any reason that that would change; we certainly felt very good with our participation at Sportsnet. I think, at this stage, we’re covered in terms of 2012.
So there’s no looking ahead... We’re always looking ahead. Take the Rogers Arena in Vancouver. I remember when GM was struggling with their financial issues. You could have seen [us buying the arena from them]as, boy, that was really quick. But for the last little bit, we had actually been zeroing in on that property. These things always have a longer lead time than most people realize.