On Wednesday night, with less than 48 hours left in his time at Rogers, Scott Moore did something he hadn’t done in more than a decade: He watched a hockey game, as a fan.
The head of Sportsnet and NHL at Rogers didn’t think about it like a producer, and didn’t spend the game e-mailing or evaluating the makeup of the broadcast. It was just for fun.
It was a change of pace for the man who led Rogers into a massive, $5.2-billion, 12-year deal for National Hockey League rights in Canada. The deal was part of an overhaul of Sportsnet, and a major bet on sports properties, sending the broadcaster on a new path. But now it’s time for him to step aside, Mr. Moore says. Earlier this month, Rogers announced he would be leaving his position. His last day at the company was Friday.
It’s one thing to do a landmark deal and to build something new − rocketing Sportsnet from a distant second place to knock Bell Media’s TSN off its perch − and it’s another thing to make it work in the long term.
“I’m a specialist in start-ups and turnarounds. And Sportsnet is no longer that. Sportsnet is a successful, mature business,” Mr. Moore said in an interview this week. “It’s always more fun to storm the castle than defend it. We’re defending the castle now. ... I’m looking for that next opportunity.”
The media business looks very different today from 2010, when Mr. Moore left his job as head of CBC Sports to join Rogers. At the time, Facebook, Amazon and YouTube were “marginal players in the content business,” he recalled; Netflix had only just launched in Canada and was not yet spending billions a year on original productions.
“We didn’t see the massive disruption that was coming,” Mr. Moore said. “... I don’t think we saw how important video online was going to be.”
David Purdy, a former Rogers executive and now chief revenue officer at Montreal-based Stingray Digital Group Inc., was working on a video-on-demand project at the time, referred to as the “Purdy Portal” by some at Rogers. A faction within the company thought he was crazy to suggest offering content on-demand and online, Mr. Moore recalled. It would have been way ahead of the curve, he says now − better than Netflix at the time, and years ahead of BCE Inc.'s CraveTV and that other project, what was it called again?
It was called Shomi − Rogers and Shaw Communications Inc. shut down that streaming service 2016 after less than two years. Maybe if they’d launched something like that Purdy Portal earlier, it could have fared better, Mr. Moore said. But it’s easy to say what would have worked, in hindsight.
Since then, Netflix’s growth has conditioned people to expect high-quality content, without ads, at an extremely cheap price, partly because Netflix is taking on debt to fuel its investments rather than leaning on subscribers to pay much more (for now). And Amazon invests in media as a driver for consumers to subscribe to its Amazon Prime service, and potentially spend more money within the Amazon retail ecosystem.
The rise of streaming services such as these has redefined the competitive landscape in broadcasting − appealing to customers who felt they had overpaid for cable bundles filled with channels they didn’t watch.
Mr. Moore himself got a taste of this. Before Bell Media sold the Family Channel to DHX Media in 2013, Rogers looked at buying it. Mr. Moore, then president of all of Rogers Media’s broadcasting business, thought he should probably watch the channel. But when he tried to order it, he had a small shock.
“It had been in my bundle for 20 years,” he recalled. “And we don’t have kids.”
A proliferation of digital options means that customers will only pay for content they actually want, Mr. Moore said.
That has prompted companies such as Rogers to invest even more heavily in sports, seeing the genre as a bulwark. Sports lovers will be more inclined to hang on to their cable subscriptions, the thinking goes, and will watch live (a valuable and increasingly rare audience for advertisers). Even fans who ditch cable might be persuaded to pay for a streaming subscription. These kinds of considerations led Rogers to pay handsomely for hockey, including the rights for digital streaming and for any other platform that had not yet emerged.
Mr. Moore thinks that when it comes to sports, the leagues will realize there is limited value in selling off digital rights separately and fragmenting their audience even further. And companies like DAZN don’t have the subscriber base to afford big sports deals, he said.
“I think rights fees are in for a correction,” he said. “... The consumer has reached the limit of what they’re prepared to pay for ESPN, TSN, Sportsnet.”
The leagues will need to seek out new sources of revenue, Mr. Moore said. He thinks a recent court decision in the United States that struck down a federal law against betting on sports in most states could pave the way for gambling revenues to become much more meaningful. And he thinks Canada won’t be far behind.
“In true Canadian fashion, it will have to be regulated some way. That is the next great revenue stream,” he said, adding that he believes the sports business is still healthy.
It will have to continue growing: The cost of the NHL deal is back-ended, like many rights deals, and rises from 5 per cent to 7 per cent each year, he said. Rogers’s plans hinge on advertising and subscription revenues outpacing that growth.
“[Rogers vice-chair] Phil Lind told me, ‘Every sports guy at every network in the world is always seen as the spender,’” Mr. Moore said. “Because of that, there’s a natural tension between finance and the sports guy. Sports rights are really expensive. ... I think we’re in good shape. Will there be a natural tension about making sure that we maximize margins? Yeah. That’s the curse of being in business.”
But that’s no longer Mr. Moore’s problem. Now, he’ll just be watching hockey for fun. The heavy lifting of seeing the $5.2-billion deal through, will be up to Rogers.