Guy Laurence isn’t one to mince words.
The brash British telecom executive, who took over as CEO of Rogers Communications last December, used the word “crybaby” to describe rival Bell, during an earnings call this week.
He went further, suggesting that Bell’s own bid for the coveted NHL hockey rights wasn’t innovative, theorizing that’s why it lost, and now is “complaining and trying to stifle innovation” over the Rogers GamePlus mobile app. Rogers signed a 12-year deal last year for exclusive rights in Canada to NHL games for a whopping $5.2 billion dollars.
Ironically, Rogers and Bell are also partners in owning Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment which includes the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA Toronto Raptors, Toronto Marlies, Toronto FC and various real estate and television assets.
Bell has filed a complaint with the CRTC, arguing GamePlus should be available to its customers, and not just to Rogers customers, who have access to special features such as on-ice camera angles. The current practice, Bell argues, violates CRTC digital media policy.
“Obviously, we don’t believe that we have transgressed any rules and we will continue to focus on delivering innovation for consumers and not fighting little petty fights such as this,” Laurence said on the call. “I don’t think they will win.”
A CRTC spokeswoman declined to comment, saying it was reviewing the complaint.
While telecom rivals have certainly sparred in the past, although usually with a polite veneer, it was unusual for an executive to use such a dismissive tone.
Iain Grant, managing director of the SeaBoard Group in Montreal, said Laurence and Rogers are shaking up the marketplace.
Grant pointed to the recent announcement that Rogers is teaming up with Netflix, the online streaming service, that was the subject of much hand-wringing over the future of Canadian television at CRTC hearings in Gatineau this fall.
“It’s hugely innovative. It was enormously clever,” said Grant. “Rather than complain, you join them.”
Netflix will deliver original programming with City stations, owned by Rogers Communications.
And of course, Grant pointed to the $5.2 billion deal with the NHL.
“I think Rogers had a strategic coup in purchasing the rights to the NHL,” he said, adding he expects the CRTC to come up with some Canadian compromise on the mobile app to protect the rights of both content owners and consumers.
“They paid money for it. Bell didn’t,” he said. “All the whinging in the world isn’t going to fix it. Kleenex is in Bell’s future.”
Grant called the NHL deal and the Netflix overture a huge move. “This is very much in the keeping of the spirit of Ted Rogers. This is exactly the type of spirit that he would applaud,” he added.
He expects more to come, noting Laurence told analysts and reporters listening on Thursday’s conference call, not to go on holidays, because news is expected in the coming weeks.
Eamon Hoey, managing partner of Hoey Associates, said as chief executive officer of Vodafone UK, Laurence has seen up close the intense telecom competition that exists in Europe.
“My sense would be he’s been here for a year – he’s looked at the Canadian market,” said Hoey. “I would be very surprised that he would be happy with the ballpark … He’s used to seeing big dollars and zeros.”
But Hoey says his goal would go beyond shaking things up inside his corporation to drive more profitability and efficiencies. “He’s going to be looking for growth. If you don’t grow, you don’t show,” Hoey argued. “You die from lack of growth.”
Independent tech analyst Carmi Levy thinks Laurence’s crybaby comment was simply trying to divert attention from results that fell short of expectations.
“It’s real easy to throw a firecracker to other side of the room,” he said. “On the surface, this is Guy Laurence being Guy Laurence. We expect this from him.”
Laurence was hired to be a transformational CEO, one who must reinvigorate the company, including recouping the $5.2 billion investment and engineering key growth related it, he said.
“You don’t do that by playing nice. You don’t do that by staying the course,” he said.