Business

The hoisting of the jolly Rogers

Ian Brown January 22 1979
Business

The hoisting of the jolly Rogers

Ian Brown January 22 1979

The hoisting of the jolly Rogers

Business

Ted Rogers personifies enthusiasm: he is a team man, a hustler, the PR man’s PR man. “You sit there and you listen,” says a colleague who has worked for Rogers on some of his most crucial projects, “and you ask yourself, ‘What is this?’ But let me tell you, you believe.”

And with good reason. Last week, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission had fulfilled 15 years of father worship and approved the 45-year-old Rogers Telecommunications Ltd. president’s $35million grab for 50.01 per cent—almighty control—of Canadian Cablesystems Ltd., the country’s second largest cable television operator. For CCL Chairman Tony Griffiths (the only CCL executive not to have been offered a position by Rogers) it meant certain resignation and a shot at Premier Cablevision Ltd.’s presidency in Vancouver; for Rogers, an $18-million bank loan and the largest cable television company in Canada—$58 million in revenue in a $235-million industry, 17 per cent of the country’s cable subscribers, and 37 per cent of the Toronto market; for Canada, according to one industry expert, it showed “the future shape of Canada’s broadcasting industry.”

Still quaking is CCL’s management. Says one CCL vice-president, “Rogers spends a lot of time doing things that aren’t necessarily consistent with tradi-

tional management practices.” Like entering the boardroom of Premier Cablevision Ltd. with a three-piece Hawaiian band and four hula dancers 11 months ago in an earlier, unsuccessful try at expansion. “I wanted to show them the cable business was now show business,” booms the bemonogrammed music buff who loved manipulating the mood of

parties with sounds and lights while managing 10 bands, tap dancing and flunking out of Upper Canada College. “You try to say something. And I always want to be pals.”

Which is why, 17 years after graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School, he spent $16,000 and three hotel-bound days in Hull’s Auberge des Gouverneurs last September trying to convince the CRTC that he knew best. Buttressed with lawyers led by John Graham, who is RTL’s chairman and Rogers’ stepfather, Rogers practised the art of persuasion as learned from former CRTC chairman Pierre Juneau, offering the country in return for what one opponent calls “the chance to be Mr. Big” some $3 million in social dividends. Among them are a satellite consortium for cable operators and a massive rationalization of Toronto’s patchwork cable system. “It was the classic fight between the little guys with lots of heart and the corporate lawyer types,” said one observer. It was, says a CCL executive, much simpler. “Rogers is a well-known arch Conservative, and the Liberals don’t want to be perceived to be interfering with business just before an election.”

Others disagree. Although it turned down much larger Baton Broadcasting Inc.’s October dive for Multiple Access Ltd. for fear of hyper-concentrated ownership, the CRTC is now eager to develop a strong broadcasting presence for larger cable companies as a defence against a gluttonous Bell Canada, which plans to impinge on cable subscribers’ lives. The CRTC also wants to defend itself against federal Communications Minister Jeanne Sauvé and her department, who seek less power for the CRTC and more for themselves.

A Rogers-controlled CCL could stop that, though a final merger is two years off. It is a detail Ted Rogers will ignore while there are moods to be set, people to be enthused. “The most important priority,” he says, leaning over and tapping a listener’s shoe for emphasis, “is the war with the Bell. We must mobilize and close ranks, develop a national cable system.” He is now on his feet. “Next, is the satellite. Thirdly,”—others in the room have risen, Ginger to Rogers’ Astaire—“there is the American expansion of CCL,” where cable systems add 200,000 pay-TV subscribers a month. “And finally, there is the question of pay-TV.” But by then—as conversation moves to Rogers’ belief that Canadian content should be fostered by dollar quotas and not airtime requirements—the perfect sales act has feet of its own. Ted Rogers has forgotten his listeners and is talking to the television set, beseeching it with frantic hands, a

man talking to his maker.

Ian Brown