TORONTO – We don’t remember Shaw Communications COO Jay Mehr speaking before the telecom industry in such a forum before, so rather than try to weave a narrative from his 30-minute fireside chat with CTS organizer Mark Goldberg Tuesday afternoon, we thought we’d pick out a few bullet points from his Toronto talk.
On handling change in the media and network space
“It seems kind of counter-intuitive in a world of rapid-fire change, that our focus is on orderly, managed change – and I know (CEO) Brad (Shaw) has been clear to our company that he doesn’t want to defend our legacy business models, he wants to lead our customers and partner with our customers to where their behaviour is headed… that makes my role the orderly, managed element of that.”
However, “orderly, managed change doesn’t imply that we’re in any control of the change. The customer is completely in control… Don’t think that we believe we’re calling the shots… but in that world, you have to apply focus, you have to apply order. You have to make a small number of bets,” because otherwise you’ll spin in all directions, he said.
Shaw now thinks of itself not as a cable and media company but as “a network and content experience company.”
How is the Wi-Fi rollout going?
“It’s still in early days. Brad, a number of years ago, landed on Wi-Fi as part of our future. It didn’t land with the rest of us right away… but it looks wicked smart now… It’s fundamentally about becoming our customers’ primary network.” Whether at home, at a coffee shop, arena, mall, wherever people go and hang out “we want them to be on the Shaw network.” Customers have to authenticate to get on, but then they are tied into thousands of Shaw Wi-Fi zones throughout its cable territories, he explained.
“Partnerships with municipalities get you into the areas and the libraries and the parks and transit stations and where people congregate.” Many municipalities have taken Shaw up on its offer of providing free Wi-Fi for everyone in certain public areas of many western cities, in lieu of paying the city a fee for installation.
As for investors who worry about payback on the wireless investment? “We’ve already monetized churn benefits in excess of our total investment to date in Wi-Fi,” said Mehr. Plus, it’s paying off in intangible benefits, too, where western consumers are just liking Shaw more because its wireless is everywhere.
On Shaw’s pullback from a traditional wireless play (it spent $190 million on AWS in 2008)?
“We tried. No matter how many different ways we looked at it, we just couldn’t get the economics to make sense… And look at what has happened since. I think that’s played out in terms of what likely would have happened to us as well… It wasn’t like it was close and it was a call… sometimes you do have to listen to the spreadsheets,” he said.
On potential mergers or acquisitions, or a spinoff of satellite division Shaw Direct?
“There aren’t that many assets available in Canada today. Our family is pretty committed to the business and said so publicly and they like to operate. In terms of Shaw Direct, we recently went the other way… In April we put the Cable and Satellite businesses together,” and then realigned everything “based on every experience a consumer could enjoy from Shaw and every experience a business could enjoy from Shaw. So we’ve actually gone further to integrate satellite and cable into our consumer and business units.”
Photo by Michal Tomaszewski