April 26, 2013
Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s Tom Rogers was an avid reader of TV Guide, which was then one of the world’s most popular magazines. But his interests were decidedly different than the average teen reader’s. “Even before I read the stuff about the shows, I always first went to the page with the blurb about the [Federal Communications Commission] and industry developments,” he recalls.
That determination to learn as much as possible about the TV business has been the hallmark of a remarkable career that has seen Rogers make a notable impact on government regulation, cable TV, streaming media and, now, on the tech world as the president and CEO of TiVo, longtime associates say.
“A lot of people become experts in one area,” says David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications, who worked with Rogers at NBC and later sat on TiVo’s board for nearly 10 years. “But Tom has this enormous intellectual curiosity that has allowed him to become an expert in so many areas. I’d have to say he is probably the most knowledgeable entertainment executive I know.”
Rogers graduated from Columbia Law School in 1979, worked for a Wall Street law firm and then landed what he calls his “dream job on Capitol Hill” in 1981. There, as senior counsel to the House of Representatives Telecommunications, Consumer Protection and Finance Subcommittee, Rogers was deeply involved in drafting a number of communications bills, including the landmark Cable Communications Act of 1984, which helped spark a period of major growth in the cable industry.
“We got it through by the skin of our teeth, but it was critical to the development of the cable industry because, before that, the industry had been subject to so much stifling regulation,” Rogers says.
Rogers next took a job, in 1987, as NBC’s first president of cable. He launched CNBC in 1989, set up the joint venture with Microsoft for the creation of MSNBC and made a number of investments, including a stake in Rainbow Media that laid the foundation for what is now a major portfolio of channels owned by NBCUniversal.
But at the time, Rogers faced opposition from cable operators, who were launching their own channels, and from within the broadcast network itself, where many doubted the wisdom of pushing into cable, Zaslav recalls.
“It wasn’t clear that business news would be successful,” Zaslav says. “At the time no cable news services were making money, and a lot of the entertainment channels were struggling. It took a lot of tenacity and backbone to keep those businesses alive.”
That tenacity, and an ability to develop emerging businesses, have also been crucial to his success at TiVo, adds Tom Wolzien, lead director on the TiVo board, who had worked with Rogers at NBC.
TiVo revolutionized the TV industry with the 1999 launch of its DVR, which allowed users to record programming, skip ads and find content much more easily. But when Rogers joined TiVo’s board of directors in 2003 and assumed his current post in 2005, many operators were debuting their own DVRs, and TiVo’s prospects suddenly seemed dim.
“The company was in very difficult shape, and he pulled it out,” Wolzien says of Rogers, who pushed to expand the reach of TiVo’s products and tenaciously pursued a series of lawsuits to defend the company’s intellectual property. The litigation dragged out for more than seven years but eventually produced around $1.6 billion in legal wins that gave the company secure financial footing.
Rogers also continued a tradition of innovation by adding features for online video streaming, mobile access and personalizing content, says Tara Maitra, senior VP and general manager of content and media sales at TiVo, and a longtime colleague.
“Tom is always looking ahead to see where the market is going,” she says. “TiVo was the first to make Netflix and Amazon available and one of the first to incorporate YouTube.”
Rogers has also worked tirelessly to sell TiVo’s products, cutting deals with half of the 20 largest operators in the U.S. and gaining significant traction internationally with rollouts on Virgin, Sweden’s Com Hem and a number of other European operators’ systems. “It is amazing how Tom has been able to transform TiVo from being seen as the enemy of the TV industry into a major strategic partner,” Maitra says.
Rogers’ tenacious pursuits gave him a reputation as a tough negotiator, but friends and colleagues also tell numerous stories of how he has worked equally hard to help employees through family crises or help people find new jobs. He worked with Wolzien to set up TiVo’s successful paidintern program for veterans, which won an IRTS Mentorship Award in 2012.
Outside the office, much of Rogers’ time is devoted to his family of three kids, all of whom are now in college. His wife of 30 years, Sylvia, is herself a notable entrepreneur; she owns Leapin’ Lizards, the largest indoor family and kids entertainment center in Westchester County, N.Y.
But even at home, Rogers displays his relentless curiosity about what is going on in the world, TiVo-ing 80 to 100 hours of news programming each week, as he continues the company’s mission of “redefining the future of TV,” he says.
“As we’ve gone from seven channels to 800 channels and now a world of infinite choices with TV sets connected to high-speed Internet, we’re focused on helping consumers organize the chaos so that every time they turn on the TV, TiVo will give them exactly what is the most important and relevant content.” — George Winslow