How the digital age turns competitors into collaborators

The breakdown of old media business models is driving new, sometimes unexpected partnerships

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, delivering a keynote in May 2015. (Noam Galai/WireImage/Getty)

“I have a core belief: People want to consume content over a mobile phone,” Rogers Communications CEO Guy Laurence told a press conference on September 14. That central tenet underlies a host of new initiatives at the telecom giant over the past 21 months, including a recent partnership with Spotify that offers free access to the music-streaming service for many Rogers wireless customers.

Laurence wants to stop talking to consumers about the price tag for a megabyte of data and start highlighting the movies, TV and music that can be consumed with those megabytes. Rogers (which also owns Canadian Business) has pursued this goal in diverse ways, sometimes creating its own services, as it did with Shomi, a video on demand service. It also launched new ventures in partnership other companies, as with its $100-million commitment to build a new content studio with Vice Media.

This era of strategic partnerships can make it difficult to draw distinctions between competitors and collaborators. As a wireless provider, Rogers sells Apple products in its retail stores and supports them on its networks. Yet the tech company recently launched Apple Music, a direct competitor to Spotify. Conversely, Spotify has a relationship with Rogers, yet its service is equally available to customers of other wireless services. “It’s a feature of the world we’re all in right now,” says Laurence. He noted that Rogers has a cable business, but has also benefited from the rise of Netflix and launching its own video-on-demand service.

“It’s not about doing something at the exclusion of something else,” said Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, in Toronto to discuss the partnership with Rogers. “The days of dictating to the consumers what they should get is over. What we can do is create best-in-class experiences where we come together and create a solution that benefits from more deeply understanding each others’ customers.”

Ek noted the Rogers team-up gave Canadian consumers an affordable way to discover Spotify. He noted Rogers’ portfolio of radio stations and video content producers could create other ways for the companies to collaborate in the future: “It’s taking all the things that we currently do well and finding exciting new things for our customers.”