We’re here to entertain you
Vodafone boss wants to provide the place Kiwis go for content,
In some ways, Jason Paris’ appointment as Vodafone NZ’s new chief executive will be a joy for staff. In others, not so much. “We need to relaunch a lot of our policies. People get two weeks off a year — that we pay for — to work on community initiatives,” the new boss tells the
NZ Herald towards the end of his first week.
“Two weeks! No one takes it because no one knows about it.” They will soon, as Paris moves to boost the telco’s culture, which already includes perks such as flexi hours for parents of young children.
But Paris also has a flintier task. His predecessor, Russell Stanners, was hard to pin down on any specifics for the mooted float of Vodafone’s New Zealand business.
Paris, by contrast, gets straight down to brass tacks.
“My remit is to get the business in shape over 2019 to list in 2020,” he says.
“I’d like to see us on a better commercial trajectory before we list.” Growth is too low and costs too high, he says.
Vodafone NZ hasn’t done a good enough job of marketing Vodafone TV and various mobile and broadband products, Paris says (marketing boss Matt Williams announced his resignation around the same time as Stanners; he has been replaced by former NZME and MYOB executive Carolyn Luey).
Vodafone staff looking across the street to Spark — which is now at the sharp end of shaving $48 million a year off its wage bill as part of its “agile” restructure — will likely be nervous.
“I’m a big supporter and we have been accelerating towards agile ourselves. Vodafone has tens of thousands of our people working agile around the world already,” Paris says.
“However, cross-functional teams working together towards a common goal that is co-created with customers has always been the best way to work. It’s how we worked in Pak’n’Save when I stacked shelves as a 15-year-old.”
Paris also has expansion plans and is looking to implement “eight or nine” ideas he picked up in Britain. He says local staff had many of the same ideas when he talked with about 100 of them during a “designated CEO stint” in September and October.
So what took him to the UK? Last December he quit Spark — where he was effectively Simon Moutter’s second in command — to join Vodafone Group as director of convergence for the Middle East and Asia Pacific.
His jargon-speak job title drew chortles locally. It was widely assumed that Stanners was on the way out. Paris had been seconded to the mother ship for Vodafone corporate indoctrination as he sat out his non-compete period with Spark. After all, Vodafone had previously recruited senior executives from the colonies, then returned them to their home countries as CEOs.
Paris still affects surprise at this theory. “This isn’t what I signed up for,” he says.
He had decamped for London with his wife (Bell Gully partner Rachel Paris) and young children with expectations of an extended OE.
Still, when he learned in March that he would start the Vodafone NZ CEO role on November 1, “I became a bit of a man on a mission. I wanted to, selfishly, look at what I could copy and replicate in New Zealand based on what’s been a success in other markets,” he says.
He says Vodafone New Zealand has to do a better job of taking advantage of the multinational’s scale and expertise, and get products from other markets here faster. He has his eye on internetof-things automotive services in Europe and agritech solutions developed by Vodafone’s subsidiary in South Africa, among other Vodafone products.
Paris seems to have had an amicable split with Spark. He continued to do contract work for his former employer for several weeks after his resignation, while Moutter ribbed him with some good-natured one-liners on Twitter.
Nevertheless, the pair can be expected to compete fiercely in the mobile and broadband markets.
Other areas are more nuanced, however.
Whereas Stanners stood shoulder to shoulder (often literally, during merger briefings) with Sky TV boss John Fellet, Paris is intrigued by Spark’s recent foray into sports rights — and is open to exploring various angles.
“If the industry in New Zealand wants streaming sports to be successfully executed, then it makes sense for us to work with Spark, and it makes sense for Spark to work with us.”
This week, Spark said it would work to release an app in the new year called Spark Sport, which it will use to stream the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Formula 1 races, English Premier League soccer and other sports to which it has recently secured rights.
Paris says Vodafone would like to bundle Spark Sport with Vodafone TV’s set-top box, which is currently centred on channels from Sky TV, though it does also have Netflix, TVNZ and 3Now apps.
He says he wants Spark to succeed with streaming the Rugby
My remit is to get the business in shape over 2019 to list in 2020.
World Cup. Vodafone TV boxes could be pitched as the easiest way to get the internet-delivered Spark Sport app onto a regular telly.
But although it could be a sweet technical solution, there could be political and commercial complications.
When the service now known as Vodafone TV was owned by TelstraClear, the TelstraClear boss Allan Freeth complained publicly that the restrictive nature of his company’s wholesale agreement with Sky TV had become a “pain point” — particularly a provision limiting the amount of non-Sky content that could be carried by TelstraClear.
After briefly halting his Herald interview to consult with a Vodafone TV manager, Paris says Vodafone’s wholesale agreement with Sky TV does put “some restrictions” on the non-Sky content Vodafone can carry.
He says any issues with adding Spark Sport as an option for Vodafone TV customers can probably be worked through. The
Herald’s guess is that Fellet will be quite taken aback. Fellet has long said that Netflix is a complement rather than a competitor to Sky. Spark Sport, on the other hand, is trying to eat his lunch.
And Fellet could get more nervous when he hears about Paris’ broader plan to make Vodafone TV available to everyone, not just Vodafone customers, and his intention to partner with all-comers.
“I want us to be the entertainment platform for New Zealand,” Paris says — though emphasising that he wants Vodafone TV to aggregate content from partners.
“We’ll leave the content acquisition game to Spark. We won’t be entering and competing for the content rights ourselves,” he says. “We’ll partner with Spark, Sky, MediaWorks and TVNZ — any content provider we’ll have a conversation with.”
Spark’s Moutter has been campaigning for the Government to get a wriggle on with 5G — the next major upgrade to mobile network technology. The Crown must start the 5G auction process as soon as possible, the Spark boss says. He frets about whether a mobile network upgrade can be live in time for the America’s Cup. He says it’s vital for our economy to remain competitive.
Paris takes quite a different tack.
“We’re going to embrace 5G like it’s our best friend. We’re not shy or scared of it,” he says, noting a local trial, and a € 90m Vodafone 5G pilot in Europe.
But, “if we released 5G tomorrow in New Zealand, I don’t think you’d be willing to pay $5 or $10 more for it. As an industry, we have to get out of this ‘invest more and get less’ mode.
“So what I want to see before we accelerate 5G is the customer use cases that justify us accelerating it and bringing it forward.
“We’ll embrace it, we’ll be up with the best, but I would like to see us create some value for us as well as our customers from this — not just cost for us and discounts for our customers.”