Tom Rogers

The Innovator

As the president and CEO of TiVo, Tom Rogers ’79 is leading a charge to make television viewing a more personalized and enjoyable experience

By Seth Stevenson

Fall 2013

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In July 1969, 15-year-old Tom Rogers ’79 held a reel-to-reel audio recorder up to the speaker of the TV set in his parents’ Westchester home. He had decided to tape Walter Cronkite’s broadcast of the moon landing. He thought he might want to listen to it again later.

“It’s clear that, as a consumer, even back then, I longed for TiVo capabilities,” Rogers says. Thirty-six years later, in July 2005, Rogers became president and CEO of TiVo, Inc.—which is best known for inventing the  device to digitally record and replay TV shows.

Always an avid television viewer, Rogers kept stacks of TV Guide issues on his bedside table as a child. He surmises he was one of very few teenagers who eagerly looked forward to the magazine’s coverage of industry news. By the time Rogers enrolled at Columbia Law School, he had stirred government policy into his mix of interests. “I was fascinated by the intersection of media and regulation,” he recalls.

During his time in Morningside Heights, Rogers studied media law and kept tabs on the communications industry landscape. After graduation, during a two-year stint as an attorney at a Wall Street firm, Rogers worked on an antitrust case involving local TV stations.

Rogers headed to Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s to serve as counsel to the congressional subcommittee dealing with media and telecommunications law. It was a key moment in the history of television. Cable TV was exploding in popularity, and Rogers led the drafting of the Cable Act of 1984, which created the federal framework for governing the industry. Over the next few years, all three broadcast networks switched ownership hands—with Rogers working in-depth on many of the associated regulatory issues. His talents impressed Jack Welch, the legendary chairman of General Electric, which then owned NBC, and soon enough Rogers was appointed the first president of NBC’s new cable division. There, he founded CNBC and MSNBC, and oversaw an array of cable channels, including A&E, History, Bravo, AMC, and Court TV. In 1999, he moved on to become CEO of Primedia—a major player in the print, online, and video realms—before eventually settling in at TiVo.

With Rogers at the helm, TiVo has tripled in value and won an Emmy Award for TV innovation. He has taken TiVo from its original roots as the creator of the DVR to now being what Rogers refers to as “the leader in providing next generation TV to the cable industry.” He has also led the company in patent litigation against Motorola, Cisco, Verizon, and AT&T, racking up more than $1 billion in court victories. Rogers’ legal acumen has proven invaluable throughout. “I deal with significant legal issues,” he says, “from regulatory interpretation to patent enforcement. I’ve often thought that I could never have the insights I bring to my role as CEO without my legal training.”

As for the day-to-day appeal of the brand, TiVo loyalists point to this high praise from a 2010 Wired magazine article: “There are exactly three companies in this world that are truly great at interface design—Apple, Google, and TiVo.” Meanwhile, presiding over a company that helps viewers more elegantly explore the television landscape seems a perfect fit for Rogers, who will be inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame this year. He keeps 10 TiVo boxes around his house and records about 80 hours of TV each week (mostly news and current events), using his remote to fast-forward and rewind as he watches. “We’re in a world of infinite media choices,” says Rogers, “and that can be chaotic for consumers. TiVo’s mission is to organize the chaos.”

Seth Stevenson has written for Slate and The New Republic, among other publications.

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Photographed by Peter Freed