As more Canadians shun traditional television for online video streaming, a major Canadian cable company is looking to entice the growing horde of cord-cutters.
Following in the footsteps of U.S. cable giant Comcast, Rogers Communications Inc. is rolling out a service for its broadband-only customers that will give them a new way to access their video streaming services.
Cord-cutting has been accelerating in recent years in response to a growing selection of online streaming options, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus, threatening the profits of purveyors of traditional TV.
As a group, Canada’s big cable and telecom providers lost an aggregate total of about 270,000 television customers last year, according to data from Toronto-based consumer research consultancy Solutions Research Group.
This year, they are expected to lose 455,000, an increase that Solutions Research Group’s president Kaan Yigit says is being driven partly by the economic effects of the pandemic, as well as by strong uptake of Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus.
Although people are spending more time at home, causing video consumption to rise, some households are also looking to save money as the impact of the pandemic continues, Mr. Yigit said. Nine per cent of Canadian customers contacted their provider to request better pricing on TV in the past three months, according to the consultancy firm’s research.
“We expect that pressure to continue,” Mr. Yigit said in an e-mail. “Unaddressed, they will cut the cord.”
Canadian households pay a median of $80 for their monthly TV subscription, Mr. Yigit added. “For households where sports is not a big passion, the cable subscription is increasingly looking like a lot of money. This is not new but now takes a new meaning postpandemic.”
Rogers has a new proposition for those customers eschewing traditional TV in favour of streaming: offering convenience by bringing all of the services together in one place. The company is rolling out a new product called SmartStream that, for $5 a month, provides its internet-only customers with a set-top box and voice-activated remote that will help them find their favourite shows. It will also give them access to additional content from services such as Tubi, Zone-ify and XITE.
“I’m a big fan of fantasy and science fiction,” said Eric Bruno, senior vice-president of 5G, content and connected home products at Rogers, recalling his excitement when two new shows – The Witcher and Carnival Row – came out late last year.
“For the life of me, I couldn’t remember which one was on Netflix and which one was on Prime Video and you know what? I didn’t need to, because I could pick up my voice remote and say ‘The Witcher.‘ ”
The devices are the same as those provided to Rogers’ cable-TV subscribers, making it easier for customers to upgrade to traditional television service if they choose to – but Mr. Bruno insists that isn’t the company’s ultimate goal.
“There are a bunch of people who aren’t going to come back to traditional cable, and that’s okay,” he said.
Instead, the company is looking to attract internet customers and gain a foothold in the race to own the connected home. Currently, customers can use the SmartStream device to manage their Rogers home internet service – in the long run, the company hopes it will serve as a hub for other connected devices, as well.
“One of the things we want to be able to do for our broadband-only customers is help them manage their whole house,” Mr. Bruno said.
Edward Jones analyst Dave Heger said the move appears to be a way for Rogers to get an additional $5 a month in incremental revenue from some of its broadband customers. In the long run, however, the company may wind up offering the service at no charge to attract new internet subscribers, like Comcast did in the United States. (The Rogers service uses Comcast’s X1 video platform.)
Editor’s note: This story has been changed to clarify that the loss of television subscribers by big cable and telecom providers last year was an aggregate total.
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