BCE Inc.'s president and chief executive officer George Cope wants you to forget Ma Bell, the land-line phone service provider of the early 1900s.
He wants people to think of Bell as the post-Olympics brand he has worked hard to create: The technologically savvy, yet friendly smart phone-providing company that cares. Now, Mr. Cope is trying to bring Bell from land-line phones, Internet service, cellphone and satellite TV to an Internet-based TV (IPTV) product, which the company is launching this summer in Toronto and Montreal alongside other North American carriers.
"Our goal is that by 2015, we'll be the largest provider of TV in Canada," he told a business crowd at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in downtown Toronto on Tuesday.
Like Telus Corp. before it, Bell has waited a long time to roll out IPTV, which many analysts think is crucial in an era where rival cable companies have already eaten into telcos' market share with Internet and home phone services.
"In the core downtown areas of Toronto and Montreal, our market share is less than what it is in the suburbs," Mr. Cope told reporters afterward. "We're basically targeting to capture share of the TV market from the cable operators. And that's what we're going to do. Where they entered the market in the local phone business a few years ago, we're entering the [TV]market."
But expanding the service isn't as simple as signing up customers: Companies have to plunge millions into their wired networks, running fibre-optic cable into either local neighbourhood "nodes" or right up to the home itself.
After significant investment, Telus reached 200,000 Internet TV subscribers by early April, after delays and experiments with different technologies. Bell has also delayed the launch of its service, and Mr. Cope said Bell has been waiting for AT&T Inc.'s efforts in the United States to show the return on investment. In the past year, AT&T signed up around one million IPTV customers, bringing its "U-verse" TV subscriber base to 2.3 million.
"You can argue that IPTV is better than cable," said Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose, noting the technology integrates with wireless devices and is more flexible in terms of pausing and watching from other household TV sets.
Bell is spending big on fibre in Quebec, where it faces steep competition from Quebecor Inc.'s Vidéotron Ltée. But the company is only now turning to TV after spending much of its $3-billion investments last year to launch a new wireless network with Telus.
Bell has around 1.9 million TV customers now, making it third largest in Canada, though some of this is Telus reselling its satellite service in Western Canada. Becoming the largest TV provider by 2015, as Mr. Cope hopes, will require monumental shifts in market share. Shaw Communications Inc. currently has around 3.2 million TV customers, including satellite subscribers; Rogers Communications Inc. has 2.3 million TV subscribers. Bell is currently the third largest TV provider, but will have more TV subscribers than Rogers, though not Shaw, by the end of 2012, according to estimates by Convergence Consulting Group Ltd.
Greg MacDonald, an analyst with National Bank Financial Inc., said a quality TV product is crucial given that the "bundle" (one company selling multiple telecom services to a household) is becoming the norm.
*Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about the number of Telus Internet TV subscribers. This version has been corrected. Telus reached 200,000 Internet TV subscribers by early April.