Bell Media will allow its television subscribers to watch Bravo in real time regardless of the type of screen they want to use, making it the first Canadian broadcaster to give unlimited online access to one of its channels as part of a broader plan to keep viewers from cutting their cords.
The move comes as television providers look for ways to keep subscribers from leaving them for less expensive online alternatives such as Netflix. The rush to provide online content has left the television providers scrambling to roll out their products, which have been in development for years but are only now ready for subscribers.
While the rate of cord cutting is accelerating in Canada, the television industry is still adding new subscribers each year. A study by PwC earlier this week said as many as 800,000 new subscribers will sign up over the next five years, a reduced rate of growth from historical averages that suggests more people are opting for alternative ways to access programming.
There are about 12 million households with television subscriptions in Canada, and an estimated two million Netflix subscribers. But while traditional television subscriptions are making small gains, Netflix has doubled its audience in the last year and poses the biggest challenge to the industry.
Astral Media stepped into the mobile TV market earlier this year with its TMN Go product that allows anyone who subscribes to the channel to access content online and via mobile devices, but it only offers library content and not live streaming. Rogers Media has also been developing a mobile strategy.
One reason for the delay was that television providers often don't own the online rights for shows they purchased several years ago, and have only recently started negotiating for the right to broadcast the shows on other platforms.
"This launch represents a technical rebirth for all our brands, bringing them to more platforms and featuring more programming, both live and on demand, than ever before, and offers new opportunities for broadcasters, advertisers, and TV service providers," Bell Media president Kevin Crull said.
Bell Media said it would extend its "TV Everywhere" offering to CTV in the fall, which would mean some of the country's most popular shows would be available to subscribers on multiple devices in addition to televisions. Viewers will be able to access them via WiFi and cellular connections.
Other television providers could offer their subscribers access to Bell's "TV Anywhere" package, but must negotiate with Bell for access.
Bell made the announcement on its "up front" day as it announced new programming for the coming year. It also said it would start working with Twitter to better understand how viewers are using social media when watching television. Shaw Communications, which owns Global, made a similar announcement at its up front Wednesday.
"The research will focus on the social TV behaviour of Canadian viewers, the return on investment of social TV initiatives, and the relationship between audience engagement and Twitter activity," Mr. Crull said.
Kirstine Stewart, who recently left her job as head of vice-president of English services as the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to run Twitter Canada, said the partnership would allow Twitter to "accelerate the development of analytic tools mentioned and we look forward to sharing the findings with clients and industry."
BCE, Bell Media's parent company, owns a 15-per-cent stake in The Globe and Mail.