News

All-Digital Migrates North of the Border

8/29/2004 8:00 PM Eastern

Rogers Cable Inc. has rolled out an all-digital overlay to digital set-top subscribers in systems serving several Ontario towns, with deployment set for the rest of the province later this year.

Rogers said all analog channels will be digitized in Brampton, Bolton, Scarborough and Pickering, allowing the cable company to match satellite-TV marketing materials that promote all-digital DBS lineups.

The channels will still be available in analog format to subscribers who don’t have digital capability.

VOD, SVOD TOO

Rogers also said it will launch video-on-demand and subscription VOD services in markets with the all-digital package.

“We’ve always been fairly forward-thinking in terms of capacity planning,” said Rogers vice president and general manager of cable-TV products David Purdy.

Rogers has upgraded most of its systems to 860-Megahertz capacity, providing more than 400 channels plus HDTV, digital video recording and VOD in many markets.

With 860-Mhz capacity, the move to a digital simulcast wasn’t a bid to gain capacity. Rather, the point was to pronounce that Rogers — like its direct-broadcast satellite competitors — offers 100% digital service.

“We wanted to make sure the 100% message wasn’t exclusive to satellite,” Purdy said. “With Rogers, you can get the simplicity and ease of analog or the sophistication, choice and control of digital. We’re doing this so we can deliver the marketing message we’re 100% digital.”

Rogers serves 2.3 million subscribers in Canada, with 2 million in its core Ontario systems. The company boasts 600,000 digital customers, for a 27% rate of penetration.

In the first six months of 2004, Rogers added 54,000 digital customers, while losing 17,000 basic subscribers. The company counts 850,000 high-speed Internet households.

Rogers launched digital service about two years ago, with 60 plus channels of sports, cultural programming and other fare. Digital subscribers also have access to 48 pay-per-view channels and a similar number of music channels.

“This was the springboard for digital adoption in Canada,” Purdy said.

The simulcast involved offering the system’s 70 analog channels in digital form. But digital feeds already exist for many of those channels, so it was a matter of finding them and remapping them on the Ontario systems, he said.

For example, Rogers carries broadcast stations from each of the country’s five time zones in a time-shifted model that allows a consumer five different opportunities to see the same Oprah.

“That’s enormously popular,” Purdy said. Those stations already appear in digital format for inclusion in Rogers cable service.

Many of the other satellite channels originate in digital form. In other cases, Rogers is re-encoding analog signals into the digital format, he said.

Rogers offers a basic-cable package of about 28 analog channels for roughly $24 Canadian (about $18.31 in U.S. dollars) per month. It then offers subscribers three other programming tiers, each containing from six to 15 channels.

Subscribers can buy any tier individually or purchase the entire package for $44.

ROOM FOR MORE

About 60% of subscribers take the entire package and more than 90% take at least one of the tiers, he said.

“Our intention is to roll this out across the country,” he said.

Even with the simulcast, Purdy said Rogers has room for more channels — including HDTV content, if it comes along. “We do have room left, even at 860 Mhz. We’re planning on being the leaders on HD and on digital.”

MSO-owned Rogers Sportsnet just carried its 100th HDTV telecast this summer, Purdy said. It has produced 70 Toronto Blue Jays baseball games in HD, along with basketball and other sporting events.

The MSO is rolling out Scientific-Atlanta Inc. boxes, including the Explorer 32000 and Explorer 8000 HD and HD/DVR boxes.

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