Ottawa -- After years of delays caused by equipment
shortages, three of Canada's leading MSOs say digital cable is available to most, if not
all, of their subscribers.
"About 95 percent of our customers can get digital if
they so choose," said Peter Bissonnette, president of Shaw Cablesystems G.P. Across
Canada, Shaw has about 150,000 General Instrument Corp. DCT-1000 and DCT-2000 digital
set-top boxes in service.
"Digital is available to over 90 percent of our
customers in our urban markets," added Dermot O'Carroll, vice president of
engineering and operations at Rogers Cablesystems. Rogers, a primarily urban MSO, has
deployed about 38,000 Scientific-Atlanta Inc. Explorer 2000 digital set-tops.
Overall, Rogers has 2.2 million cable-TV subscribers and
Shaw has 1.8 million.
Cogeco Cable Canada Inc., the country's No. 4 MSO, has
30,000 DCT-2000s installed in its Ontario and Quebec systems. That's slightly more than
No. 3 MSO Le Groupe Vidéotron Ltée., the only major Canadian cable operator that hasn't
deployed digital over most of its territory.
Quebec-based Vidéotron has rolled about 24,000
Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 2000 set-tops in Montreal, and is just starting to deploy them
in the rest of the province.
A major factor driving the digital deployments is the
swapping out of old equipment. Shaw and Cogeco are exchanging analog set-tops used by
their pay TV customers for digital replacements. Rogers is doing this with its medium- and
heavy-use analog pay TV customers.
Another factor is the extra programming available only on
digital cable. Although primarily based on foreign-language channels such as the Asian
Television Network and Deutsche Welle, this content is drawing subscribers, said Colette
Watson, Rogers' vice-president of programming and public relations. She estimates that of
the 38,000 digital cable boxes deployed by Rogers, only 16,000 are swap-outs. This
translates into a net gain of 22,000 pay TV subscribers for Rogers.
Shaw's huge lead in digital can be attributed to its move
to switch boxes while freezing subscription rates for three months. It is also receiving
help from a retail-distribution network that already sells Shaw@Home, the company's
high-speed Internet access service. "We're in about 300 retailers for @Home, and
we're putting DCTs into each of those retailers," said Bissonnette. Sales are so
brisk, "we can't keep the boxes in our retail stores."
Ironically, while Canada's other MSOs are phasing out
analog set-tops, Vidéotron is planning to hold onto its boxes for a while longer. The
company has about 250,000 of its unique "Videoway" terminals deployed in Quebec
The analog terminals, which were the state of the art when
released in 1991, provide electronic mail and games, and switch between channels faster
than digital set-tops, said Jean-Paul Garleneau, Vidéotron's general manager of
communications. As a result, many Vidéotron digital-cable subscribers are keeping their
Videoways and attaching them to their "second TVs."
This means Vidéotron receives two equipment-rental fees
from these homes each month, instead of one, he said.