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Bell Executive Pushing Satellite Claims In Canada

By | April 23, 2008

      [Satellite News – 4-23-08] Bell Canada, which owns and runs Canada’s largest direct-to-home (DTH) operator, Bell ExpressVu, is pushing satellite technology as a solution to help the country become fully digital.
          If the operator is successful, even people in remote areas of the country would have access to the latest high-definition (HD) channels and digital TV services through satellite, said Gary Smith, president of the Bell Video Group.
          “We have spoken in public forums in Canada about the possibility of using satellite technology for the distribution of some of the over-the-air stations in high definition,” Smith said. “The terrestrial broadcasters in Canada are faced with a huge mountain of investment in Canada to upgrade and equip their terrestrial distribution facilities with HD. The cost of doing that is very high. Canada is a huge country, but even with much of the population concentrated in major cities the broadcasters need to serve customers outside of the major centers. We are in discussions with regulators and broadcasters to see whether there is a solution we can offer to bring satellite technology into this mix.”
          Bell ExpressVu, which has nearly 1.8 million subscribers in Canada, is making a big HD push in 2008, with the launch of a new satellite a catalyst for a number of new channels. “I think maintaining our HD position is an important aspect of our business,” said Smith. “That is why we are launching a new satellite later on this year. It is effectively replacing some of our existing capacity, but because it is brand new and will have plenty of power on the satellite, it will enable us to significantly increase the number of HD services we carry. That ensures we have the capacity. The HD market is not static. We now have around 60 to 65 HD channels, and that will grow as more broadcasters bring in HD variants of their channels.”
          Canada, which has a population of around 34 million, is a vibrant pay-TV market with satellite competing against a slew of cable players. Smith thinks satellite will be able to grow its market share. “We have about 18 [percent] to 20 percent of the pay-TV market in Canada on satellite,” he said. “I think that is going to grow. I am not sure it is ever going to 50 percent, but it will grow. I think DTH (direct to home) has a stable, long-term role in the Canadian marketplace for the next few years. How it pans out in the long term will depend on how extensive other IP delivery technologies or digital cable are able to succeed.”
          One of the key decisions for the Bell Canada management will be if and how to combine a satellite and IP pay-TV strategy, although it appears there is not yet a definite strategy in place to exploit both technologies. “IP and satellite remains an area which is full of opportunity, but Bell Canada is in a unique position in this respect as it has the Sympatico ISP business and our ExpressVu DTH business,” Smith said. “We have all the assets that are needed to do this, where as our peer companies across the border, DirecTV and EchoStar, have to rely on third-party relationships with telcos to do it. We are in a unique position to be able to exploit the potential of this market over time. I am sure this market will grow, but how it grows is yet to become clear.”
          While Bell ExpressVu’s customers have set-top boxes with Ethernet ports, they have not been connected to an IP infrastructure. Smith says this could be done “at very short notice,” but there are still a number of issues to be overcom, such as rights issues on different platforms. “We have to be very careful, because one of the main issues for any pay-TV platform is the content rights,” he said. “We have to be very careful to work with our content rights holders, the broadcasters and the Hollywood studios to make sure they are comfortable with the technology we are introducing. Quite frankly, some of them are just getting their heads around [personal video recorders], let alone VOD (video on demand), push VOD and IP delivery. It is also useful to see companies like Dish and DirecTV lead the way, because once they establish these principles it is much easier for us to adopt them in Canada, rather [than] fight for these principles ourselves, because we are relatively small on the world stage.”

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