Ma Bell used to be known only as the country's biggest phone company. But in the space of five years it plans to be the country's biggest TV provider, outstripping cable companies by offering TV over the Internet.
That's the bold promise BCE Inc. chief executive officer George Cope made Thursday to shareholders at the company's annual general meeting in Montreal.
Bell Canada will start offering television to Internet subscribers in Toronto and Montreal later this year, he said, cities where the telco has recently opened its new Fibe fibre optic-based Internet service.
Next year IPTV will be a "major initiative," he added.
Bell will also continue selling satellite service, called Bell TV, to suburban and rural Canadians, but IPTV will concentrate in city cores.
"So we're fairly confident that by 2014 and 2015 we will be the largest provider in Canada of TV services," Cope said. Bell already has 1.8 million subscribers to its satellite TV service.
Earlier in the day Cope told financial analysts that Bell IPTV's goal is to take subscribers from cable companies.
According to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, in 2009 Rogers Communications Inc., with cable operations in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, was the country's biggest TV provider, with 2.3 million subscribers. Second was Shaw Communications Inc. with 2.7 million subscribers in Western Canada. However, Shaw may have leaped into number one with its purchase at the end of 2009 of a Hamilton, Ont. cable provider.
As of the first quarter, Cope told shareholders, Bell's Internet and satellite TV revenues exceeded home phone revenues for the first time in the company's history.
Cope didn't say that's partly because consumers here are following a North American trend of dumping local phone companies for voice over IP service and cellphones. It lost 99,000 business and consumer wireline phone customers in the quarter, an ongoing trend for all North American phone companies.
Because of the demand for the time of company executives at the annual general meeting, a company spokesman said no one was available to fill in details of the plan, such as pricing and what platform Bell's IPTV offering will run on.
But Cope did tell financial analysts that Bell will not trigger a price war with IPTV.
Telus Corp. has been offering IPTV on its home turf in B.C. and Alberta for several years, but it was only when it recently switched to Microsoft's Mediaroom and expanded its fibre optic network did subscriptions take off. With it subscribers can record a three programs simultaneously, and connect up to six HD televisions.
This week Telus said ITPV subscriptions in the first quarter soared 103 per cent over the same period a year ago.
Phone companies badly need a television offering to counter cable companies ability to bundle TV, home phone, wireless and Internet over their coaxial lines.