Shaw Media will make television programs available on mobile devices, joining cable and satellite companies scrambling to keep subscribers loyal by giving them more control over how they watch their favourite television shows.
Shaw announced on Tuesday an offering that will allow anyone who pays for a television subscription to watch Global programming live on other devices. The company wants cable, satellite and IPTV subscribers to watch shows such as Under the Dome and Big Brother when they are away from their televisions, instead of pushing them toward illegal copies that aren't available online.
Subscribers are increasingly fickle as cheaper online alternatives such as Netflix become mainstream and the technology required to find programs online becomes easier to use. Canadian companies added 52,000 new subscribers in 2012, according to a report by Convergence Consulting Group Ltd., a 77 per cent drop from the year earlier.
"Instead of having a hunting or stealing approach we're saying this is an added value to cable and who can beat that?" said Shaw Media president Paul Robertson. "What we see in our data is conventional television viewing still represents the largest portion of viewing opportunities, but there is a fast growing on-demand opportunities across all sorts of different devices."
Until recently, the cable and satellite companies that owned the rights to television shows have been reluctant to make them available online. But advances in technology have made it easier to create password-protected sites for subscribers, and they have been negotiating with producers to include online distribution rights when buying a show in the first place.
There have also been technical reasons for waiting to offer the services – Bell expanded its network to handle the demands of mobile viewing for its customers.
"Back in 2010, we promised customers we would let them pick a screen and fill it with goodness – the ability to watch what you want whenever you want on TV, tablet, smartphone, laptop," said Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility and Residential Services.
"We had to back the promise up with networks that could handle the load, which we've done – over $3-billion a year invested in new mobile and fibre."
The companies want to get away from the random availability that currently exists and create content hubs that can be accessed at any time by paying subscribers. This allows the media companies to increase their viewership and charge more for advertising, while at the same time helping their company's television division retain customers. The trend has been slow to develop in the United States because the cable and satellite companies must negotiate with those who own the rights to programming. In Canada, however, most of the large television providers also own the content they distribute through their media divisions.
Shaw's Global offering is unique in Canada because it is being offered by a large cable company's media division, and will eventually be available to every Canadian subscriber regardless of who they pay each month for their television service. The service will initially be available to Shaw, Shaw Direct, Cogeco, Telus and Eastlink customers.
Bell and Rogers both have on-demand apps that allow for some live viewing as well as archived content (including several Global shows), but they are targeted at their subscribers.
"TV anywhere is the fundamental cornerstone of our strategy," said David Purdy, senior vice-president of content at Rogers. "It's tablets, PCs, gaming consoles. So not just mobile devices – it's about video following you wherever you are and whatever you are using … keeping [subscribers] within the ecosystem is good from a shareholder perspective, but from a customer perspective it's also making sure they never miss a favourite show that's really good." Shaw's taking it a step further – it also plans on making entire seasons of current shows available online so viewers can catch up on anything they miss.