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Shaw targets Telus with mobile app offering live TV, on-demand content

Shaw Communications Inc. has launched its FreeRange TV mobile streaming app, bringing the company in line with rivals in offering its full TV service to any subscriber with an Internet or mobile data connection.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As Shaw Communications Inc. continues a push to compete more effectively with rival Telus Corp., it is launching the first part of a revamped television offering with an app that lets subscribers watch live television and on-demand programs and movies from their mobile devices.

Calgary-based Shaw said Wednesday its FreeRange TV app marks the beginning of its rollout of X1, a cloud-based platform that integrates live TV, on-demand and recorded content in one interface, which it is licensing from U.S. cable giant Comcast Corp.

Jay Mehr, Shaw's chief operating officer, says while the company already offers more than a dozen apps for viewing various networks live and on-demand, this standalone app aggregates "all of the content in one space."

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Any Shaw television subscriber will be able to download the free app, which works with certain Apple and Android devices, and access more than 80 live television channels and up to 30,000 on-demand titles.

The new app, plus a recent upgrade to WiFi speeds at the company's more than 70,000 public hot spots and its pending move into wireless – it announced a $1.6-billion deal to buy Wind Mobile Corp. in December – are "all part of a very considered and deliberate strategy to deliver our customers' next-generation experience," Mr. Mehr said in an interview Wednesday.

"We're very serious about changing trajectory of our consumer business and what's happening in terms of how we're interacting with Internet and video [customer additions]," he said. "With the combination of this experience, ultimately leading to the full X1 experience – combined with our differentiated broadband experience and some of the things we're doing on WiFi – we think we're at the starting point of shifting the competitive dynamic in Western Canada."

Shaw has been under pressure since its telephone company competitor Telus launched its Internet protocol television (IPTV) product Optik TV about five years ago, with many customers ditching cable subscriptions in favour of the advanced PVR functions and slick interoperability with mobile devices offered by IPTV.

Shaw still has 2.6 million television customers – including its cable subscribers in the West and its national satellite business – compared with Telus's 980,000 video customers. But in the year ended Aug. 31, Shaw lost 103,000 cable and 38,000 satellite subscribers, while Telus picked up an additional 92,000 television customers in the 12 months ended Sept. 30.

Shaw investigated building its own IPTV platform, but in June it announced it was scrapping that program – writing off an investment of $55-million in the process – and would instead license Comcast's X1 technology. (While fellow cable operator Rogers Communications Inc. is still working on its own IPTV technology, Montreal-based Cogeco Cable Inc. similarly booked a $32-million writedown on its IPTV program, which it shelved in favour of deploying the TiVo platform.)

Mr. Mehr said it made more sense for Shaw to license the technology from Comcast and leverage the U.S. company's larger scale and its existing cloud infrastructure. Live content viewed through the FreeRange app will be delivered through Comcast's Chicago data centres, he said, while on-demand content will be hosted in data centres in Minneapolis, Minn., owned by Shaw's U.S. cloud-computing subsidiary ViaWest.

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"We believe that X1 can help Shaw compete against Telus's Optik TV product," Scotia Capital Inc. telecom analyst Jeff Fan wrote in a report on Monday before the app launched. "A more competitive TV offering will also have positive flow-through effects on Internet subscribers, further augmenting the improvement to subscriber trends. We expect consumer subscriber losses to decrease significantly in [the second half of 2016]."

Eventually, Shaw will offer a Web app for laptop users, and later this year it will launch the full X1 television platform on its home set-top boxes. Mr. Mehr said that since last spring, Shaw has been deploying set-top boxes that are compatible with the X1 system.

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About the Author
Telecom Reporter

Christine Dobby covers the Canadian telecom industry for The Globe and Mail. Before joining the Globe in May 2014 she reported for the Financial Post for three years, most recently writing about telecom and media. She has also reported for the Toronto Star and New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. More

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