Shaw looks to regain upper hand in TV market with new television offering


A TV remote is seen in this file photo. Shaw Communications said Wednesday it is launching its new premium TV product, BlueSky. (Noraznen Azit/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

After years of losing subscribers to its western rival Telus Corp., Shaw Communications Inc. is launching a new television platform it hopes will help it regain an edge in the TV market it once dominated.

Calgary-based Shaw on Wednesday formally took the wraps off BlueSky, a premium TV product based on the cloud-based X1 platform it is licensing from U.S. cable company Comcast Corp.

Shaw has been working with Comcast for about 18 months to develop the service with a view to competing with Telus’s IPTV (Internet protocol television) service Optik TV, which has hastened the erosion of Shaw’s cable subscriber base.

It is a problem cable operators across North America began to face about a decade ago as telephone companies began getting into the TV game with IPTV, using new technology to offer a non-satellite option to customers in urban areas.

In an age of cord-cutting, Telus offered an appealing product for TV lovers still willing to pay expensive monthly fees for an all-in and convenient experience. Optik TV includes features such as a PVR that functions across multiple televisions and devices, the ability to pause and restart on different TV sets and interactive program guides with apps like Netflix directly integrated.

Shaw hopes to go further with BlueSky, offering a voice-controlled remote for simplified searching, easy-to-access sports stats, scores and schedules and kids’ programming with parental controls.

BlueSky builds on FreeRange – a companion TV app that lets customers watch live and on-demand programming on their mobile devices – which Shaw launched a year ago and is also based on X1 technology. Shaw is offering the new television set-top box product starting now in Calgary and said it will launch in additional markets in the coming months.

Toronto-based cable provider Rogers Communications Inc. said in December it is also partnering with Comcast to deploy X1, scrapping an in-house effort to develop IPTV that spanned more than five years and will lead to a writedown of up to $525-million.

Shaw CEO Brad Shaw said in a statement Wednesday the company is proud to be the first international partner to launch Comcast’s X1 technology, which has also been licensed by Cox Communications Inc. in the U.S. Shaw made the move to work with Comcast in 2015 after writing off $55-million on its own IPTV development efforts.

Tony Werner, president of technology and product at Comcast, said his company has “seen a tremendous response [to the X1 product] from millions of customers in the U.S.”

It is expensive to deploy and capital costs have gone up, but since launching the first version of the X1 platform about five years ago, Comcast has reported a turnaround in its cable subscriber numbers and actually begun adding new customers instead of shedding them. Analysts predict 2016 will be the first year in a decade that the company will post a full year of positive subscriber additions.

Scotia Capital Inc. analyst Jeff Fan said he expects Shaw will report lower cable subscriber losses in its fiscal 2017 year with the rollout of the Comcast technology, adding that it should also help “pull through” Internet subscribers.

“With a more competitive television product, we expect Shaw will mitigate some of the subscriber losses that have occurred to Telus,” Mr. Fan wrote in a report ahead of the launch last week. “We expect 2017 cable net losses to improve to 85,000 from 110,000 net losses in 2017, which could turn out to be conservative.”

Mr. Fan has seen multiple demonstrations of the Comcast product, which he describes as a “cloud-based software platform and not simply a guide or a set-top box, [with] the potential to also manage non-video services.”

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