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Rogers upgrades TV offering to fight Bell

Rogers Communications Inc. introduced Friday a slew of upgrades and service enhancements to its cable platform in a bid to thwart the advance of a new television product from chief competitor BCE Inc.

BCE, which has been snaking its new Fibe service into rivals’ urban footprints -gaining 28,000 customers last quarter – now faces a slicker Rogers cable package that wipes out many of the cosmetic advantages BCE’s Internet Protocol-based TV service claimed over it.

Similar to upgrades western Canadian cable giant Shaw Communications Inc. has been making to slow customer losses to telco competitor Telus Corp., Torontobased Rogers unveiled new software to dress up its TV and on-demand menus, and, with a box upgrade, offer the same Web-like functions as IPTV, analysts said.

“There’s now no quality advantage,” a cable equity analyst said, asking for anonymity because his bank prohibits media interviews. “As far as any consumer is concerned there’s full functionality. There’s nothing Bell can say they can do … that Rogers couldn’t.”

Customers can also watch live television from one of 22 channels on a tablet that is connected wirelessly to a local-area Internet network in the home.

The upgraded service, which comes with new pricing for broadband and TV bundles, is partly designed to avoid the kind of market-share losses experienced at Calgary-based Shaw when Telus rolled out its new TV serviced in mid-2010. Telus has managed to gain more than half a million IPTV customers through an aggressive strategy targeting Shaw’s customers.

At stake is a portion of about $1.9 billion in television revenues for Rogers, or 15 per cent of the consolidated total for the telecom giant, which relies to a much greater extent on wireless.

Keenly aware that consumers are spending more time viewing television over the Internet, Rogers timed what it is calling the “NextBox 2.0″ (compared to Shaw’s “Gateway”) cable announcement with the re-branding of its on-demand online service, RODO, into “Rogers Anyplace TV.”

The new title directly mimics the slogan of U.S. broadcast giant Time Warner’s TV Everywhere strategy to spread subscription-supported programming onto any device connected to the Internet. “We want your Rogers entertainment subscription product to follow you across the most handy device you have with at the time,” David Purdy, chief of video products for Rogers said in an interview.

The “anyplace” strategy faces obstacles, however, as Rogers attempts to negotiate mobile rights to certain programming from U.S. content owners and perhaps Canadian rights-holders. Without them, Rogers cannot fully leverage its wireless network to sell its platform through, which is far more lucrative than having viewers watch on a PC or television because of higher mobile data fees.

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