March 21, 2012 4 years 11 months ago

Rogers takes first step in all-digital cable conversion

TORONTO – Rogers Cable is in the early stages of an aggressive plan to convert the bulk of its hold out analog cable customers to digital.

The cable giant has begun calling and sending letters to its Ontario television customers asking them to either order a free digital adapter for their active cable outlets, or to upgrade to a digital set top box/personal video recorder (PVR) in order to “keep receiving all the channels you do now”.

David Purdy, vice-president of video products, confirmed to Cartt.ca that Rogers is “preparing to harvest” its 13-16 analog Tier 3 cable channels in order to free up bandwidth that will be used to support its Internet services, launch new television channels, and support future “advanced TV services” associated with the rollout of its NextBox 2.0.

“So our intent is to grow our on-demand offering and our catch-up and look-back TV offerings dramatically”, he said in an interview.  “We will use that bandwidth to maintain the fastest Internet speeds in Ontario, to keep up with demand for the best-in-class on-demand service, and potentially, to launch more HD channels.”

The digital adapters, which Purdy refers to as DTA converters, are available free for every analog cable outlet listed on a customers’ Rogers account.  He estimates that Rogers has “a couple hundred thousand” analog customers who subscribe to Tier 3, but that most of its base are “hybrid” customers with at least one digital set top box in the home, plus a few additional televisions.

Made by Cisco, the adapters are small, one-way devices that Purdy says are intuitive and easy to use.  Each one comes with a basic remote, and eligible customers may pick them up at a Rogers store or have them couriered to their home free of charge.  The devices must be returned to Rogers upon cancellation or upgrade of a customer’s TV service, or a $40 plus tax replacement fee per device will be levied. 

In addition to the mass mailing, Rogers has added a page to its website about the program, and Purdy said that its call centres and technicians are prepared for a potential influx of technical support calls.

Despite the inference that Rogers’ entire cable TV network was converting to digital this year, Purdy clarified that this initiative only impacts analog cable customers that subscribe to its Tier 3 channels.  Rogers is leaving its basic, Tier 1 and 2 channel packages available in analog for at least “the next several years”.

“The reason that we leave them up there is that we’ve always been of the belief that one of the great things about our product is for some people, who are either less tech savvy, or looking for a simplified video experience, or don’t want to change, the longer that we can leave the stuff untouched, the easier it is for them”, he said.

While declining to comment on how much the program will cost Rogers, Purdy added that the Tier 3 analog channels will be shut off sometime during the “back half” of 2012 in its Ontario markets.  Rogers will roll out the program in its Atlantic Canada markets in 2013.