Bell building OTT momentum with Starz-Crave add-on

Bell Media is riding a recent wave of success, now claiming 2.3 million subscribers to its OTT video offering CraveTV, smashing recent estimates of around 1.5 million. Moving forward, the Canadian operator is bringing the second most popular US TV network Starz into the fold for a new streaming launch and TV channel next month – as a C$6 monthly premium add-on.

Faultline Online Reporter said the champagne would be flowing at Bell when rival Shomi, a joint project between Rogers and Shaw Communications, closed in late 2016 – but it has taken time for any obvious benefit to Crave – through scavenging on the Shomi carcass – to become evident. But with Netflix on approximately triple the number of subscribers than Crave, there is a substantial wall to be scaled. Admittedly, this comparison is virtually redundant nowadays, and the significance is that Bell’s recent moves will accelerate cord cutting – despite Crave being a popular streaming partner for pay TV providers.

The early March launch will combine HBO, Showtime and Hollywood movie content on Crave, which costs C$9.99 a month standalone, while pay TV channel Encore will be rebranded to Starz – some three years after Encore became Starz Encore in the US.

So, the news of Starz landing on Crave arrived with Starz parent company Lionsgate’s fiscal third quarter 2018 earnings release, citing Starz domestic subscriber growth of 1.1 million year on year to 25.1 million, although it’s unclear if this includes access via the Amazon Partners Program or if Starz is just counting users on its Starz Play app, which costs $7.99 a month. This strong OTT subscriber growth pushed revenues for the Media Networks segment up to $366.8 million, with profits growing 9.6% to $134.1 million for the quarter.

Bell has been embracing streaming in various forms, having also launched Alt TV in May 2017, aimed at a new generation of video subscribers. A monthly subscription to the basic Alt TV package is priced at C$14.95, offering 30 live channels including Canadian networks CBC, CTV, Global and City, plus US networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Sports, movies, and a la carte packages can be catered for at additional costs. Alt TV is only available as part of Bell’s unlimited broadband packages, ranging from C$85 a month to C$120 a month. It already supports TV Anywhere services, one for Fibe TV and another for Bell satellite TV customers. We understand that these all use the same Quickplay Media technology as well as Mediafirst. Bell has not given out subscriber numbers for AltTV.

In turn, Bell’s OTT video push will be music to the ears of MediaKind, with Bell having been a loyal customer of the Mediaroom technology for over a decade, using it first for IPTV in 2007.

Netflix had an estimated 6.8 million Canadian subscribers at the end of 2018, adding about 650,000 in a year. Like the majority of operators now, Bell Canada has integrated the Netflix app onto its set tops.