TOP CANUCK FIRMS SEEK VOD LICENSES

TORONTO – Some of Canada’s biggest players in pay-TV and specialty television services have told the federal broadcast regulator that they want to be among the chosen few to bring video-on-demand movies and events to the country’s eight million cable subscribers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has received applications for a license to launch a VOD service from Viewer’s Choice Canada, controlled by Astral Communications Inc. of Montreal, which operates a monopoly pay-per-view business in Eastern Canada, and a sister company, Canal Indigo, also Astral-led, for separate national VOD services in English and French. Astral already controls pay channels including the Movie Network, MoviePix and Canal D.

Allarcom Pay Television Ltd. of Edmonton, which runs the pay-per-view television service in Western Canada, has applied for a conventional VOD license but it is also behind a bid by Electronic Digital Delivery Inc. (EDD) for a service that delivers compressed movies to the new generation of addressable digital VCRs. EDD stirred up considerable interest at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

EDD promises a virtual video store in the home by making available a library of thousands of titles, from which a customer may choose to have quickly downloaded to the VCR, where it can be manipulated like any pre-recorded tape. Broadcast bandwidth is used more efficiently because the connection with the server lasts only for the brief period required to download the film. With regular VOD, the connection with the server lasts as long as the film.

Alliance Communications Corp., the Toronto film and TV producer, and Shaw Communications Inc., the Edmonton cable operator and broadcaster, have joined forces to apply for a license to operate a national VOD service in English and French. The two partners have committed $30-million ($22.2-million U.S.) to finance the project.

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