Videotron expands HD lineup, but still has a long way to go

On Wednesday, Videotron added three new high-definition channels to its digital cable lineup: Canal Savoir (622), TLC (665) and History (674). This is another small step in the improvement of Videotron’s HD offering, but still leaves it well behind competitors Bell and Shaw.

There are two reasons why Videotron’s English-language HD channel lineup is so far behind: First, because most of its customers are francophone, it puts a priority on French-language HD channels. (And, indeed, it’s hard to justify investing in an HD offering in this province unless you have carriage on Videotron.) That’s why it has VRAK.tv and not YTV; MusiquePlus and Musimax but not MuchMusic; LCN but not CTV News Channel; Canal Vie, Moi & Cie and CASA but not Slice; TFO but not TVO, etc.

The second reason is that Videotron is still supporting an analog cable system, which uses as many as 54 6 MHz channels, limiting how many new HD channels it can add. While Videotron stopped selling new analog cable subscriptions to residential customers a year ago, it hasn’t begun dismantling the network yet. Once it does pull the plug, those 54 channels can translate into as many as 162 high-definition channels (or more likely some mix of HD channels, SD channels, video on demand channels and more bandwidth for cable Internet).

In the meantime, it’s rearranging channels, expanding into higher frequencies and doing other things to squeeze in a few more HD channels every few months as it launches new services and upgrades some existing channels.

So what should be next on Videotron’s list? Here are the channels that are available in HD and that at least one competitor has added to its HD lineup:

Movie channels: Hollywood Suite (WB, MGM, AXN, Sony)*, Movie Network channels (MExcess, MFun, MFest) Movietime, Sundance Channel, SuperChannel* (it’s coming soon), Turner Classic Movies, W Movies

Entertainment channels: ABC Spark, Bold, Cartoon Network, CMT, Comedy, Cosmo TV, Game Show Network, Lifetime, OutTV, MuchMusic, Teletoon (En/Fr), W Network

Educational/reality channels: Animal Planet, Discovery Science, Documentary, E!, EQHD*, HiFi*, H2, Investigation Discovery, NatGeo Wild, OLN, radX*, Slice, Travel + Escape, TVO, Wild TV

News and information channels: Bloomberg TV*, BNN, CTV News Channel, HLN, MSNBC

Sports channels: Big Ten*, CBS Sports*, Fight Network, NFL RedZone*, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet World, TSN Habs*, World Fishing Network

Family/children’s channels: Family, Disney Jr. (En/Fr), Disney XD*, Nickelodeon*, Treehouse, YTV

Canadian superstations: CHCH*, CHEK*, NTV

U.S. superstations: Peachtree, WGN, WPIX, WSBK, KTLA

Third-language channels: OMNI

*Channels aren’t carried in SD either

I’ve been told that there’s a plan to add SuperChannel to Videotron’s lineup soon, in SD and HD. (SuperChannel must be distributed by providers outside Quebec, but there’s no obligation here, despite SuperChannel’s previous complaints.)

Here are my personal top 10 (in no particular order) for HD channels Videotron should be adding soon:

  • Movie Network Channels: Right now Videotron distributes only the main Movie Network feed and HBO Canada in HD, while most of its competitors also carry the three other feeds. Considering how expensive TMN is on cable bills, this should be a priority.
  • Hollywood Suite: Adding this package of channels would go a long way toward improving Videotron’s HD movie lineup
  • Sportsnet 360: The channel formerly known as The Score is among the most requested to add in HD. And Videotron has said repeatedly it plans to do so soon. It’s even added a channel to its system, but for some reason it’s not live yet.
  • Sportsnet World: Like with The Movie Network, this channel deserves an upgrade if only because of the high price of subscribing to it.
  • TSN Habs: Is there really any doubt that you have customers that want to watch Canadiens games in English? I don’t know if this is Bell’s fault or yours, but it’s time to bury the hatchet.
  • The Comedy Network: Comedy was a bit slower than movies and drama to make the transition to HD, but it’s there now, and there’s enough content that it’s worth upgrading Comedy to HD. When The Colbert Report moves off of CTV in the fall and goes “Exclusive to Comedy”, expect demand to grow.
  • MuchMusic: The fact that this isn’t already in HD is very surprising. Both MusiquePlus and Musimax have been in HD for a long time now. It’s well past time.
  • YTV: Similarly to MuchMusic, this is one of Canada’s oldest specialty channels, has a lot of original programming and has provided an HD feed for more than two years now.
  • CTV News Channel: It’s the only Canadian all-news channel that Videotron doesn’t carry in HD, and though it was slow to upgrade to HD (only launching in 2012), it provides enough original HD content to justify an HD channel.
  • At least one CW channel: Whether it’s New York’s WPIX, Chicago’s WGN or Los Angeles’s KTLA, which Videotron distributes in SD, the network produces a good enough block of original programming to qualify. And while some of that programming has been picked up by Canadian stations, much of it hasn’t.

But those are just my suggestions. What are your priorities? Which channels are you pissed off they haven’t added or upgraded yet?

38 thoughts on “Videotron expands HD lineup, but still has a long way to go

  1. Cfd

    Question: why don’t they stop distributing SD channel and make the terminal automatically downgrade the signal when connecting to SD tv? I think they already do it, no? What does an hd channel looks like when connected to an old tv?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Question: why don’t they stop distributing SD channel and make the terminal automatically downgrade the signal when connecting to SD tv?

      I don’t think SD terminals can downgrade HD channels.

      Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Upgrade every one to HD terminal and flush SD channels.

          I don’t know how practical that is in the short term. And I think freeing up the analog channels is a bigger priority than deleting some SD digital channels.

          Reply
  2. Marc

    Well for me, CTV News channel and Teletoon.

    Cogeco’s system in the 905 region is also well ahead of Videotron. Though I believe they may have pulled the plug on their analog cable.

    Reply
  3. Gilles

    SuperChannel is needed, with now exclusive contract for all Starz shows and they still have first run rights to SOA and Homeland among others. I agree about the CW also with the timeshifting channels. Until we have a cable box with more tuners so we can record more than 2 shows at once, we need more US stations in HD with the west feed. But there are so many more I want…They should at least get rid of of Telemax in analog so it would free some space. Why not give a SD box to everyone in rental for free and change everybody, it would be the best and quickest solution.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Why not give a SD box to everyone in rental for free and change everybody, it would be the best and quickest solution.

      That’s definitely among the options available. And since Videotron is already practically giving HD PVRs away for free with subscriptions, it stands to reason it could at least part with an SD box. It could also do what others have done and distribute analog cable channels over clear QAM, which can be decoded directly by some televisions and through even simpler electronic boxes. One of the big problems is that it’s a big job, and that requires a lot of technicians installing boxes. The other is that there are some clients who use analog cable that might be more problematic to switch over. Hotels, for example, and other businesses that have a large number of television sets.

      Reply
      1. Marc

        Hotels, for example, and other businesses that have a large number of television sets

        I had always wondered about that. Two big clients who I know use Videotron just off the top of my head – Montreal General Hospital and Holiday Inn on Sherbrooke & City Councillors. They have the analogue Telemax service.

        When push comes to shove and analogue cable is on its death bed, what would they do… Put an illico box in each room? Switch to another provider not requiring a box at each TV?

        Reply
  4. Bobby

    Call it what it really is. If Quebecor owns the channel it’s on Videotron instantly in HD. Your favourite hate channel Sun News has been in HD on Videotron since day one. So please skip the “English channel” vs. “French channel” bullshit. If Peledeau owns it, it’s on Videotron in HD. If not well suck it up.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Call it what it really is. If Quebecor owns the channel it’s on Videotron instantly in HD.

      Ditto Bell Media channels on Bell TV, and Shaw Media channels on Shaw cable/Shaw Direct. The CRTC has put into place a rule preventing vertically integrated companies from giving themselves a head start on new channel launches, but competitors have to be interested in carrying the channel from Day 1 to launch it at the same time.

      To be fair about the HD part, Videotron launches most new services in HD nowadays. It was the case for the Oprah Winfrey Network (Corus), RDS2 (Bell) and FX Canada (Rogers).

      If Peledeau owns it, it’s on Videotron in HD. If not well suck it up.

      My point is that it’s hard to find a French-language channel that’s available in HD but not carried on Videotron in HD (I’m not aware of any), regardless of whether it’s owned by Quebecor or some other company (Quebecor doesn’t even own a majority of French-language specialty channels).

      Reply
  5. Dilbert

    This is one of those cases where the CRTC really needs to get involved.

    Cable is a monopoly. For people who do not have the choice to use a Dish or receive Bell’s extremely localized IP TV offering, cable is the only source. That the product varies so much is not the best situation. In the case of a monopoly (or at best a duopoly) the CRTC should be right there to mandate that all HD offerings from a certainly level should be available on all systems – at rates that the CRTC approves, not at inflated rates.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Cable is a monopoly.

      It’s a bit more complicated than that. Canada has two satellite TV companies that provide service across the country. Bell is expanding its Fibe TV service rapidly so it can compete with cable TV offerings. And there are more IPTV companies coming out with plans to compete, though those companies are hampered by poor channel selection. The CRTC is trying to encourage more competition, but it takes a while to set up competitors.

      In the case of a monopoly (or at best a duopoly) the CRTC should be right there to mandate that all HD offerings from a certainly level should be available on all systems – at rates that the CRTC approves, not at inflated rates.

      Doesn’t the market already provide enough incentive to add more HD channels? That’s one of the biggest selling points in getting people to switch. It’s not like Videotron and others don’t want to add more channels, it’s because they do not have the bandwidth to do so. I don’t see how regulation is going to change that.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        In many parts of the country, you are often limited to a single choice. Renters are often not in the position to install a dish, and may live in an area not served by Bell Fibe. In many condo buildings, there is only a single “approved” supplier, generally Rogers in the Toronto area or Videotron in Montreal, as an example. Installation of dishes is just not permitted.

        “Doesn’t the market already provide enough incentive to add more HD channels?”

        That may apply for those customers who have a choice. Realistically, that doesn’t apply to everyone, many consumers only have a single choice – and there is little incentive to do anything more than satisfy those customers just enough so that they won’t cut the service.

        The “selling points” are sort of tricky. Bell claimed for a long time the “most HD”, but when you looked at it that included a significant number of PPV HD channels, disproportionate to other services. Bandwidth is a bit of a false argument if they are allowing many low volume (but super high margin) PPV channels, while ignoring more common fare. Cable and sat companies could have taken the run up time to the HD changeover period to also retired older boxes / installations for receivers that would downconvert HD to an SD display (even if letter boxed), and thus they could have converted away from the analog cable and SD channels ages ago.

        There has been a ton of duplication of having HD and non-HD versions of the same channel on systems, having TSN SD and then HD is an incredibly huge waste of bandwidth, excused only because they kept pushing out SD only receivers until just about the very last day, leaving them with legacy customers that they have to service for a given period of time.

        Regulation is more to avoid the issues that exist and have been highlighted in the mandatory carriage regulations. The CRTC could very easily give a list of HD channels that must be on all systems, which would stop companies like Bell or Rogers playing advantage to their own properties.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          The “selling points” are sort of tricky. Bell claimed for a long time the “most HD”, but when you looked at it that included a significant number of PPV HD channels, disproportionate to other services.

          In Videotron’s case, it has three French-language PPV HD channels and one English one, so that’s certainly not the case here.

          Cable and sat companies could have taken the run up time to the HD changeover period to also retired older boxes / installations for receivers that would downconvert HD to an SD display (even if letter boxed), and thus they could have converted away from the analog cable and SD channels ages ago.

          You make it sound so simple. First of all, those receivers are expensive, and buying a million of them would take a lot of money. Keep in mind many households have multiple televisions, and each one would need a box if they were to eliminate analog cable. It was only a few years ago that they were advertising that they would hook up secondary televisions to analog cable for free when the main one was digital. And of course there’s the issue that many customers are perfectly happy with analog cable or prefer it for some reason.

          having TSN SD and then HD is an incredibly huge waste of bandwidth

          If you consider 4.8 Mbps “an incredibly huge waste of bandwidth”. It’s a little more than 1/10th of the bandwidth of an analog channel.

          The CRTC could very easily give a list of HD channels that must be on all systems, which would stop companies like Bell or Rogers playing advantage to their own properties.

          The CRTC already has rules governing vertical integration that prevent companies like Bell and Rogers from giving themselves an undue advantage with things like HD channels. Forcing a mandatory list of HD channels (would this include channels that providers don’t carry even in SD?) sounds as impractical as it does unfair.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            “You make it sound so simple. First of all, those receivers are expensive, and buying a million of them would take a lot of money. Keep in mind many households have multiple televisions, and each one would need a box if they were to eliminate analog cable.”

            I do make it sound simple because in the end it really is, for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, it’s not like HD was a surprise. It’s not like they woke up one fine September morning and discovered that everyone had gone HD. Rather, it’s been an ongoing process for more than a decade overall. Somewhere in that time frame, in that process, they could have said “you can’t have analog cable anymore” and worked to move everyone to digital set top boxes – and could easily have had the job done round about the changeover time for broadcast.

            Instead, they did what all monopolistic companies tend to do, they punted to the future because there is nothing like profits today, right?

            They could have done it ages ago. Most US companies did it 2 – 3 year ago. Even in India, which tends to be caught in more red tape than you can imagine, they are going to be out of analog cable by 2014.

            “If you consider 4.8 Mbps “an incredibly huge waste of bandwidth”. It’s a little more than 1/10th of the bandwidth of an analog channel.”

            Considering there are any number of duplications, it’s not a question of a single channel. But thanks for pointing out that they could have moved the analog cable to digital and saved 90% of the bandwidth if they had done it years ago.

            “The CRTC already has rules governing vertical integration that prevent companies like Bell and Rogers from giving themselves an undue advantage with things like HD channels. ”

            Yet your own charts clearly show that these systems give heavy preference to their own products, in subtle and less subtle ways.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              I obviously can’t convince you that the millions of dollars that cable and satellite providers are spending on marketing and network upgrades are being done for a reason, so I’m going to stop trying. Feel free to write to the CRTC and tell them to outlaw analog cable or start imposing all sorts of new regulations or whatever you think will force cable and satellite companies to start caring more about adding HD channels, which they’ve been so reluctant to do over the past few years.

              your own charts clearly show that these systems give heavy preference to their own products, in subtle and less subtle ways.

              Can you give some examples? I’m not saying that distributors aren’t preferring themselves in their decisions, but if there was some clear-cut cases we’d be seeing complaints to the CRTC from those broadcasters.

              Reply
              1. Dilbert

                “I obviously can’t convince you that the millions of dollars that cable and satellite providers are spending on marketing and network upgrades are being done for a reason, ”

                Nor apparently can I convince you that a significant number of people don’t have “choice” except one or none, and that is usually cable. Perhaps it’s just not in your scope of personal experience to deal with a condo board who does not allow dishes to be installed on the building, or a landlord that won’t give you permission to install one in any manner. Perhaps you are not familiar with Toronto Condo buildings with a single supplier agreement (Rogers) and no space on the common areas of the property to have a dish.

                The marketing is aimed at people who have a choice, not at those who do not – and some solid part of the business has no choice – just go back to your cited listed of analog users such as hotels and such, clearly a dish style setup isn’t as easy for them to handle, right? I can’t imagine why you write the stuff and then ignore yourself.

                “Can you give some examples?”

                I think no better way to express it then your quote “Specialty channel war is screwing customers”.

                or perhaps:

                http://blog.fagstein.com/2013/02/21/videotron-finally-adding-amc/

                There is plenty of movement since 2011, but we are still always in the same boat.

                I do believe however if you put your hands over your ears and go “lalalalala” you won’t hear about it :)

                http://blog.fagstein.com/2011/09/14/specialty-channel-war/

              2. Fagstein Post author

                a significant number of people don’t have “choice” except one or none, and that is usually cable.

                I agree, though that number is going down.

  6. William

    News and information channels: Bloomberg TV*, BNN, CTV News Channel, HLN, MSNBC

    Does Videotron carry Bloomberg TV or did you mean CNBC?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Does Videotron carry Bloomberg TV or did you mean CNBC?

      Videotron doesn’t carry Bloomberg TV. And as far as I know, no Canadian provider carries CNBC in HD.

      Reply
      1. William

        I’m on Bell and they don’t carry Bloomberg either.

        So who were you referring to when you put Bloomberg in your list?

        Does someone carry it in Quebec?

        Reply
  7. KARINE

    Glad History is finally in HD, I screamed bloddy murder at having to watch Vikings in low res LOL last Spring. I agree that Comedy has to go HD. Personally, I pretty much channel surf only in the 600+ stations now, even if I have non SD stations that are part of my package that I pay and that leads me regularly downgrade my subscription to fit my actual TV viewing. My suggestion for HD stations: MétéoMédia, Weather channel and W Network.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      My suggestion for HD stations: MétéoMédia, Weather channel and W Network.

      The Weather Network has an HD feed, but as far as I know MétéoMédia does not (at least no one carries an HD feed of it).

      Reply
      1. Marc

        The Weather Network has an HD feed[…]

        Yes they do. I’ve seen it on Cogeco cable in the GTA. While it looks good, it’s pretty useless as it doesn’t carry local forecasts. Only the SD version does.

        Reply
    2. vinlander

      Hailsa !
      I second that, I ended up downloading the HD Viking serie has it was broadcast and easily available on torrent…legal or not I could not care less, as I pay for that Videotron HD package and my Internet connexion.
      The HD Viking serie was one of the best thing on our forefathers I have seen in ages…can’t wait the next season now straight from HD History channel !!!

      Reply
  8. Joe Miller

    Easily Sportsnet 360. It was a priority before, even more now that all UFC programming is on this channel instead of the big Sportsnet or Sportsnet One.

    Reply
  9. MacGuffin

    If we are to believe their own words, once analogue disappears, there will probably be enough room for most of the missing HD stuff.

    And a lot of francophones do watch english TV.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If we are to believe their own words, once analogue disappears, there will probably be enough room for most of the missing HD stuff.

      And it won’t hesitate to add them.

      Reply
  10. Greg

    Would love to have MuchMoreMusic in HD…. Also pissed that HBO Canada is only available bundled with other channels.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Also pissed that HBO Canada is only available bundled with other channels.

      Nothing Videotron can do about that. HBO Canada is part of The Movie Network (and Movie Central out west), which is an all-or-nothing package.

      Reply
  11. Mike

    I’d like to see both PBS stations in HD not just WCFE as well as TVO and the
    US networks west. Have checked out fibe offering and the HD quality seems
    inferior to Videotron. When do you think Videotron will actually pull the
    plug completely on analog – 2015, or sooner?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’d like to see both PBS stations in HD not just WCFE as well as TVO and the US networks west.

      I’m not sure how much demand there is for both PBS stations in HD. Ditto TVO. The U.S. networks maybe, though if there’s a PVR that can record more than two or three shows at once, the need for time-shifted programming diminishes.

      When do you think Videotron will actually pull the plug completely on analog – 2015, or sooner?

      2015 doesn’t sound like a bad estimate. It will likely happen in phases, one region at a time, because of all the technical and administrative work involved in switching so many remaining customers.

      Reply
  12. Jean-Michel

    “There are two reasons why Videotron’s English-language HD channel lineup is so far behind: First, because most of its customers are francophone, it puts a priority on French-language HD channels.”

    Another Anglo with a persecution complex, I live in Québec and I watch mostly english programming so do my friends.

    There surely are other reasons as to why they don’t have certain anglo channels, I for one really want Movietime and BBC Canada in HD.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The main reason Videotron doesn’t have more anglo channels in HD is capacity. Once it shuts down its analog network there will be a big boost in capacity.

      Videotron does distribute Movietime in HD for those customers in the modernized network who have next-generation Illico boxes.

      Reply

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