Rogers Communications will launch Canada's first video-on-demand service. The company's cable subsidiary, Canada's largest operator, has signed a long-term pact with Alliance Atlantis Communications (AAC) to distribute its films over the new service in the VOD window, which follows the home video window by approximately 45-60 days. The initial phase of deployment is currently underway in areas of Toronto, with full service expected to be implemented in Toronto by early summer.

The non-exclusive distribution arrangement with AAC includes films from its sub-distribution deals with Miramax, New Line and Artisan. John Tory, President and CEO, Rogers Cable said the company is in negotiation with all the major US studios for rights in the VOD window in Canada and expects to announce a number of agreements in the coming weeks.

Rogers, which currently offers pay-TV and pay-per-view services and runs a chain of 260 retail video rental outlets, is one of the five largest customers of the major studios in North America.

The new VOD service will be delivered to digital subscribers via digital set-top boxes using an IP protocol, offering 24-hour rental from a library of movies, documentaries and other programming. The first phase will see a menu of 70 feature titles available and will expand to more than 300 by the summer. The system has full VCR-like functionality, allowing the viewer to pause, rewind, and fast forward using a remote control.

By the end of 2003, VOD will be accessible to approximately 90% of Rogers customers in Ontario, where two million of Rogers' 2.3 million users reside. However, only 270,000 of Rogers' customers currently subscribe to its digital service. Tory said the company is counting on the lure of VOD to boost digital subscriptions.

Tory said the service will be initially available on a per-view basis but he expects to roll out subscription services in the coming months. Tory, a member of the board of US cable company Charter Communications, said Rogers had examined the VOD operations of a number of US services in designing the new service.

Rogers' competitors, number two ranked Shaw Cable, based in Calgary, Alberta and third-ranked Montreal-based Cogeco are in the initial stages of launching similar services.