How Many Canadians Subscribe to Cable TV or Satellite TV?

Cable TV/DTH Subscriber Estimates, Profile of Non-Subscribers and Special Survey Results

Prepared for CRTC

Canadian Media Research Inc.
August 2006
(Revised September 2006 [.htm] [.pdf])

This report is available electronically at [.pdf version]

Canadian Media Research Inc. has prepared the original version of How Many Canadians Subscribe to Cable TV or Satellite TV? which has been translated by a third party.

Ce document est également disponible en français.


This report addresses the question of how many Canadians in 2006 have cable TV or DTH in their household, either by legal means or otherwise. The objective is to provide an accurate estimate of the number of Canadians who have cable TV or satellite TV and the number who rely on over-the-air (OTA) reception of TV stations. In addition, the report reviews long term trends in the subscription levels of cable vs. DTH on a national and provincial basis and examines the demographic and lifestyle profile of those who do not have cable TV or DTH.

Cable TV and DTH subscription levels combined have increased over the past decade and the report examines the effects on the major broadcasters, public and private. Specifically, trends in the percentage of each broadcasters audience that comes from off-air reception vs. cable TV/DTH are examined.

Data from BBM (Bureau of Broadcast Measurement) and Nielsen Media Research from the period 1995-2006 and various industry data sources, including the CRTC's 2006 Broadcasting Policy Monitoring Report and Statistics Canada's Broadcasting and Telecommunications annual publication, are used are to answer the question of how many Canadian households (and people) have cable TV or DTH.

The report also examines public attitudes toward TV, using results from the 2005 TV Quality Survey.

The TV Quality (TVQ) Survey is a national survey of Anglophone Canadians' attitudes toward television conducted annually by CMRI among a representative sample of 1,500 or more Anglophone adults. The primary purpose of the survey is to test consumer awareness of the numerous TV channels available today via cable TV, DTH or over-the-air. The TVQ Survey also measures viewer satisfaction with TV.

The CRTC has also commissioned a special survey to be conducted in early September 2006 by Comquest, a subsidiary of BBM. The survey is to be undertaken among a sample of 1,000 people, former respondents to BBM TV surveys, who indicated that they did not have cable or satellite. The objective of the survey is to shed light on why these Canadians do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV and results will be added to this report as soon as they are available.

Barry Kiefl

1. Trends in Cable TV and DTH Subscribers

CRTC's 2006 Broadcasting Policy Monitoring Report

The CRTC's 2006 Broadcasting Policy Monitoring Report contains a reference to the number of basic subscribers to various types of BDUs (cable TV, satellite companies, etc.). As of August 2005 the CRTC indicated there were 9,094,000 subscribers to cable TV, DTH or other BDUs (Table 4.1 from CRTC's Broadcasting Policy Monitoring Report ). This number does not include subscribers to smaller cable TV systems, which are not required to report subscriber counts and other data to the Commission. Only larger, Class 1, cable TV systems with 6,000 or more subscribers are required to file an annual return with the CRTC. There are hundreds of small cable systems in Canada and their subscriber totals are not accounted for in the Commission's official data.

Table 4.1: Number of basic subscribers (000)

  Cable, class 1* DTH MDS & STV Total
2001 6,857 81.0% 1,520 18.0% 87 1.0% 8,465 100.0%
2002 6,704 76.9% 1,960 22.5% 57 0.7% 8,723 100.0%
2003 6,581 74.9% 2,152 24.5% 50 0.6% 8,783 100.0%
2004 6,642 74.1% 2,277 25.4% 39 0.4% 8,958 100.0%
2005** 6,607 72.7% 2,455 27.0% 32 0.4% 9,094 100.0%

* In this instance and throughout the document references to class 1 BDUs and class 1 cable BDUs include Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) results. Also note that as a result of PN 2004-39 a few class 1 cable systems have been exempted from reporting requirements.
** In this instance and throughout the document 2005 CRTC financial database results are preliminary.
Note: 2001 to 2004 figures have been updated to reflect current aggregate August 31 results.
Source: CRTC financial database

The Broadcasting Policy Monitoring Report acknowledges that the exclusion of smaller cable systems results in undercounting of subscribers. The report also includes subscriber data for the top 6 distributors, based on corporate quarterly reports. Table 4.3 in the CRTC's 2006 Broadcasting Policy Monitoring Report shows that as of 2006 the top 6 BDUs alone had a combined 9,396,000 subscribers. This clearly establishes that there are many more households with cable or DTH than indicated in the official CRTC data for Class 1 cable companies and satellite companies.

Table 4.3: Top Canadian distributors and number of basic subscribers

  Number of subscribers (000)
Corporations 2004 2005 2006
Rogers Cable Inc. (1) 2,266 2,249 2,260
Shaw Communications Inc. (2) 2,074 2,138 2,179
Bell ExpressVu LLP. (1) 1,403 1,532 1,739
Vidéotron Ltée (1) 1,428 1,455 1,520
Star Choice Television Network Inc. (2,3) 814 830 862
Cogeco Cable Inc. (2) 829 831 836
Total - Top Canadian distributors 8,814 9,035 9,396

(1) As of March 31 each year.
(2) As of February 28 each year.
(3) Star Choice Television Network Inc. is controlled by Shaw Communications Inc.
Sources: Corporate Quarterly Reports

Statistics Canada's Broadcasting and Telecommunications Report

Statistics Canada issued their latest statistics on cable TV/DTH subscribers in October 2005. The report included data for the period ending August 31, 2004. Even though the results are a year behind those of the CRTC, Statistics Canada put the total number of cable TV/DTH subscribers at 9,932,000, that is, 838,000 more than the CRTC's estimate for 2005. Statistics Canada explains the difference in its annual publication, Broadcasting and Telecommunications: "For the 2002 reference year, the CRTC exempted a number of small cable undertakings from completing the Annual Return for the purpose of licensing. In order to continue providing total industry estimates, Statistics Canada continued surveying these small operators, but with a simplified questionnaire." It is likely that the difference would be as much as 1 million subscribers between CRTC and Statistics Canada data in 2005.

Cable, satellite and multipoint distribution systems
Selected national and regional market and performance indicators

  2001 2002 2003 2004
Subscribers by type of supplier 000
Subscribers to programming services 9,457.1 9,644.0 9,782.1 9,932.1
Clients of cable operators 7,847.9 7,625.4 7,576.9 7,607.5
Clients of wireless operators 1,609.2 2,018.6 2,205.2 2,324.6

Statistics Canada - Catalogue no. 56-001-XIE

Statistics Canada's latest report also noted that its estimates do not include illegal subscribers, persons who have purchased a U.S. satellite dish or a Canadian dish that is receiving Canadian TV signals without payment to a licenced BDU or people that are stealing cable TV signals in an apartment building or other residence. The report goes on to say: "Opportunities for growth in this market are limited by the relatively high penetration of multichannel video services. This renders the issue of signal theft that much more important for the industry. By some estimates, there are as many as 1 million illegal dishes in Canada, a significant potential loss for the industry. If those estimates are close to reality, approximately 89% of the potential market has already been tapped by legal or illegal means. This is consistent with the results of another study that found that 87% of households receive television programs by cable or satellite, the remaining 13% relying on good old rabbit ears."

Mediastats, a private company that has tracked cable and DTH satellite subscriptions for many years, put the number of cable and satellite subscribers at 10.3 million as of September 2004, i.e., approximately 400,000 more than Statistics Canada. Mediastats' estimates include not only all cable TV systems, small and large, but also attempt to account for multiple subscribers in apartment buildings, which are often not properly accounted for.

Nielsen Media Research

Statistics Canada and CRTC data are based on surveys of BDUs, as are Mediastats data. A questionnaire is sent to and completed by cable TV or satellite companies. They, of course, cannot report on the number of illegal subscribers to their services or subscribers to U.S. satellite services. Only surveys of Canadian consumers can hope to capture this segment of the market.

Nielsen Media Research has operated its 'people meter' system for measuring TV viewing in Canada since 1989. Nielsen, along with BBM, are considered the most authoritative sources for TV viewing data, in large measure because of the quality of their sampling and research design. Over $3 billion in TV advertising revenue in 2005 relied on the accuracy of Nielsen and BBM surveys.

Nielsen employs a simple random sample of residences enumerated by a field staff on-site. Every few years all homes in Canada are enumerated by Nielsen statisticians and this is updated annually. A description of the Nielsen survey methodology can be found on Nielsen's web site: To properly represent the TV viewing environment all types of homes must be represented in the Nielsen sample, including homes that may have an illegal satellite dish or cable TV hook-up. In 2005 (as of the end of August) Nielsen estimated that there were 10,933,000 households in Canada with cable TV/DTH, which represented 87% of all TV households in Canada. In other words, Nielsen put the number of subscribing household at almost 11 million, some 2 million more than the estimate in the CRTC's Monitoring Report. Nielsen's estimate of the number of TV households (12.6 million in 2005) is derived from annual Statistics Canada projections. Nielsen's estimate for the number of households with cable TV/DTH are in all probability an accurate reflection of the Canadian TV environment.

Total TV Households, Cable TV/DTH and Off-Air Households in Canada

Year Total TV
1995 10639 7979 2660 75 25
1996 10816 8004 2812 74 25
1997 11392 8544 2848 75 25
1998 11549 8662 2887 75 25
1999 11725 8794 2931 75 25
2000 11800 8850 2950 75 25
2001 11935 9071 2864 76 24
2002 12067 10233 1834 85 15
2003 12267 10430 1836 85 15
2004 12361 10560 1801 85 15
2005 12629 10933 1697 87 13

Source: CMRI (Nielsen)

Statistics Canada Consumer Survey

Interestingly, Statistics Canada also undertakes an annual consumer survey of Canadians' household equipment and spending, with a sample of some 17,500 respondents. The latest survey from 2003 confirms Nielsen's data: "The use of cable TV fell slightly to 65% of households. On the other hand, 23% of households reported having a satellite TV dish, up from 21% the previous year." (Statistics Canada: Catalogue no. 62-202-XIE, Table 1). In other words, Statistics Canada's consumer survey concluded that 88% of Canadian households had either cable TV or DTH as far back as 2003.