02/05/2015 07:23 EST | Updated 04/07/2015 05:59 EDT

BCE says more customers signing up for CraveTV than the company expected

TORONTO - BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) says its foray into the increasingly crowded streaming video space is off to a good start, with more people signing up for its video-on-demand service CraveTV than it had expected.

"Subscriber numbers, although early, are ahead of internal expectations," chief executive George Cope said during a conference call to discuss the company's fourth-quarter results Thursday.

However, the company did not provide specific subscriber figures for the service launched in December to compete with Netflix and Shomi, a partnership between Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) and Shaw Communications (TSX:SJR.B).

Bell's video-on-demand service is available to its television subscribers and through some of the country's other providers, including Telus (TSX:T), Bell Aliant and Eastlink.

The update came as the Montreal-based telecommunications and media company said Thursday it earned $542 million or 64 cents per share in the fourth quarter compared with $495 million or 64 cents per share a year ago.

BCE also raised its quarterly dividend to 65 cents from 61.75 cents per share.

BCE's Bell Canada had $4.9 billion of operating revenue in the quarter — up 2.6 per cent from a year earlier — which accounted for most of the $5.5 billion of operating revenue for the company as a whole.

BCE's adjusted earnings amounted to 72 cents per share, up nearly three per cent from last year and just above the consensus estimate of 71 cents per share.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose says BCE stole "significant" market share from Rogers in the wireless market, and posted "remarkably strong" wireline results.

Bell Wireless had $1.649 billion of operating revenue, up 9.6 per cent from a year earlier, while Bell Wireline operating revenue, which includes its high-speed Internet and Fibe TV operations as well as its traditional phone business, was $2.63 billion, up one per cent from a year earlier.

That offset a decline in revenue at Bell Media — owner of CTV, numerous specialty TV channels and dozens of radio stations — which saw its operating revenue fall 3.9 per cent from a year ago to $789 million. The company also recorded a $95-million charge in the quarter, mainly to reflect the reduced value of its conventional TV properties.

"While initially accretive, in our view, the CTV and Astral acquisitions are now creating problems," Ghose said in a note to clients.

BCE purchased Astral Media Inc. for $3.4 billion in 2013.

During the conference call Thursday, BCE also revealed the financial terms of its deal with Rogers to share control of Burnaby, B.C.-based cellphone retailer Glentel Inc.

BCE will pay $594 million for Glentel, before selling half of the company to Rogers for $392 million.