Shomi Exclusives

Shomi, The Streaming Service From Rogers and Shaw Should Raise Concerns

They’re stepping up to compete with Netflix. This is a familiar refrain from those who have spoken about the new Shaw/Rogers backed streaming service called Shomi. Here in Canada, we all knew something would come along to rival streaming services like the dominant Netflix. Canadian content providers have been working on delivering online TV and movie viewing (in various incarnations), but no subscription-based Netflix rival has existed, until now. Shomi looks like a nice offering on the surface, but there may be many concerns lurking.

Briefly: News of a Canadian-ISP-backed Netflix rival Shomi has people talking. But, are they talking about what’s important? I look at some concerns about this new service.

As with any announced service, those at Shomi are buzzing about what’s coming. They expect to have 340 TV shows and 1,200 movies, a far cry from what some estimate to be closer to 16,000 titles over at Netflix’s American site[1]. It may be better to compare this service to Netflix Canada, with that library being much smaller but unknown in size [2]. Naturally, including actual TV episodes as a title, and the library comparison number balloons. Roughly 1,500 titles are still a lot, and probably more pronounced if those titles aren’t crappy.

Shomi also boasts a sort of “human” curation of titles that promises to help people find the kinds of entertainment they want. Curation of any massive library is welcome, and this feature holds the same kind of promise that had me interested in Songza. Great curation can even help us find new stuff in what we may have already seen or heard.

The reality of Shomi appears much grimmer. Having it owned (and operated) by two ISP companies creates a clear conflict of interest. Whether or not they actually do anything nefarious, they have a clear interest in propping up Shomi‘s performance. These sorts of things can be subtle, but can also be the more obvious problems like throttling. We can easily assume Rogers or Shaw aren’t going to move fast to improve Netflix’s performance options while they directly compete.

So, say they don’t do any of that and make a real effort to have Netflix and Shomi run on equal ground. They could also run Shomi with a more data-intensive video codec [3], but eat up a significantly larger amount of data. More data means more money for Shaw or Rogers because they cap usage. This might also be a way to drive performance perceptions, leading to funnelled Internet package upgrades to improve usability. When controlling all the variables, Rogers and Shaw can manipulate any of them to get a desired outcome from the other.

For many, the mere sight of these kinds of possible conflicts is a red flag. It might be similar to having one person in a large company handle all the money transactions. They may be the most honest person in the world, but basic accounting practices dictate that this scenario simply can’t happen. Sometimes the mere construction of a scenario that allows for conflict-of-interest is one onto itself.

You also wouldn’t be wrong if you felt nickel-and-dimed to death. With Netflix costing $7.99 per month and trending upward, Shomi at $8.99, and Amazon Prime (Instant Video) would cost at least $99 per month if it were available in Canada. Couple that with the rising cost of Internet access or (gasp) what cable TV might cost (to get early access to Shomi) – and we’re talking a small fortune per month to have access to all this entertainment.

Shomi, at $8.99 per is expected to start beta testing in early November 2014. The streaming service has exclusive rights to past seasons of Modern Family, Sons of Anarchy, Sleepy Hollow, Shameless, and others.

1. Netflix U.S. doesn’t release library size numbers, but they’re the biggest.
2. Let’s face it, any Canadian who knows what a VPN is, probably watches U.S. Netflix.
3. Naturally, all in the name of quality.