A new subscription video-on-demand service with 11,000 hours of popular TV shows was unveiled today in Toronto by Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications.

Shomi is a joint venture of Rogers and Shaw, and will initially be available to their internet or TV customers.

Users will be able to access the service on tablet, mobile, online and through Xbox 360. At any one time, two internet-enabled devices and one set-top box can be streaming video from Shomi in a single home.

Shomi will launch in the first week of November at a suggested retail price of $8.99 per month, the same price as Netflix after its price rise announced earlier this year.

Shomi will offer 340 TV series and 1,200 movies, with 30 per cent Canadian content.

Netflix watcher

Lindsey Gillard of Toronto watches Netflix on her PC. She says she is unlikely to switch to a competing video streaming service from Shaw and Rogers. (CBC)

Shomi has past-season streaming rights to popular contemporary TV shows including:

  • Modern Family
  • Sons of Anarchy
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Shameless
  • 2 Broke Girls
  • Vikings
  • New Girl
  • 24: Live Another Day
  • Chicago Fire
  • The Strain
  • American Horror Story 

"We keenly understand the media landscape is rapidly changing and that viewers are looking for greater flexibility when it comes to what they watch and how they watch it," Barbara Williams, senior vice-president for content at Shaw Media, said in a statement.

Although the company is a joint venture of Shaw and Rogers, it will operate as a stand-alone entity. With almost one third of anglophone Canadians already subscribing to Netflix, it will be a struggle for the service to attain a significant subscriber base. 

Netflix Canada has about 4,000 titles, though is often criticized for not offering as wide a selection as the U.S. service. Some of the programs offered by Shomi, including New Girl and Sons of Anarchy, have not yet been added to the Netflix Canadian service. 

Up against Netflix

Williams says she believes Shomi can compete with its range of newer programming.

"We are a very competitive industry. We always have been, we always will be. We're not afraid of competitors and we're confident we can do something that's bigger and better and that can win," she said in an interview with Canadian Press.

She said Rogers and Shaw bring "complementary" programs to the service and gave a hit of future content to be offered.

"I think the event series — the highly serialized short runs that are the perfect binge-watching experiences — there's no doubt they will be an important piece of the content we have and lots of it will come from places like FX. But our research and our experience also shows us there's a lot of (interest) in having a little bit of NCIS once in a while, just when you want it," she said. 

Both Rogers and Shaw need a strategy to woo new customers and keep existing ones, as traditional cable sales are flat, with the big operators poaching each other's customers. Between them, the two companies have 4.5 million subscribers, but many Canadians are considering cutting the cord altogether.

Cord-cutter has little interest in Shomi

One of those who has abandoned cable is Lindsey Gillard of Toronto. She subscribes to Netflix over the internet, attracted by its documentaries and niche content.

"The reality is I've already subscribed to something that I'm happy with. It's kinda like, it ain't broke, don't fix it," she told CBC News.

"I don't really have a reason to go to a new program when Netflix has been around for a while and they've been really doing a great job."

Bell has told federal regulators it will launch a Netflix-like streaming service with content in both official languages.

The Rogers-Shaw announcement comes two weeks ahead of hearings by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on the future of cable and satellite distribution. The CRTC is proposing a pick-and-pay cable service that would give Canadians more flexibility in choosing the channels they want.

Rogers has been rated as having the slowest streaming speeds in Canada, in a ranking by Netflix of internet service providers. It also has been accused of throttling Netflix streaming, which can result in a poor quality picture and pauses during the streaming.

If it is going into competition with Netflix with its own streaming service, it will be under pressure to show that Shomi does not get preferential treatment. And its customers will expect it improve its streaming speeds.

With files from the Canadian Press.