Rogers launches Hulu clone

Rogers is starting up an online television and movie hub for its own customers.

Rogers is taking a page from Hulu, the popular U.S. video portal, with the launch of its own — albeit limited — online hub for television and movies.

The cable and wireless company on Monday opened up to the public the beta version of its Rogers On Demand Online website, which lets users watch full episodes of television shows, movies and other short clips. The site launched with 1,500 videos from 15 partners including Teletoon and Super Channel, and plans to add new partners and content frequently.  

The site has the look and feel of Hulu, a U.S. website jointly operated by several American broadcasters, but which is blocked to Canadians because of geographic licensing restrictions. Both websites organize shows, movies and other videos in searchable catalogues that viewers can then stream through a Flash player. Both also feature advertisements embedded in the videos.

The Rogers website has limited functionality compared with its U.S. counterpart. Anyone can visit and use Hulu, but only Rogers customers who sign up to the site can access the Rogers online service. Any Rogers customer, including Fido subscribers, can use the basic portion of the site, but "premium" programming can only be accessed by the company's cable subscribers.

Defensive strategy

David Purdy, Rogers vice-president of video products, said the intention behind the site is to keep customers from cutting their cable by letting them watch programming whenever they want. The service, which requires users to authenticate who they are with their Rogers account number, is geared toward combating free downloading from file-sharing services and encouraging content providers to make their programming available, Purdy said.

"If you're building on this choice, convenience and control model and you're adding value, the likelihood of people disconnecting from their subscription television service is quite low," he said. "This linking of people's access back to being a subscriber of the actual channel will free up many thousands of hours of content that will now be put up online in a way that really benefits the consumer but doesn't necessarily undermine the subscription television model."

The Rogers website also currently has a dearth of content, with no major Canadian or U.S. networks aside from the Rogers-owned Citytv on board as of yet. Its featured TV shows, for example, are episodes of TheWest Wing and Crash, while spotlighted movies include National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation and Danny Deckchair.

The site also has no high-definition content, which Hulu offers, although the company plans to raise the rate at which it streams throughout next year to eventually offer "internet HD."

Rogers is also planning to make its website viewable on mobile phones in the first half of 2010, Purdy said.

The company's effort is not the first time a Canadian internet provider has tried to provide online video content. In 2007, Bell Canada opened a beta video store that allowed users to download movies and television shows for a fee. The service proved to be a flop and was shut down this past summer.

Bell recently replaced the service with Bell TV Online, an online portal that currently offers content from TMN, Family Channel and Playhouse Disney to the company's customers.