Rogers unveils video portal

The Hulu-style service will mirror cable subscriptions; cable giant hopes to win over other broadcasters and carriers to the service, a plan that may prove tricky, some say.

Rogers Communications’ cable and wireless subscribers are set to gain free online access to TV, movie and web content from Nov. 30 as part of the cable operator’s long-awaited Rogers On Demand Online service.

‘We aim to provide online and mobile access to replicate your TV subscription,’ David Purdy, VP of video product management at Rogers, said as the cable operator unveiled its ad-supported video portal, which will distribute current and past prime-time series and movies to subscribers anywhere in Canada where they can access the internet.

Subscribers will be able to access programming based on their current tiered-cable plans. Content they cannot access on their TV sets will be locked on the web portal.

The broadband portal will launch initially with a video player featuring content from 15 channels, including Citytv, Rogers Sportsnet, OLN, Warner TV and Michael Eisner’s web studio Vuguru, in which Rogers recently bought a minority stake. Rogers aims to negotiate with all Canadian broadcasters and content carriers to make its video portal ubiquitous and ensure cable operators don’t go the way of music companies and get pushed aside by free content on the internet, Purdy said, adding that Rogers will not offer exclusive access to TV content, with the exception of Vuguru.

‘Our vision is to have every partner’s content online,’ Purdy said, adding that once the Rogers portal proves there’s ad revenue and security for programming, then rights holders will embrace the Canadian video portal.

It’s a plan that some on the media community think will be easier said than done.

‘If they want to bring in other broadcasters to this mix outside of the Citytv stuff that they already own, and getting compliance from broadcasters, I’m not sure how easy that’s going to be,’ Bruce Claassen, CEO of Toronto-based Genesis Vizeum, told MiC. ‘I would be stunned if CBC would say, ‘Sure, we’ll do that.’ I would be really surprised.’

The key issues currently at play in the eyes of the media-buying and advertising community are how many broadcasters are brought on board, how keen Canadian households are to embrace it, and how the audience size will be measured, adds Claassen.

The ad-supported content will feature the same number of commercial breaks as on TV. However, only one commercial will run in each break. Subscribers will not be able to skip or fast forward through commercial breaks, as they can with a PVR. At the same time, they will not have to re-watch commercials if they return to a show on the video portal.

Rogers said the portal, by offering premium content for free to current subscribers, aims to keep customers from choosing to cut their cable lines as they increasingly watch TV online from legal or illegal sources.

By the first quarter of 2010, the Rogers On Demand Online service will link to social media sites and include live event streaming. By the second half of 2010, Rogers will add a mobile app to ensure smartphone customers can browse their favorite TV shows on the go.