Posted in Media, Opinion, Technology, TV

Rogers On Demand Online: Meh.

Homepage of Rogers On Demand Online

Homepage of Rogers On Demand Online

A few days ago, I got an email from a social media marketing guy at Rogers, inviting me to participate in a sneak preview of the Rogers On Demand Online service being launched on Monday (see coverage of that at Digital Home, Paid Content, Mediacaster).

It’s being called a “Canadian Hulu”, which is like saying CTV’s video portal is a Canadian Hulu, except that CTV doesn’t charge to watch its content.

I can’t imagine why Rogers would want me participating in this. I guess they cast a wide net and don’t read this blog, because otherwise they’d know I don’t think very highly of Canada’s telecom companies, and most of my reviews are negative ones.

This one is no exception.

I decided to try this thing out, curious at why I had to login twice using two different login/password pairs (I’m hoping this is just because of the beta test). Once I got in I had access to the vast library of television shows, movies, music videos and other stuff that … wait, that’s all?

Channels available at Rogers On Demand Online. Yeah, that's it.

Channels available at Rogers On Demand Online. Yeah, that's it.

Some library

These are the channels of content available. It may seem random until you break it down:

  • Channels owned (in whole or in part) by Rogers: Citytv, OLN, bio, G4, Rogers Sportsnet, vuguru
  • Government-owned or subsidized channels that offer cheap content: TVO, NFB, Galaxie
  • Independent producers offering cheap content: Super Channel, BiteTV/AUX, UFC, Big Ten
  • Kids specialty programming owned in whole or in part by Corus: YTV, Treehouse, Teletoon
  • Warner Brothers television

That last one is in its own category because it’s where the only cool stuff I’ve found so far comes from. The West Wing, Babylon 5, ER, Whose Line Is It Anyway and CHiPs. That, plus the kids programming and a few other shows like Cougar Town, Ugly Betty and Extreme Makeover Home Edition are about as good as it gets.

Oh, and they have Jon & Kate Plus 8. Yeah.

My favourite, though, is their feature selection from the Bio biography channel. It’s an hour-long documentary about the life of Ted Rogers, created for OMNI (which is owned by Rogers) that couldn’t be more of a corporate blowjob if it had been done by the Rogers Communications marketing department. (Actually, maybe it was?)

In other categories:

  • Movies: There are less than two dozen of them, the most interesting of which is Saw. In my test viewing with the latter, it was in square (not letterbox) format.
  • Interviews: All from UFC
  • Review/Short Subject: ditto
  • Web shows: All for Nots, Prom Queen and Sam Has 7 Friends, all of which come from vuguru and are country-locked on their websites in a most inelegant make-it-broken way
  • Highlights/Recaps: Sports-related. You’re into U.S. college sports, right? Cuz that’s all they got.
  • News Reports: Sports news from Rogers Sportsnet, almost all of it dated from more than a week ago
  • Trailers: We’re being charged to watch this?
The West Wing in the Rogers video player

The West Wing in the Rogers video player

And even with its small TV library, you only get a half-dozen episodes of each series. Rogers says it plans to expand that number, but the impression is it could take months or even years to build a respectable library. For now, you can watch the pilot episodes of the West Wing and Babylon 5, but not much more than that.

Walled garden

Oh, and by “you”, I mean paying customers of Rogers Cable or Rogers Wireless. You see, this isn’t a free service like Hulu, it’s free only for Rogers customers. And some specialty content (including Big Ten Network, Sportsnet and YTV) is only available if you use Rogers for television service and if you subscribe to those channels.

(And for licensing reasons, you can only access it if you’re in Canada.)

Since Rogers cable isn’t available in Quebec, that means a lot of stuff is going to be permanently off-limits to us. (I’m a Rogers Wireless subscriber – though not a proud one – so I’d get in on the basic form of this service once it launches.)

This is an unfortunate sign of the future of online video. Rather than being able to choose which online video service you want, or being able to see video directly on the website of the content creator, Canadians will be forced onto either Rogers, CTV, Canwest or other big portals, even by websites in the United States. And with much less CRTC regulation on the Internet (which is mostly good), they can use whatever anticompetitive methods they want.

Despite the lack of regulation, Canada’s broadcasting web portals are becoming copies of the broadcasting television stations: giant bank accounts that pay through the nose for U.S. programming, package it with cheap, crappy homegrown stuff and make sure that the only way we can access what we want is through them.

Technical review

Beyond crapping all over Rogers for having an anemic video library, I should also offer a technical review of how the website works. I’d critique the technology used for actually streaming the video, but it’s not Rogers technology. Like Canwest, Rogers outsources this to a U.S. service called The Platform. With the latter’s help, any brain-dead monkey with a big bank account can setup an online video site. If you’ve been to the Global TV website to watch an episode of House, you know how the basics work there (especially with the commercials, which are just as repetitive at Rogers).

Commercial is off to the side for some reason

Commercial is off to the side for some reason

Still, there were a number of glitches as I browsed around. It would jump to a commercial in mid-sentence. And the commercials are off to the left for some reason, while the videos play in the centre. Occasionally I’d get “the selected item is not currently available”. A lot of 404 errors.

There were some annoying things too. The titles of all the pages are Google-juiced, even though this is a walled garden and there’s very little point in SEO. “Free TV Shows, TV Series, TV Episodes” and “Watch [SHOW NAME] for free on Rogers On Demand Online” are incredibly unhelpful titles, especially if I want to bookmark something.

"Lights down" mode is only kind of helpful

"Lights down" mode is only kind of helpful

Among the in-video options is “dim lights”, which makes the rest of the window darker (so as not to distract from the video). Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything to the browser itself, which means you still get those distracting elements.

fullscreen mode

fullscreen mode

One way around that is fullscreen mode, which does as you’d expect. The controls disappear (though not the cursor, annoyingly). But this is where you start to notice that this isn’t exactly HD.

Digital Home gives actual numbers (480kbps), and says there wil be an option for higher-quality video, but for now it’s a bit less than you’d get with a standard-definition television. That’s fine for a small window in your browser, but it really shows in fullscreen mode. For a free service, I wouldn’t care, but if I’m being asked to pay for this…

Interactivity: Haha, don’t be silly

It is by no means required, but there is no room for user interaction here beyond choosing videos. No comments attached to individual episodes (there’s a button for “feedback”, but that seems to go to Rogers, not to the public), no way to bookmark or favourite episodes, clips or shows (beyond your standard browser functions) and the videos stop working if you leave them and come back later (say, after putting your laptop to sleep) without any way of marking your point in a video to resume it later.

And there’s no way to embed videos onto a blog or Facebook page or any of that. They say they’re working on it. But when most people wouldn’t be able to see it anyway, what’s the point?

These are problems shared by the other Canadian TV video portals, but it’s noteworthy that Rogers hasn’t added an obvious improvement on the others.

And, of course, it goes without saying that there’s no way to download these videos to put on your iPod or other portable player. Rogers negotiates the rights only for streaming.

In a nutshell: it sucks

Technically, Rogers On Demand Online is an adequate video portal. Its library is pathetic, and it remains to be seen if the company can do something about that quickly. Its features beyond video watching are practically nonexistent (that’s not a dealbreaker mind you – other features would just be icing on the cake), and because of the licensing handcuffs that Rogers has to wear to bring anything good online, there’s very little you can do with the videos.

In short, Rogers On Demand Online is a poor cousin of the CTV and Canwest video portals (mostly because CTV and Canwest have greater television empires and have negotiated for better hit U.S. shows). Except Rogers restricts access to its own customers.

How disappointing.

43 thoughts on “Rogers On Demand Online: Meh.

  1. Jayme

    What i find a bit amazing is some people seem to think there should be an amazing library and content as soon as it launches.Look at the likes of hulu ctv global etc when there online video sites launched for the most part to selection was very limited over time it did grow and now all for the most part have a good selection.As my understanding more content will be added monday and almost every week.There goal is to have a new channel/provider added every week for the next year now if they reach that goal that means they could have a 55 channels line up by this time next year.I have aslo heard there in talks with ctv/global/cbc as well as others to bring them on board.Is this service perfect no but i just think we all should give it a few months then make judgement calls on it.With all of that said i can this beeing more useful to rogers cable subs and likely they are they ones that are atleast some what happy with this.I have even seen posts where people are not cable subs but are rogers customers and there happy about this.As with the sports much like rest of the site over time it will grow and in 2010 there will offer live streaming of sports events.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If the library does explode in size then the service will improve. But I’m not going to give a good rating to a library that doesn’t have any content, based solely on a promise that there might be more later.

      Reply
  2. Aaron

    Great review. One question – why the @%$& is this only available to paying Rogers customers? (Personally I could care less since I wouldn’t watch anything they have to offer anyway) Here’s the thing – paying customers already have access to all of this, and more, in higher quality, on TV. And honestly, if you really want to watch episode X of program Y when it’s not on TV, you can just download it (Semi-illegaly. In higher quality). Most people who would know how, or even bother, watching videos online like this would know how do download an episode.

    If anything, shouldn’t they be offering this for free, hoping that non-customers will wish they could watch all the episodes/channels offered by Rogers, in better quality, and start subscribing? It’s almost as if the STM started giving free fares on weekends, but only to people with monthly passes – or something like that.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Nobody’s making money off online streaming yet. I imagine Rogers’s logic is that people will see this as a bonus to becoming a Rogers customer. For similar services at similar prices, a consumer might choose the one that comes with a free online streaming site.

      Reply
  3. khosrow

    The attempt of networks to get in on the online video market is a mixed bag. I personally like the way CBC has done it. CTV’s version is ok, but could be better. But to me what makes the big difference is whether people can view the videos from many different platforms (with a browser, on boxee, etc).

    Seems to me like Rogers is continuing in their ways by taking their audience for granted. They know people can’t go to an alternative so they provide an absolute minimum!

    Reply
  4. Robbers

    Those big media companies wonder why people like to download shows on torrents…. they have their answer now. Rogers and CTV have to provide higher quality content online and not this garbage they’re currently doing. As well drop the geo-blocking, all that does is force people to go ahead and download their shows off torrents.

    Reply
      1. Marc

        Those (NBC, CBS, et al) who support geoblocking haven’t yet come to the realization of something very important. There are no more countries or borders on the Internet. Very easy to connect to a VPN and get an IP from another country. I do it often.

        Reply
  5. Jayme

    khosrow
    You have to keep in mind keep in mind its still in beta and in 2010 this will be avaible via hand helds even some think it will be avaible via set top boxes.

    Robbers
    I think if this is done right this new service could take some people away from bit torrents and use this rogers service.

    Aaron
    Its partly adding more value to what people are paying all ready.Aslo not everyone like downloading illegal movies etc.You may not think so but this will be appealing to a fair amount of cable subs.Some like watching tv on the net and to have one central location like this is very good.

    Fagstein
    JUst give it time i am not one that as a rule is not a fan of rogers but i think they may have hit something with this online service.Back when vod launched people said it is stupid people wan’t the move with case and all they want use this service.Now look with out a question is a huge hit.As for no one is making money off streaming no not yet but hulu will be the first.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Who said VOD was stupid? It certainly wasn’t me. Nor do I think online VOD is stupid. I’m saying little effort was put into it and their library is far too small to be interesting. And since many people will try it out right away when it launches, their first impressions will be largely based on what they see at the beginning. Telling them to “just give it time” won’t help much.

      Reply
  6. Pepper Boxer

    How much bandwidth do you think you go through for say, a 90 + minute movie? My present ISP (videotron) caps me at 20gig download before I have to start paying overage fees.

    As for geo-blocking, I imagine that one could always purchase a high-speed proxy service with a US-based IP. Probably not worth the price though.

    Reply
  7. Jayme

    Right when rogers first came out with it some people said is was not good it will fail etc.THen you had some say it will ruin video stores the amount of hate some people hate to vod was unreal.As for the online vod yes the library is small but are there any sites/services that at launch there amazing.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I think it did ruin video stores, or at least contribute to that (along with iTunes, cable TV and the Internet in general). Not that that’s a bad thing.

      Reply
  8. jean.naimard

    Funny to see how the big incument telecoms are trying hard to keep their old obsolete time-division broadcasting business model…

    I guess that once a company reaches certain size and has been around for a given amount of years, it becomes stodgy and unremarkable.

    For this, there is a good remedy: corporate euthanasia; a business charter should be for 20 years or so. After 20 years, bang, the business gets dissolved, so other innovative startups can start from the ashes.

    Reply
  9. Bill Lee

    The world is not Anglo/American.

    I want TV Malta, I want to compare Bergen TV with that in Oslo. Many Canadian speak more than one language so lets have all the TV of the world on demand. There should not be private TV or private cable in Canada. Saskatchewan has Sasktel and it works. Britain has BBC yet shows some U.S. shows.

    I see that James Moore renewed finding for TV5 this week. How about a TVFive for English language programming from China, Germany, Malaysia, Japan, Finland and so on?

    Reply
  10. Jayme

    Bill Lee
    As for people speak more then just english your right look at the cable companys take rogers for exzample look at the amount if international channels they have.As for there should be no private tv or cable that is going down a very slippery slope and that alone would cost billion and billions just to keep up.

    Reply
  11. jean.naimard

    How about a TVFive for English language programming from China, Germany, Malaysia, Japan, Finland and so on?

    It already exists: it’s called “ABC”, ”CBS”, “NBC”, “FOX”… BBC? What in the world is that????

    Reply
  12. Tux

    Once again, a broadcaster misses the point of the internet. First of all, limiting your audience to only those that use certain pipes is stupid. Does Rogers honestly think someone would switch broadband providers just to watch some TV? Hello? BitTorrent? Free, high quality video you can watch anywhere, transfer to any device to watch without an internet connection? The internet is beyond borders and beyond corporate affiliation. If you limit your audience to only those with the right pipes or the right nationality YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT.

    The telecoms wouldn’t sell a single DVR box, or get a single subscriber to their on-demand services if Canadian copyright laws made sense. Let’s say I invent a box that you can hook up to any local digital cable connection, Videotron, Bell, whatever. Let’s say my magic box can record any program you want, or even record 7-8 programs at the same time. Let’s also say my box could record in full quality to an open video format. My box would allow you to watch your recorded TV on your computer, iPod, PSP, another TV in your house, or even stream it to the office to watch at lunch! There’s no technological reason in the world that we couldn’t have such a box, at a truly reasonable price point. Unfortunately, such a box would be illegal! Why exactly do the laws enable content/transport/hardware lock-ins? It’s anti-competition, it’s anti-innovation, it’s anti-small business. We’re at the mercy of our providers. Billing snafus, a total lack of decent support, a real lack of “roll your own” service plans, utterly unfair bandwidth caps/charges… all of this is the status quo in Canada! If the laws actually allowed competition, we’d have good options, good support, and fair prices!

    F***’em, I’m with you Jean, dissolve these idiots!

    Reply
  13. Jt

    Tux
    YOur assuming everyone wants to use torrents which yes some do but some don’t.As for that box idea of yours name one country and list the provider that offers such a service.So i guess by saying rogers is missing the point that means the likes of comcast etc who are going this route are aslo missing the point.

    Reply
  14. Tux

    Jt:

    What I’m assuming is that we all want high quality video, and that we all want it at a reasonable price. I champion BitTorrent as THE choice because you can’t beat the price (free, or if you want to get technical merely the price of an internet connection, which you can do so many other things with that they all price out to cost almost nothing individually) and the best quality versions of whatever you’re trying to find (whether it’s current TV shows or out of print movies) are the ones that jump to the top of the pile when you’re searching.

    As an example, take the TV show Daria. Currently, there are only 2 DVDs available with the two specials and a handful of episodes. The specials are edited (missing footage that was aired on TV) and have had the music replaced or removed. On BitTorrent I can get this content uncut, with original music, the way it was intended to be seen. I can also get the full TV series, which has yet to be released.

    The internet democratizes content distribution, and while that may be bad for business if you’re a gigantic media conglomerate, it’s great if you’re just an individual who likes TV, an artist, DJ, or student learning the ropes of video editing… I happen to believe that we should prioritize individual freedom and happiness over corporate bottom lines; I also think that even in a technological climate like ours, where it’s no longer possible to have a monopoly on distribution, content and carrier companies can still turn a profit. They just have to start thinking outside the box. Huge companies are bad at this, and that’s why they will die. Much as they would like to, it isn’t possible to legislate us back in time. As long as content comes into our homes, it will be copied and redistributed. It’s like Jack Valenti’s campaign to ban the VCR. Seems pretty ridiculous now right? In 50 years Rogers on Demand will look just as hopelessly stupid. Drafting new, more restrictive copyright laws is not only a waste of time, it will end up jailing and fining people who would otherwise contribute in a big positive way to the Canadian economy. It’s a bit like marijuana legalization. Freeing up content to be shared would do so much good, but the old white men can’t quite get their heads around it.

    As for my box, I think you missed the point. My box isn’t a “service”. It’s hardware. All you’d need to make my magic box scenario a reality is a source of video (cable you paid for) and a network. The only reason boxes like this don’t exist are big media companies thinking that it’s their god-given right to get paid every time someone watches a video or listens to a song (and unfortunately, Canadian law supports them on this to some extent). Well I reject the concept that reproducing and taking in sensory input can be illegal. I refuse to call watching Family Guy on my TV legal, but watching the same episode on my computer or iPod illegal. That’s ridiculous. It’s wrong, and it can’t be allowed to continue.

    You may argue that a world where all content is free will result in fewer movies, fewer TV shows, less music… you couldn’t be more wrong. There would be a lot MORE content, but it would be coming from individuals and small bootstrap production houses instead of Hollywood, Quebecor, or whoever else. I’d welcome the change. Do you realize how much Quebecor alone controls what you see, hear, and read in Montreal? It’s downright scary!

    Reply
  15. Jayme

    Tux
    Hate to break it to you but that type of box is not in the states.Aslo you may want to check around there are people in the states not happy with there cable and dish companys.

    Reply
    1. Tux

      Jayme:

      You should read the posts you reply to. I didn’t say that type of box was in the States. I specifically referred to it as “magic” and as a product that doesn’t exist. U.S copyright laws are worse than ours. There are various efforts to globalize copyright law, and others to make Canadian law more closely resemble U.S law. All this merely to make sure that outdated business models can continue to work, and all at the cost of individual freedom, innovation, and competition. The internet is changing the world and old media is actively resisting, which is really too bad because if they got on board the world would change for the better much faster than it is changing now!

      Geeks like me already have setups similar to what I described in their homes. A friend of mine subscribes to various torrent RSS feeds. New episodes of his favourite shows are automatically downloaded to a large storage device in his basement. His entire home is networked, so in the rooms where he has TVs (the bedroom, den, living room, kids room) he has installed modified XBoxes running media player software. Anyone in the house can turn on an XBox and watch the latest episode of almost anything. If they want to watch something they don’t have, they can remotely add it to the queue using a web browser and in a few minutes it can be watched anywhere in the home. The XBoxes will play almost any video format and can also play YouTube videos, movie trailers from the Apple site, or music from the expansive collection also stored in the basement hard drives.

      The technology to create this kind of setup is cheap, it’s available everywhere, and the only thing stopping companies like Rogers and Videotron from figuring out how to monetize it is their own hardheadedness and stupidity. Instead of choosing to innovate, they have chosen to attack consumers through lobbying for aggressive changes to copyright law.

      Reply
      1. jean.naimard

        A friend of mine subscribes to various torrent RSS feeds. New episodes of his favourite shows are automatically downloaded to a large storage device in his basement.

        Your friend must be a terrorist! In any case, he most definitely hates Amerika!!!
        If old media has it’s way, he will be soon invaded by a SWAT team that will tase him and bring him to jail for 25 years and fine him $22.222.17 for every movie he pirated.
        (I’m setup about the same, except for the large storage device in the basement, because I don’t have a basement).

        Reply
      2. Pepper Boxer

        MS recently punished modded xboxes. Regardless, I don’t think I would ever want to go through the (illegal) hassle of setting up a “basement” server.

        Reply
  16. Albin

    One question I didn’t find the answer to on their new site was whether there was any difference in eligibility for basic cable customers and those who subscribe to packages. If it only means getting a couple of the stations, like TVO, available on basic cable it’s only a yawn.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If the content comes from a premium cable channel (like, say, European soccer games from Setanta), then you need to have that channel as part of your cable TV lineup in order to get access to it on demand.

      Reply
  17. Jayme

    Its one central location for some it may not be a big deal but for some it may be very helpful.Look at hulu for exzampe one of the reasons it so big member wise is because its one central loaction.Most of the content can be found elsewhere yet people just go to hulu where alot is right in one place.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Most of the content can be found elsewhere yet people just go to hulu where alot is right in one place.

      Yet Hulu doesn’t require authentication nor for people to subscribe to anything.

      Reply
  18. Jayme

    From what i have heard in 2010 you will have to subscribe to hulu.Will people pay for there cable plus hulu time will tell.

    Reply
  19. Jayme

    Aaron
    First lots of people like there content online and not everyone like illegal streaming etc.As for they should offer it free to any but rogers cable customers maybe they could offer it for 48 hours as a free triel.Anything longer you risk a huge backlash from paying customers.

    Reply
  20. hibiscus jaune

    My guess is if you were invited it is precisely because they know that you don’t like Canada’s telecom companies. They reached out to make peace I guess. Even if you still didn’t think you had to agree with them, you spread the word anyway…

    Reply
  21. FatJimmy

    I agree with much about what you’ve said. Rogers is a bloodsucking leech. The evil twin brother of the monopoly family alongside Bell. Just this month king Dracula is going to bleed their customers up to a maximum of $50 a month for going over the bandwidth allotment. And it isn’t much. Let’s go the middle road, which is “Extreme” (lol, hardly): you get 95 GB a month allotment and if you go over you get dinged $2.50 a GB and then some weird math comes in because somehow it compounds and you end up getting dinged the whole nine yards. I actually laid down and let them ass rape me for the $25 a month but $50? I’ve got to be really stupid to continue being their customer.

    I’ve missed my whole point to your Rogers on Demand. I disagree that TVO and NFB are cheap content. They may be “free” (well our tax dollars fund it, so it’s hardly ‘free’) but they are high quality. What robs them of being interesting is the same thing that kills a website: they rarely have updates!

    Reply
  22. Humble

    First off, Fagstein, you come across as a bit of a snob – and I conclude that you suck.

    Unfortunately we live in a world where you have to pay for most things. Having to pay for luxuries like television are not the kind of thing I’d go and protest about. You sound like you would protest stuff just cause.

    I think you’re a dink and never want to read your blog again- because I don’t have to!

    Enjoy your life-

    “(•?•)”

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Unfortunately we live in a world where you have to pay for most things. Having to pay for luxuries like television are not the kind of thing I’d go and protest about.

      I’m not. I pay quite a bit for television right now.

      I think you’re a dink and never want to read your blog again- because I don’t have to!

      You’re right. Just like nobody forced you to read this post. I’d feel bad, but you’re a random anonymous Internet troll.

      Reply
    2. Jean Naimard

      First off, Fagstein, you come across as a bit of a snob – and I conclude that you suck.

      Hey! Look! A dope who’s jealous that no one goes on his blog!!! Because you have a blog, right?

      Unfortunately we live in a world where you have to pay for most things. Having to pay for luxuries like television are not the kind of thing I’d go and protest about. You sound like you would protest stuff just cause.

      Because you always let it up yours saying nothing? Naaah, I guess that’s because you love it. Yeah, you must love it.

      I think you’re a dink and never want to read your blog again- because I don’t have to!

      You better watch out, because the Fagstein Brigade is gonna go twist your arm to force you to read it!!!

      Reply

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