The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Q&A: Shomi execs on battling Netflix, the value of 'NCIS' over HBO, pricing

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TORONTO - The president of Rogers Media refuses to say the N-word.

And "Netflix" isn't spelled out in a combative press release announcing the new digital streaming service Shomi — a partnership between rivals Shaw Communications and Rogers — which is set for a limited launch in November.

But it's plainly obvious which company the Canadian media giants are targeting.

"Tired of the endless scrolling?," "Tired of watching outdated series?" reads the pitch for Shomi, which is billed as having a more-compact but more-current catalogue of 340 TV series and 1,200 films to stream, at the same $8.99-a-month price point that Netflix is phasing in for its subscribers.

The Canadian Press sat down for an interview with Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media, and Barbara Williams, senior vice president of content for Shaw Media, who said they don't fear their big rival, expect more streaming competitors will emerge, and argued they don't need HBO content to sell Canadians on their new streaming service. Answers have been edited and condensed.

CP: You were diplomatic in talking about Netflix as a competitor during your press conference but more adversarial in your press release. Which is your approach?

Pelley: "We're all of that but for me, I never talk about competitors, I simply focus on what our product is. There's another (streaming video on demand service) out there, you mentioned the name. I think the user interface that we have is better, I think the content we have is very compelling to Canadian consumers, and I think the curation that we did with our collections is stronger."

Williams: "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."

CP: It can't be a coincidence that you've priced Shomi in line with Netflix.

Pelley: "No. It's not like you don't know what's going on in the marketplace, you've looked very closely at the marketplace and $8.99 is the price point."

CP: Many consumers consider HBO shows to be the holy grail of content they want to stream. Are the licensing rights attainable for Shomi?

Pelley: "I think it's impossible for one service to have all the content ... FX and FXX have some of the best content that's out there. When you look at shows from 'The Strain,' 'Fargo' — (which won best miniseries) last night at the Emmys — 'The Tyrant, to 'American Horror Story,' there is a lot of unbelievable content out there."

Williams: "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 ... What we'll be able to do with this service is offer up a set of content that is broad and popular and different."

Kelley: "I think 'NCIS' is the No. 1 show on (the existing service) Rogers in Demand."

Williams: "(No. 1) in the world!"

CP: Why did you come together as rivals to launch Shomi? Were other companies in discussions to partner up as well?

Pelley: "There were a lot of rumours, there were a lot of discussions throughout the entire process, but at the end of the day, Shaw became our partner and ... they've been a terrific partner to work with."

Williams: "As partners we bring complimentary programming sets to this, we clearly have distinct prime-time schedules ... we also have really different depth in types of content in our specialty side as well. So the combination of the collections of the kinds of content we can bring to the table I think is hugely complimentary."

CP: Do you expect other Canadian rivals might launch competitors to Shomi?

Pelley: "We have our hands full launching Shomi and putting together the user interface and preparing for it, so we have our hands full worried about Shomi right now."

Williams: "We're proud to be Canadian-made and Canadian-first in the space. It's been a while coming and we're proud to be stepping up and doing this."

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