Some people love to sit and immerse themselves in a fantastic movie. I, however, prefer an amazingly crafted, riveting TV series that I can follow week-to-week, or binge watch to my heart's content. So when it comes to streaming video-on-demand, subscription TV services, I'm the consummate customer.
In Canada, there's some competition brewing in this space. Netflix found its way into the country years ago, and has blown up ever since, attracting tons of support from both subscribers and partners, alike, and becoming a contributing factor in the trend toward cable cutting. So it was only a matter of time until providers like Rogers and Bell came out with their own offerings - their answers to Netflix. These are shomi and CraveTV, respectively.
Now, after a few weeks of enjoying all three services, here's how they stack up in five key areas: accessibility, content, conten categorization, pricing, and user interface.
First off is the easiest comparison: price. All three services offer flat monthly fees for unlimited access, taking, of course, one's Internet package into consideration to avoid overage usage charges. Both Netflix and shomi are $8.99 per month, while CraveTV is coming in more aggressively at just $4. However, at least for the time being, both shomi and CraveTV are only available to certain existing customers. More on that later.
While CraveTV promises some stellar content, like Seinfeld, Monty Python, The Sopranos, and Doctor Who, there is some justification for its half-price offering when it comes to the UI. It's much simpler than the others, meant simply for logging in and viewing exactly what you want to watch and nothing more. You won't get recommendations, or program matching through algorithms like you would with the other services. This isn't an intelligent TV assistant - it's just a portal to go back in time and watch a series you missed, or want to indulge in. And that's perfectly fine for some.
Shomi is much more like Netflix in its UI, with programming grouped into various clever collections (Six Degrees of Sandler, School Daze, and Dating Bad, just to name a few); the ability to create different profiles and avatars for different users, including kids; and tons of information on each show, with everything interconnected in an intelligent web. For example, select Modern Family and you can not only view every episode and see a description of it, but you can also click on each actor's name to see what else he's been in, or the director/creator to see what other projects he's involved with. You'll also get a "more where that came from" list of recommended titles that are like that show. With CraveTV, while you can select and watch any episode from Seinfeld's entire nine season run, and see a short description of each episode, that's where it ends.
Netflix goes over and above, too, showing details like what's currently trending, and even letting you personalize the recommendations engine. Netflix, in fact, prides itself on its algorithms for ensuring that subscribers are informed about anything and everything that would most interest them. When I searched for The Wire, a show my colleague told me about, I wasn't just told it wasn't available, but was given a list of suggestions of shows like The Wire. (The show, by the way, is available on CraveTV.) There are small details that TV lovers will appreciate with Netflix as well. For instance, I watched the first three seasons of The Walking Dead on Netflix a year ago, which is all that was available at the time. If I click into the series today to resume watching, it intelligently recalls this, and starts right up again where I would have left off, on episode 1 of season 4, which is now available.
All in all, the UI for all three services are intuitive. Shomi and Netflix are on par in terms of intelligent recommendations and added value, while CraveTV is ideal for those who want a simple portal to library TV. And again, this is reflected in the price.
Categorization of Content
All three services have a convenient search tool for manually typing in the show you want to find to see if it's there.
In terms of categories, CraveTV has the simplest menu: Drama, Comedy, Reality TV, Documentaries, Music, or the HBO Collection. Shomi and Netflix, on the other hand, offer a much larger selection - shomi with a total of 15 categories including additions like Horror, Romance, and Sci-Fi, and Netflix with 22 categories, ranging from all of the aforementioned, plus ones like Classics, Gay & Lesbian, and Sports & Fitness. Interestingly, both shomi and Netflix have categories for Canadian content while CraveTV does not.
The clear winner on this front is Netflix, which is available across all possible screens a customer could possibly want to use, and through a multitude of devices. You can watch from mobile apps on any device, through gaming consoles, Apple TV, virtually every smart TV platform, Google Chromecast, the list goes on. In the U.S., DISH has even integrated Netflix access into its set-top box, so who knows if Netflix may be looking to do the same north of the border, too. For this report, I watched Netflix on TV using an Apple TV.
Both shomi and CraveTV are only available to their own customers - Rogers and Shaw for shomi and Bell, Telus OptikTV, and Eastlink for CraveTV. That said, both are in the beta stage so this may change. Bell has said it is open to offering CraveTV through any platform, and Rogers has made it clear that the ultimate plan is to make shomi available to anyone, just as Netflix is.
Already, shomi has added support for the Xbox 360, though many are puzzled as to why support hasn't been added for the newer Xbox One. And Google Chromecast support was expected by the end of 2014, but to date, nothing has yet been confirmed. Shomi is also accessible through Rogers and Shaw set-top boxes.
Rogers Hybrid Fibre 50 and 60 or Extreme Internet customers saw shomi added automatically to their service, and will have it for free through to March 31, 2015. Eligible customers of other Rogers services can sign up for a 30-day trial. In Western Canada, Shaw cable customers get the same one-month trial, while Shaw Internet subscribers will enjoy 60 days of free access through the shomi app and Website. After both periods expire, the $8.99/mo. fee kicks in for continued use.
For this report, I found a roundabout way to watch shomi on the big screen: I connected a Google Chromecast to my AV system, called it up on the TV, then used the Chrome browser on my MacBook Pro to mirror the screen. As noted, soon shomi users will be able to more easily use a Chromecast via the shomi app on a mobile device.
CraveTV is accessible by Telus (Optik TV), Bell (Satellite and Fibe), Bell Aliant, Eastlink, Northwestel, and other Canadian Cable Systems Alliance (CCSA) member customers, in some cases through set-top boxes, and via computer, tablet or smartphone; and will be available on select Bell Satellite TV set-top boxes in early 2015. Additional partnerships are planned for accessibility on smart TVs and video gaming consoles. As a Fibe subscriber, I watched CraveTV via channel 1310 on my set-top box for this report.