High-profile providers move onto the Internet

Some of Canada's big marketing guns are taking aim at the Internet, loaded with plans that take advantage of their reputations as familiar and dependable companies.Until now Canadian Internet service providers have started up on the strength of entrepreneurial foresight, with...

Some of Canada’s big marketing guns are taking aim at the Internet, loaded with plans that take advantage of their reputations as familiar and dependable companies.

Until now Canadian Internet service providers have started up on the strength of entrepreneurial foresight, with more ambition than capital. The arrival of this new wave of high-profile providers marks another milestone in the maturation of the medium in this country, and may represent an ominous development for many smaller operations.

At the end of November, a new Internet access service was launched by Bell Global Systems and MediaLynx Interactive. BGS is a division of Bell Sygma, which is in turn a division of Bell Canada, one of eleven telephone companies operating under the Stentor umbrella.

MediaLinx is a division of BCE, which is the parent company of Bell Canada.

The French and English service, designed for families and business has been launched initially in Toronto, Ottawa/Hull, Montreal and Quebec City.

The national roll out will follow next year backed by the efforts of other Stentor affiliates.

Lib Gibson is vice-president of marketing at WorldLinx Telecommunications, a Bell Canada division that helped develop Sympatico.

Gibson says marketing for the new access service will focus on the Sympatico brand name.

‘We’re trying to make people think [Sympatico] is an easy-to-use and comfortable brand.’ Sympatico is targeted to the next wave of Internet users – mainstream consumers, who are looking for uncomplicated entry into the online world, she adds.

As well, the phone companies aligned under Stentor hope to leverage their formidable brands to help promote Sympatico.

Gibson says the reputation and trust Canadian telcos have built into their names will be communicated to consumers, but she adds the marketing strategy is also to establish Sympatico as having a quality reputation in its own right. ‘There’s two sides to that coin,’ Gibson says.

Ed Cowan, senior media advisor, MediaLinx Interactive, says research done this summer showed that ‘thousands’ of people were waiting for a company, with a reliable name to launch an Internet service.

Telephone companies were the consumers’ first choice in an Internet service provider, he says.

As a result, Bell Sygma ‘raced’ to have the product available by Christmas.

Maritime Tel & Tel and B.C. Tel, two other Stentor affiliates, are expected to launch Sympatico shortly.

Advertisers are also very interested in Sympatico and its Web site as Sympatico offers ad space, or ‘co-branding’ on a number of its pages, Cowan says.

Bank of Montreal, Mastercard and Apple are three of a number of advertisers which will place ads on the Sympatico Web site.

Sympatico offers access to the Internet, Netscape Navigator software, a World Wide Web page, Eudora electronic mail software, and a 24-hour help line.

The Macintosh version of the software will not be available until early 1996.

Advertising, created by independent creative director Richard Clewes, carries the tagline ‘What’s On Your Mind’ and focuses on Sympatico as the Internet service for all Canadians.

The campaign will run in transit and print in areas where Sympatico is available.

The Sympatico startup package, priced at $29.95, is now being sold at Toys R Us Canada, Compucentre, Future Shop, Radio Shack and Bell Phonecentres. Other retailers will likely sell the product as well, although no details are being discussed at this time.

Pricing of the service – $9.95/ month with five prepaid hours plus $1.50 for each additional hour; $24.95/month with 25 prepaid hours plus $.95 for each additional hour; and $39.95/ month with 50 prepaid hours plus $.75 for each additional hour – is competitive, but Sympatico is more expensive than a number of competitors such as iStar Internet, Canada’s largest Internet provider, which charges $29.95/month for 90 hours with $1.00 for each additional hour.

However, Gibson says, research shows a ‘typical’ user is online between 17 and 22 hours a month, adding the idea was to create a price plan with the typical user in mind.

She believes $24.95/month package for 25 hours is competitive.

Another major competitor on the market is the IBM Global Network, a service offered by Advantis, a wholly-owned subsidiary of IBM Canada.

IBM Global Network is now one year old and operational in 12 cities. It had virtually no marketing support in Canada until two weeks ago, when it was announced that five of Southam’s daily newspapers – The Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Sun and Montreal’s Gazette – would carry advertising for the service to its subscribers. More of Southam’s newspapers will join in next year.

Bert Pieke, manager market development for Advantis Canada, says the service will be able to compete ‘head-on’ with Sympatico.

The IBM brand carries credibility and is well-recognized in the marketplace, he says, as are Southam’s newspapers which makes consumers more comfortable buying the product.

IBM Global Network, targeted to business and home users – but focused on the travelling business professional – offers six Internet user IDs for the price of one, access in more than 400 cities around the world – with no hidden long distance charges – and immediate connection to hometown news each time a user accesses the Internet.

The service also offers a World Wide Web home page, a 24 hour help desk and an online accounting system showing usage and billing.

IBM Global Network costs $9.95/month for three hours plus $3.00 for each additional hour or $29.95/month for 30 hours plus $1.50 for each additional hour. Startup software, including Netscape Navigator, Eudora and Trumpet Winsock, is priced at $29.95.

Last week, Netcom Canada of Toronto, with majority shareholder Netcom On-Line Communications Services of San Jose-Calif., announced it would begin offering Internet service in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal by the end of December.

Netcom On-Line Communications Services, the largest provider of consumer access to the Internet in the U.S., promises to be competitive in price and marketing with other heavies, like Bell and Rogers, now in the playing field.

Internet services by cable, the future of high speed Internet access and interactivity, have also emerged and are being offered in select markets by Rogers Cable and Cogeco Cable.

Rogers’ new service, Wave, will roll-out first in Newmarket, Ont. where trials have been taking place for some time.

The service costs $39.95/month, including rental of a cable modem. There is a one-time $99.00 installation fee.

Montreal-based Cogeco Cable is offering Internet access to cable subscribers in Trois-Rivieres and Shawinigan, Que. for $44.95/ month including modem rental. In April next year, the service will roll out to other areas of Quebec and Ontario.

Cogeco Cable has also signed a deal with Quebecor Multimedia to develop a virtual interactive shopping mall on the Internet for subscribers in Trois-Rivieres.