Online portal providers prepare for battle

A pitched marketing battle will soon be shaping up in the Canadian online portal industry, where major corporate players like Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Quebecor are jockeying furiously to become the preferred online destination for Canadian Web surfers, and control...

A pitched marketing battle will soon be shaping up in the Canadian online portal industry, where major corporate players like Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Quebecor are jockeying furiously to become the preferred online destination for Canadian Web surfers, and control the leading gateway to Canada’s emerging e-commerce market.

Bell Canada, the current leader of the pack, is preparing to launch a major marketing initiative to promote its recent joint venture with Waltham, Mass.-based Lycos, which will see the unveiling of a revamped Canadian portal, called Sympatico-Lycos, on May 1.

Sympatico, which is already the most popular domestic Web site among Canadians, with approximately 2.4 million unique visitors in December, according to Media Metrix, will gain a number of Lycos-branded properties under the deal, including free e-mail, homepage building, shopping and personalized news.

Although Sympatico currently generates a relatively modest $17.5 million in annual advertising revenue, Bell Canada chairman and CEO Jean Monty recently said he expects the added traffic from the Lycos deal to boost the Web site’s revenue to as much as $100 million by the end of 2001.

The deal may not have been the Canadian version of the landmark AOL-Time Warner merger that was inked last month, but Internet analysts say Bell’s investment in the joint venture is a step in the right direction.

‘I think it’s a good first step that helps Sympatico enhance its lead, and get some outside content,’ explains George Karidis, an analyst with Brockville, Ont.-based Yankee Group. ‘[But] I think the real play here is how does [Bell] take what it develops with Lycos and turn it into a broadband service.’

Broadband, or high-capacity, high-speed access, is crucial to the success of both Bell and its chief rival, Rogers Communications, since it enables Internet surfers to access video-on-demand, telephone and other forms of rich online content that are driving mergers such as the one between AOL and Time Warner.

Rogers increased its high-speed Internet subscriber base by nearly 47,000 last week when it purchased Montreal-based cable giant Le Groupe Vidéotron in a deal estimated to be worth nearly $6 billion. The marriage will boost Rogers’ total high-speed user base to 232,700, substantially more than the 51,000 members who are signed up with Bell’s high-speed dial-up service.

And on March 1, Rogers will make its first foray into the portal business with the launch of The Web site, a 50-50 partnership between Rogers Media and U.S.-based Excite@Home, will offer original Canadian content from the Rogers Media division, which publishes titles such as Canadian Business and Chatelaine, as well as from a number of other partners, says Rogers spokesperson Jan Innes. The initial site will offer only narrowband service, although a broadband version is in the works.

But not every analyst feels that Canadian content will prove much of a draw to consumers.

‘The portal guys have not come anywhere close to figuring this out,’ says Jordan Worth, an analyst at International Data Corporation (Canada) in Toronto. ‘[Canadian content] hasn’t necessarily been the make or break scenario for any communications organization in this country that can rely on American content. The cable companies have made a history of that – basically what sells their services is the U.S. content.’

Quebecor-controlled Canoe, meanwhile, has also been busy enhancing its Web site with original branded properties, like its recently launched Lifewise site, and plans to announce a deal with a distribution provider later this month, says Rosanne Caron, vice-president, marketing and research, with Canoe. Canoe, which is part of Quebecor’s new media division, currently ranks fourth among the most popular Canadian Web sites, with just under 1.3 million unique visitors in December, according to Media Metrix.

But unlike Bell or Rogers, the portal has no way to actually get into Canadian homes. Any deal with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) would likely make Canoe the default home page for that service, thus increasing visitors to the site and consequently, ad dollars.

Zulu grows its team and makes a slate of promotions

A director of interactive production for Zulubot is among dozens of new faces and roles at the agency, in response to recent wins.
Zulu Alpha Kilo_New Zuligans

Toronto indie shop Zulu Alpha Kilo had made several new hires and promotions on the heels of new business and also organic growth from existing clients.

Zulu could not officially announce the account wins at this time.

However, it can report that Ece Inan, most recently at Toronto design and tech shop Array of Stars, has been named the agency’s new director of interactive production for Zulubot, the agency’s production arm. In the new role, Inan will lead AR, VR, voice and other digital innovation projects.

Also on the production side, James Graham, who has spent the last 17 years with Grip, has joined the agency as its studio director.

Zulu has also made numerous additions on the client services side, led by Michael Brathwaite, also from Grip, as account director.

It’s also announced a spate of new account supervisors, including Hayley Blackmore (from G Adventures), Risa Kastelic (from BT/A), Kara Oddi (also from BT/A), Emily Anzarouth (also from Grip), Chris Rosario (from FCB/Six) and Sarah Shiff (from Rethink).

In addition to the new hires (pictured above), the agency has also announced several promotions: Alyssa Guttman moves from account director to group account director, while Nina Bhayana, Michelle Fournier, Jenn Gaidola-Sobral and Erin McManus have all been promoted to account director, and Haley Holm to account supervisor. On the strategy team, strategists Carly Miller and Spencer MacEachern have both been promoted to strategy director, while Shaunagh Farrelly, who has been with Zulu for two years in a client service role, moves into a new role as a digital strategist.

In December, the shop also announced that Stephanie Yung would be returning to the agency after a stint in New York as its head of design. Recent wins the agency has been able to announce including work as AOR for the Ottawa Senators, as well as a new arrangement with existing client Consonant Skincare, setting up an in-house team to support growth after taking an equity stake in the company.

Zulu president Mike Sutton says it’s wonderful, in a new year, to welcome new faces and energy to the team and says the agency is fortunate to have had so many people across the agency step up to support its clients.

“Simply put, they were rock stars, and the promotions are very well deserved,” Sutton says.