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.

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.