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

Excite.ca. 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.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group