Canuck firm wades into TV Web stream

A small, Toronto-based multimedia shop is attempting to build a global business around the promise of delivering television on the Web. And, no, we're not talking about iCraveTV. Virtual Broadcast Corp., founded only a year ago, has begun to carve itself...

A small, Toronto-based multimedia shop is attempting to build a global business around the promise of delivering television on the Web. And, no, we’re not talking about iCraveTV.

Virtual Broadcast Corp., founded only a year ago, has begun to carve itself a niche in the fledgling Internet video streaming industry. With the January launch of its portal, TVRadio.com, the company claims to be the first Web site in North America to produce and host interactive specialty channels featuring original, made-for-Internet TV programming.

While Canadian companies like Extend Media and Blue Zone take existing traditional television programs and add Web-enabling capabilities, TVRadio.com creates original content specifically for the Internet.

In addition to producing original content, the company will be providing advertisers with the opportunity to create highly interactive ads and beyond-the-banner initiatives.

‘We’re a television network in a box – no one else makes original programming,’ says Sidney M. Cohen, president and executive producer. ‘We’re staking our claim to our little patch of dial. We have no doubt there will be others. There’s room for a lot of players here.’

The company is planning an official launch in six weeks, to coincide with the rollout of a major branding campaign. While Cohen says the North America-wide effort will consist of general publicity, direct mail, e-mail and strategic partnerships, he declines to divulge details.

Visitors to the TVRadio.com site – which bills itself as ‘The Infotainment Network’ – are provided a list of programming options. The current line-up includes Men, Women, Teen, Astrology, Handy Hints, Private Eye, Health, Movies, Comedy, Cooking and – the most popular offering to date – Naturist TV, which promotes a ‘wholesome, clothes-free lifestyle.’

Within each network, or channel, is an index of programs, which in turn features a list of episodes – one- to 10-minute video clips created and produced by TVRadio.com or licensed on an exclusive basis, often from Canadian producers.

While broadcasting on the Internet has been hampered by the slow adoption of high-speed Internet access, many pundits believe it is finally beginning to build some steam – a necessary prerequisite to attracting eyeballs and ad revenues.

But whether the content is compelling enough to engage visitors and the ads compelling enough to encourage sales is an open question for advertisers, says Don Barnes, media director of Ogilvy & Mather and OgilvyOne Worldwide, and director of Ogilvy Interactive.

The problem right now, he says, is determining the proper model to entice people to look at a commercial in that type of situation – in addition to making an offer the consumer can’t refuse. Web publishers have to provide content that will drive people to their site, he says, while marketers have to find out what to do to persuade people to look at their messages.

The potential for advertisers of broadband and interactivity is strong, he says, yet many clients and agencies aren’t even giving it a second thought.

‘[It] absolutely boggles my mind,’ says Barnes. ‘There are some guys out there who are right on top of it and ‘get it’, and then there are a whole bunch of agencies and advertisers who are totally behind.’

Advertising opportunities at TVRadio.com include traditional banner ads, specialty channel sponsorships, program sponsorships, streaming television commercials with direct e-commerce or contest opportunities, coupons, and viewer participation. According to Cohen, the company has already inked major advertising deals with Swatch Canada, the World Wildlife Fund, Avis, Clearly Canadian and Corel, and it is still in discussion with several other high-profile advertisers.

The programming categories within TVRadio.com are demographically oriented or subject-oriented to enable advertising and e-commerce to be linked to content, says Chris Meraw, the company’s founder and CEO. He says Virtual Broadcast Corp. is hoping to become an e-commerce player by linking shopping services to its content areas.

After that, he says, the next step will be signing up users for personalized content and regular updates in an effort to develop the company’s database and facilitate one-to-one marketing.

So far, TVRadio.com has attracted over 150,000 visitors from 62 countries – with over half the viewership from the U.S., says Meraw. The site is targeted primarily at the broadband-enabled, although it is set up to serve low-speed (28K to 56K) Internet users, at least until current technological limitations are eased.

‘The install base of high-speed Internet users is growing by the second,’ says Meraw. ‘The days of accessing the Net over a dial-up 56K or even 28.8K modem are over.’

A handful of Canadian streaming media companies like wwbc.net (Worldwide Broadcast Network), www.viavid.com, and even children’s content producer Nelvana are joining such veterans as Real Networks and Yahoo!’s Broadcast.com in a rush to stake their territory before the major networks move in.

But it will still be some time before there are enough consumers with broadband access to make the medium attractive for national advertisers and content providers, says John Sobol, an associate with Toronto-based Convergence Consulting Group, which will soon release a report on the streaming media industry in Canada.

‘In the short run, the streaming media industry is hindered by the fact that access is controlled – it’s in the hands of the cable industry,’ he says. ‘Delivering broadband access to consumers is a very expensive proposition for both cable companies and telcos. It won’t happen overnight.’

Meraw is undeterred. ‘We want to establish ourselves as one of the premier portals on the Net for infotainment. To do so, we had to be early to market. We are interested in serving the under-served market.

‘Eventually, it will be a liability if corporations and portals don’t change fast to incorporate this multimedia experience. People will go where the action is.’.e

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