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

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.
TheGarden_FL

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.