Tag Archives: Rogers

Branchez-Vous unplugged

I suppose it was kind of inevitable. The independent media company Branchez-Vous!, known for its boring-looking Web portal, its news service that cribs other news services, and other websites including Showbizz.net and Fanatique.ca, has been bought by Rogers Media for $25 million, pending approval from shareholders (though administrators with 76% of the stock have already agreed to the takeover).

As much as the media holdings are valuable, though, the acquisition’s main value seems to come from the advertising network used by bloggers and more mainstream sites like Le Devoir and Rue Frontenac.

Financially, the deal is pretty sweet for B-V. The 40-cents-per-share price is 242% of the company’s closing share price on Thursday and about double what the stock has been trading over the past six months at least.

But as much as I think the company is worth every penny of the asking price, I can’t help but feel a bit sad at the loss of one of the few truly independent media sources left in Quebec.

It’s not that I think Rogers is evil (okay, I do think Rogers is evil, but not more than its competitors) or that there will be some radical change to the way Branchez-Vous operates (they’ve already said all management and employees are staying). It’s that a decision that was made by a small management team might now have to go through focus groups to remove any chance that it might offend anyone or detract in some way from the company’s branding.

And even though the acquisition seems to be like a poodle eating a horse (Rogers’s holdings in francophone Quebec are pretty limited – Châtelaine, L’actualité and LOULOU, plus some lesser-known magazines and trade publications – and its web properties get about a quarter of the traffic of Branchez-Vous’s network), expect B-V to look more like Rogers by the end of this than Rogers looks like B-V.

Expect, for example, that Branchez-Vous freelancers are forced to sign Rogers Media’s draconian contracts, that would grant Rogers the ability to freely reuse B-V content in its magazines.

And next time there’s a labour conflict involving a media company (as was the case with Rue Frontenac), expect them to think a lot harder before deciding to take sides.

Most of all, a company that already took itself far too seriously will now do so even more.

But I guess it could have been worse. They could have been bought by Quebecor.

Community lacking in community TV

The CRTC will be holding a hearing this month about community television, and at least one group is hoping they will close loopholes (or even just curb abuses that aren’t even loopholes) that allow cable companies to use these channels as promotional arms.

The CRTC requires cable companies to devote 5% of their gross revenues to Canadian programming. Of that, 2% must go to a community channel, kind of like those “cable access channels” we hear about in the U.S.

Even though it’s a very small fraction of their money, the cable companies decided they would put it to good use. Instead of just giving it over to an independent community broadcaster, they’d run their own community networks. Rogers uses the moniker RogersTV. With Videotron, it’s VOX. Shaw TV, TVCogeco, you get the idea.

The problem with having the cable companies in control is that this can lead to abuses. Rogers is being accused of having too much advertising. Others of not keeping proper records (which, admittedly, is a chronic problem for many low-budget broadcasters).

But the biggest problem seems to be that the programming itself isn’t fulfilling its mandate:

The CRTC audits found that Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw, and Persona all classified staff-produced news and other programming-even MTV promos in one instance-as “access programming”. Some Eastlink systems reported no access programming at all.

“The CRTC’s data show that Canada’s ‘community’ channels have become promotional tools for cable companies,” said Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS.

A look at VOX, Videotron’s community channel, and you can see what they mean. A show devoted to TVA’s Star Académie. A show put together by a (former) Quebecor-owned weekly newspaper. Quebecor personalities are all over the schedule.

Sure, there’s the “Mise à jour [city name here]”, and the half hour where they show traffic cameras. But I don’t see much access here, nor do they make obvious how someone could get involved.

Perhaps the era of community television is over. We no longer need cable access when we have Internet access. People can just put their videos on YouTube. (Ratings certainly suggest that, with market shares of 0.1 and 0.2%.)

But until the CRTC makes that determination, cable companies should start playing by the rules – the spirit as well as the letter.

UPDATE (May 15): La Presse’s Marc Cassivi also thinks Vox isn’t doing what it should as far as community programming.

Rogers’s half-assed quality control

Last fall, I was asked to participate in a beta test of Rogers On Demand Online, a video streaming website for Rogers customers only. It has since launched and anyone who subscribes to Rogers Cable or Rogers Wireless can watch videos on the site. My review pointed out the disappointing video library, which included mostly Rogers-owned stuff like Citytv and a few specialty networks that didn’t really excite me (and are also unavailable unless you subscribe to the channel with Rogers Cable).

A couple of weeks ago I was on the site watching the one series that’s worth my attention – the West Wing through its Warner Brothers channel – when I noticed the video was a bit dark.

Make that very dark. I could barely make out what was going on in many scenes. Adjustments to my screen’s brightness were futile. So I clicked on the “feedback” link on the video and said that it was too dark.

This is the email I got back:

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Massive cuts at CityTV, but Rogers doesn’t care

Anne Mroczkowski

The axe fell Tuesday at CityTV. Everyone found out yesterday that long-time Toronto anchor Anne Mroczkowski and about 60 others have lost their jobs in a new round of cutbacks at Canada’s fourth-largest English broadcast network, which will also result in a lot of local programming being cancelled.

Coverage at the National Post, Toronto Sun, Toronto StarFinancial Post, Canadian Press, Globe and Mail, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and all the usual Toronto blogs. Eye has a timeline of City cuts. Breakfast Television’s Kevin Frankish has a video of remaining employees talking about how much it sucks.

The irony in this is that CityTV is owned by Rogers, which is part of that Stop the TV Tax campaign by the cable and satellite companies against fee for carriage. Rogers has argued through it and appearances in front of the CRTC that local television doesn’t need the extra funding and that it is committed to local television without government funding.

With the cuts at City, and more importantly the cuts to programming at all City stations, we can formally call bullshit on that claim. Rogers doesn’t oppose fee for carriage because it believes that’s what’s best for City, it opposes fee for carriage because its cable business is more important to it than its TV business.

And so Rogers continues to sabotage its TV stations for its own benefit, and people like Anne Mroczkowski pay the price.

Rogers On Demand Online: Meh.

Homepage of Rogers On Demand Online

Homepage of Rogers On Demand Online

A few days ago, I got an email from a social media marketing guy at Rogers, inviting me to participate in a sneak preview of the Rogers On Demand Online service being launched on Monday (see coverage of that at Digital Home, Paid Content, Mediacaster).

It’s being called a “Canadian Hulu”, which is like saying CTV’s video portal is a Canadian Hulu, except that CTV doesn’t charge to watch its content.

I can’t imagine why Rogers would want me participating in this. I guess they cast a wide net and don’t read this blog, because otherwise they’d know I don’t think very highly of Canada’s telecom companies, and most of my reviews are negative ones.

This one is no exception.

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Battle of the fee-for-carriage misinformation campaigns

The battle for “fee for carriage” – forcing cable and satellite TV providers to hand over money to over-the-air broadcasters – is getting ugly.

A few weeks after CTV got Global and the CBC to join its “Save Local TV” campaign (now rebranded “Local TV Matters“), Bell (which owns the largest satellite TV provider) and Rogers (which owns Rogers Cable) have launched the counter-campaign Stop the TV Tax. Both websites feature “facts” pages with incredibly misleading arguments and statistics about the business model of television, and both are racing against the clock to get people to support their side in upcoming CRTC hearings on the fee for carriage issue.

Notably absent from either side is Quebecor, which owns the TVA television network (and Sun TV station in Toronto) but also the Videotron cable service. CityTV, the other notable absence on the broadcaster side, is owned by Rogers, which has clearly picked the other side in this debate.

The “TV tax” website has prompted CTVGlobeMedia to respond by calling it “misinformation”, while in the same release saying that cable companies are charging Canadians for conventional television, which is demonstrably false.

While CTV et al’s claims are suspect, the Rogers and Bell throw up some doozies of their own, including fantom quotes saying incorrectly that this is a “one time” fee. Except nobody said fee for carriage would be a one-time fee, and the website provides no source for this supposed quote. They also claim that conventional broadcasters had profits of $400 million last year, but the CRTC put that number at only $8 million (down from over $100 million) when it released statistical data in February. (UPDATE Oct. 6: I asked the Stop the TV Tax people about this, and they pointed to a Canwest quarterly report and an opinion piece about CTV, neither of which break down profit by conventional vs. specialty channels, and on Global’s side the operating profit for its non-Alliance-Atlantis TV network – which still includes a half-dozen cable channels like MovieTime and TVtropolis – was about $40 million)

When it comes to choosing between greedy broadcasters and greedy cable and satellite companies, most informed Canadians would prefer to choose neither. These slick (and expensive) lobbying campaigns – just think of how much they’re spending to lobby the CRTC directly if they’re spending this much on us – only reinforces the fact that both sides have plenty of money to spare.

Rogers reverse graffiti ads are a ridiculous waste

A worker pressure-washes the sidewalk through a Rogers ad template

A worker pressure-washes the sidewalk through a Rogers ad template

The other night, leaving work just after midnight, I noticed a pair of guys with a truck doing some cleaning. It’s not uncommon for graffiti removal pressure-washing to take place late at night downtown, since that’s when pedestrian and other traffic is at its lowest.

But I noticed something odd: They were spraying a board of some sort.

The Rogers template up close

The Rogers template up close

Getting a closer look, I saw it was an ad for Rogers, and put two and two together: these guys were part of some guerilla marketing campaign for Rogers, engaging in “reverse graffiti

Now, reverse graffiti is not a new concept. It’s been used before to great effect artistically, and it’s been usurped by corporate forces too. So despite what the marketing genius behind this thinks, there’s no new ground being broken here.

But that’s not what bothers me.

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Rogers missing the point

Rogers, which appeared in front of the CRTC today to tell them it’s a bad idea to make crazy-profitable cable companies give money to on-the-brink TV broadcasters, says the whole CanCon problem is moot because it’s developing a Canadian version of Hulu which will feature CanCon.

There’s only one hitch: You have to be a Rogers cable subscriber to use it.

Perhaps CBC got it wrong, or Rogers executives are using a stretched analogy, but they seem to be talking about video on demand over digital cable, not online video.

UPDATE: This post makes it clearer: Rogers wants to setup online video in a walled garden format where you’d have password-protected access to programming based on what you’ve subscribed to on their cable system.

People in Quebec who have Videotron Illico digital TV get lots of video on demand. Plenty of TV shows can be viewed for free on the service, provided those TV shows are owned by Quebecor. Quebecor owns Videotron and TVA, so you only see TVA shows on the service.

That doesn’t sound to me like it’s solving the new media problem.

Rogers contract renewal: Just get a cheaper plan

The folks from Rogers Wireless have been calling me incessantly for the past week or two. They always call twice, from an unlisted Toronto number, and never leave a voice mail.

To get them to stop, I finally answered today. As I expected, they were trying to get me to sign on to a fixed-term contract by “offering” me a brand new phone.

Except my phone works fine. Sure, the plug for the charger needs to be jiggled a bit before it works, and the exterior buttons turn the ringer off when it’s in my pocket. But I can still make and receive calls and text messages.

So I told the guy I wasn’t interested. Then he decides he wants to sell me on cool new features, but I’m happy with what I have.

I ask him if there’s anything he can offer me that would reduce my bill and keep the same features. Then he pulls out this “exclusive offer” where I get 100 daytime and 1000 evening/weekend minutes for $15 a month, $10 cheaper than my current plan (which also includes unlimited incoming calls). Knowing that I only use about 100 minutes a month anyway, I figure it’s worth it (evenings also start earlier, 6pm instead of 8pm). I tell him to go ahead.

He also gets me to change my features package for another one at the same price which gives me more text messages and has caller name ID.

But when he told me I’d have to sign on for 36 months, I hestitated. I don’t know where I’ll be in 36 months, and I don’t know if I’m ready to commit that much. No problem, he says, he can do it for 24 months instead (that’s apparently the minimum).

So in exchange for a 24-month commitment, my already cheap cellphone bill is now $10 cheaper per month, and I have more features.

So if Rogers is calling you to get you to sign a new contract, consider the following:

  • If you’re happy with your phone, tell them that and see what kind of plan features you can get instead
  • Ask them what they can offer you to reduce your bill instead of adding new features
  • Don’t readily accept a 36-month contract. See if they’ll reduce the commitment to 24 months. (After those 24 months, you can bet they’ll be calling again to repeat the process.)
  • Do a quick calculation in your head to see if it’s worth it. If they’re not offering a significant discount, don’t accept a new contract. Either get a new phone or tell them you’re thinking of switching to a new, cheaper provider.

CRTC Roundup: Rogers gets its own CP24

The big news this month is that Rogers has been given permission to launch its own 24-hour all-news channel in the Toronto area called CityNews.

Now, you might think, doesn’t City already have a 24-hour all-news channel for the Toronto area?

No, silly. CP24, the existing all-Toronto, all-news station, was owned by CHUM, which also owned City. But CHUM was acquired by CTV, which was forced to dump City as a result to satisfy the CRTC. For some reason known only to the CRTC, that didn’t include CP24, even though it was heavily linked to CityTV. Rogers ended up buying City, and is now the one behind this new network.

Even under CTV, CP24 is very much a City network. It even airs City News three times daily. Now, not only does CTV have to figure out how CP24 and CTV Newsnet are going to coexist, it has to deal with this new channel from Rogers which is no doubt going to take all the City content for itself.

Oh, and how does the CRTC justify having two Toronto all-news stations like this? Well, they split hairs like I’ve never seen before (emphasis mine):

CITY News (Toronto) would provide a niche news service targeted to Greater Toronto. In contrast, CP24’s mandate is and has always been to serve the region of Southern Ontario.

Yes, that’s right. CITY is for Toronto, while CP24 is for Southern Ontario. Therefore they don’t compete directly with each other. Yeah.

I might have understood if the CRTC pointed to its recent decision to allow more competition for news and spoirts programming. Instead, it came up with the flimsiest excuse in the book to pretend like the obvious isn’t true.

The application was opposed by CTV (for obvious reasons) and by The Weather Network, because of City’s unhealthy obsession with providing information on the weather.

Elsewhere in the news/blogosphere:

CTV wants HD loophole

CTV is applying for special permission from the CRTC to distribute HD versions of its local stations (including CFCF Montreal) to cable and satellite networks, even though those stations do not have digital broadcast licenses (and the CRTC normally requires that before distributing HD feeds). CTV offers excuses for not getting those licenses, and says that they should be granted this loophole to keep Canadians from seeking the same programming on U.S. networks. Deadline for comments is Jan. 9.

TSN2 is OK

Following complaints about the launch of TSN2 by the CBC and The Score, the CRTC has concluded that, though TSN is essentially exploiting a loophole to create a new channel, it has every right to do so. TSN2 takes advantage of time shifting and a special allowance to replace up to 10% of its programming on split feeds (presumably to get around regional blackouts for live sporting events) in order to create a second channel which shows 90% identical programming (though time-shifted three hours from TSN) and 10% different live sporting events from TSN.

Two new French-language networks

The CRTC approved Category 2 digital licenses for two new French-language networks:

Category 2 networks, which most new specialty channels are approved as, has no protection from direct competition (though it can’t directly compete with existing analog channels). They also have no guaranteed carriage rights, which means they have to negotiate with cable and satellite providers for a spot on their grids (and then get subscribers to add them).

More HD!

The following networks have received approval to setup high-definition versions of themselves:

Debt crisis hurts HugeMediaCorps

After Canwest announced it was cutting jobs and CTV announced it was cutting jobs, Rogers is now announcing it is cutting jobs, about 100 of them, including staff at Maclean’s, Sportsnet and CityTV.

You know what these three megacorporations have in common? They all thought they could get rich by acquiring other media companies.

Canwest was still paying off the debt it took on when it bought the Southam newspaper chain (which includes my employer, The Gazette) when it decided it needed more cable channels and acquired Alliance Atlantis. This gave them channels including Showcase.

Bell Canada responded to Canwest’s consolidation by planning a megacorporation of its own. Bell acquired CTV and the Globe and Mail and eventually most of CHUM’s assets. In exchange for the latter, BCE sold shares in the company to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Torstar and the Thomson family, and BellGlobeMedia became CTVglobemedia.

A lot of Rogers’s acquisitions have been in the form of CTV’s sloppy seconds (oh wait, can I not use those words?). This includes Sportsnet, which CTV had to dump when it acquired TSN, and City TV ($375 million), which CTV had to dump when it acquired CHUM. It also acquired the Blue Jays, Fido, as well as specialty TV networks and radio stations within the past decade.

I’m no financial expert, and I don’t have a very clear idea of the balance sheets of these three companies, but this is a really bad time to have debt, especially risky debt (say, holding a bunch of assets in an industry that might disappear entirely in 10 years). The economic downturn that the mortgage debt crisis precipitated is certainly affecting these companies and worrying their management, but I think the debt problem is more significant here than the advertising or subscription revenue problems.

Perhaps this might serve as a warning that consolidation isn’t always the best way to go.

Or perhaps not.

UPDATE (Dec. 9): The New York Times, which I can only assume got the idea from this blog post, has a similar analysis of U.S. newspapers (though in that case, it was taking on debt to acquire other newspapers that got them into trouble).

CRTC roundup: Cancon porn, TSN2 and the Rural Channel

Lots more fun out of the CRTC this week:

Insert “beaver” joke here

The biggest news (or at least the most titillating) is the approval of a new Canadian-based pornography channel. Called Northern Peaks (cute), it would feature 50% Canadian content (i.e. Canadian-produced porn) from various categories, including pornographic sitcoms and game shows (that actually sounds like fun, but it’s really just the company covering all bases, so to speak).

The 50% mark is actually quite unusual, and is well above what would normally be required for such a network. But apparently it was the applicant’s request, according to the National Post:

Mr. Donnelly said he was required to offer as little as 15% Canadian content to appease regulators.

But because he wants “to legitimately be Canada’s adult channel,” he started at half Canadian. He said there is a huge unfulfilled market in Canada for local porn. Beginning last year, he began getting calls from cable companies looking to license his Canadian productions.

“I’ve always found there’s a real turn-on to watching and knowing it’s people you could run into in the grocery store,” he said.

But with more than 200 titles (and presumably they can be replayed over and over again, since most viewers wouldn’t mind repeats of classic programming), he thinks he can do it.

Quoth the CRTC: “The Commission did not receive any interventions in connection with this application.” Really? Not even from the pizza guy? Or that nosy peeping-tom neighbour you’re just waiting to have sex in front of so they can masturbate to it?

Needless to say the media had a field day with this one, the National Post turning it into a front-page story (complete with photo) and an opinion piece that’s pretty tongue-in-cheeks (sorry) asking readers to comment and either denounce the channel or come up with some programming ideas for it. (A funny side-effect of the latter is offhand mentions of Sheila Copps and Avi Lewis, which means searches for these two under “related stories” brings up a comment about a porn channel they have nothing to do with.)

One comment posted to the Post:

When do the adults at the Post return from summer holiday?

Of course, it wasn’t just the Post. The Globe and Mail also had a lengthy article on it (about 12 inches), and the news was picked up by Canadian Press and Reuters and Agence France-Presse and reached news outlets all around the world (well, those two anyway). It also got a mention on an anti-abortion (but still pro-women) conservative website.

The channel is being run by Real Productions (apparently not this Real Productions nor that Real Productions, which appear lower in the Google raking and I’m guessing confused or offended at least a few potential customers), which is run by a man named Shaun Donnelly (but not this Shaun Donnelly, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe and the Middle East).

Due to the nature of the channel, it can’t be included in any channel packages and must be specifically requested by the subscriber. The network also promises to spend at least 25% of revenues on developing new programming.

Also of note is the 100% closed-captioning requirement, which may foreshadow a fight with Videotron concerning their demand that they not have to closed-caption on-demand video porn.

UPDATE (Aug. 18): The Globe has more on the channel, including an idea of what a broadcast day would look like. And then even more on the channel here. (They won’t let this story go, will they?)

UPDATE (Aug. 24): Farked. With suggestions on Canadian porn titles. Some of these people should write headlines for a living.

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Recognize any of these faces?

Faces from the Habs riot of April 21, 2008

More faces from the … ahem … “alleged” rioters of Monday night.

Also posted on YouTube is the security video of a Rogers Wireless store downtown that was looted Monday night. They couldn’t take any cellphones because those were tied to the display tables, and those prepaid phone cards are useless because they have to be pre-activated by the cashier. But have fun with those charging adapters, I guess.

Getting biblical about spam

As promised, today’s article in Business Observer discusses brick-and-mortar companies who violate email netiquette and send unsolicited marketing emails to people. It’s based on three companies I talked about in my “not above outright spam” series:

  • Kanuk (which is still sending me such emails)
  • Rogers (my wireless provider, who seem to think being a customer is carte blanche for spamming)
  • CIBC

In all three cases, I can only theorize about why my email was added to these marketing lists, because not one of them responded to repeated requests for an explanation, the first as a regular spam victim, the second as a reporter researching a story. CIBC’s media relations guy asked for more information about the email, but I never heard from them or their email services provider Komunik again.

A fourth company, Chapters/Indigo, was left out because (a) the article was already way too long, (b) they responded to my request and investigated promptly, and (c) their investigation determined that my mother signed up for an account there two years ago. Here’s what it would have looked like:

Company: Indigo Books and Music
Date: Sept. 24, 2007
What they were selling: Book bargains
Email service provider: ThinData

Indigo’s email followed what has apparently become an industry standard of having people fill out web forms before they can unsubscribe from email lists. And like other companies, it assumed I have an account and wouldn’t let me unsubscribe unless I logged in. But Indigo responded promptly to my initial complaint with a thorough investigation.

Well, actually ThinData found a blog post I wrote with the complaint and then alerted the company. Within two days I had a response from Indigo’s customer service director explaining that someone else (my mother) had used the address to set up an account in 2005, and they have “only recently been reaching out to our past customers.” He unsubscribed me from the list and apologized for problems I had unsubscribing. Both Indigo and ThinData provided copies of extensive privacy and anti-spam policies.

The original message violated some best practices for email marketing that ThinData swears by, such as providing a simple one-click way to unsubscribe. Nevertheless, the provider accepted the response from Indigo and said they “consider this matter resolved.”

That last part sort of irked me. Despite promises that they’re 100% against spam, these companies seem to defer to their clients when it comes to actually determining whether policies are being followed. Explanations are accepted at face value and no independent investigations are done.

The article also includes some suggested best practices for commercial email marketers, compiled from industry sources and the Canadian Task Force on Spam. Hopefully some companies will be a bit more strict about conforming to them.

I’ll let you know if any of these companies decide to respond now that the article is out. In the meantime, do you have any spam gripes about companies that should know better?