Rogers on Demand Online – Moving the TV experience online

By , November 28, 2009 3:45 pm

This week I got a preview code for a new product Rogers was launching, Rogers on Demand Online. (the same week they laid off a significant number of middle managers). They are working well to move the TV experience online, but could do better in moving the online experience to TV.

The concept is to take the On Demand experience which Rogers has on their cable systems (which often crashes my box) and move it online. My friend Ben Lucier has done a great job summarizing the experience and I’d agree with almost all his impressions of the system.

It’s got a lot of the features that I have on my on-demand box on my TV – so simulates that experience well. Where I think it misses the mark is moving the online experience to TV. Let me point out a few examples of ways the system could combine the online experience with the TV experience to make the system truely kick-ass, as well as solve some security issues.

One of the things that caught my eye in the list of TV shows is the category “Last Chance”. In the online world, there’s no such thing as Last Chance. If you make a show available, why wouldn’t it be available forever? This is the world of the long tail – and users expect to find everything from the just released, to an old episode of Sesame Street from 15 years ago, if you plan on bringing it to the system.

The other feature I thought could improve the experience, and make it more like my online experience is to allow comments and a social aspect. The shows are buit into a screen which shows some other relevant and related content below, but why not let the users get involved and comment on the show itself. It might not have to appear directly (I wouldn’t want to read something which gives away the surprise ending) but having a button to comment on and interact with other watchers of the show would make me feel more involved.

Connected to this was my thought: “Hey, I should give my password out to a bunch of people and let them share in my on-demand experience.” It would seem to present a problem for Rogers if they are only going to make this available to Rogers subscribers. But the easy way around that problem is to build a set of social features into the site, or even connect it with a FaceBook login. The more social features they build in the less likely users will want to share their accounts, because the account will become part of them. The more personal info I attach to the account, the less likely I’m going to share the account, in the same way I’d never share my FaceBook account with a friend.

All in all, it’s a great move forward for Rogers. This morning I watched part of a West Wing episode on my Rocket Stick (yes, it’s working now) and both that product and this shows that Rogers is ready and willing to cannibalize it’s current products and customers for the sake of new technology. They have become more adept at this in recent years – willing to take the risk. It’s impressive and can show how nimble this behemoth still is.

Update: The Rogers on Demand Twitter folks (yes, Rogers is rocking the social media these day with twitter people) pointed me to this site which shows some of the upcoming features. Upcoming features are what they say they are – upcoming. But at least they are thinking about it….

CRTC not doing itself any favours with Globalive Decision

By , November 1, 2009 2:20 pm

AngryCRTCLast Thursday the CRTC came out with a decision on the whether the ownership structure of Globalive, who are in the process of building Wind Mobile, fill the requirement on Canadian foreign ownership restrictions. They aren’t doing themselves any favours.

I wrote earlier about how I thought that the CRTC was hampered in their decision by the Canwest – Alliance Atlantis merger decision from a couple years ago. The CRTC decided in this case that foreign money from Goldman Sachs as the debt and equity holder and controlling owner was preferable than having Egyptian owners, in the form of Orescom. (I’ve heard from CRTC people that national security is part of their decision process – so one wonders whether there was a bit of that here.)

Whether the CRTC was wrong or right in this decision, the CRTC hasn’t been coming off these days as the fearless supporter of the powerless Canadian citizen. Their recent decisions have generally been ones favoured by the lobbyists of the big telecom companies in Canada. A few weeks ago they decided, for the most part, to support the major carriers in a decision which put the burden of responsibility on the consumer to prove the carriers wrong in issues of network neutrality (and we how much know your average consumer knows about internet packet throttling). This week they supported the powerful lobbies of the carriers in the Globalive decision.

By an extension of their own logic, if the CRTC is not supporting and protecting consumers in providing them choice (or assuming that there is enough choice in the market for our consumers) then they have already come to the conclusion (aided by lobbyists) that the Canadian market for telecommunications services is highly competitive – that innovation and new product is high, barriers to entry are low, and prices are dropping and competitive. We, of course, know this isn’t true.

There is an undercurrent going on the techno-telecom crowd in Canada supporting a movement to disolve the CRTC. They better watch out, because it is getting very hard for average Canadians (not the super digerati or highly informed telecom geeks, but those that keep an eye on telecom) to understand the role of the Commission. To those watching from the sidelines, it looks like the CRTC is simply an extra arm of the major carriers to keep the barriers to entry high, competition low, and their cabal tight.

Small Head, Big Bellies – The State of Ontario Government Assistance of Emerging Business

By , September 9, 2009 12:39 pm

Screen shot 2009-09-08 at 4.53.15 PMJust recently the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation released the criteria for submissions for the Ontario Emerging Technology Fund. A lot of study and research went into creating this fund, but it seems it was all for naught. The intention of the fund was to help new companies get a foothold in the market by helping our small, frail venture and angel industry by providing matching funds to their investments. Fast, market-driven investment was the goal.

This fund does nothing to help emerging companies in Ontario, but instead funds the bigger bellies of mid-stage companies, and their respective consultants, lawyers and accountants.

In theory the matching fund is a good idea, just badly implemented.

The fund creates an economy with more funding for already established mid-level companies and simply adds fat to their loins, while ignoring the smart, entrepreneurial brains that can drive greater economic growth.

Angels and venture capital companies spend a lot of time doing due diligence in companies trying to figure out whether they will get a return on their investment; whether the team is competent and able, whether there is a market for the product as well as a solid distribution and marketing plan and, importantly, whether the investment is a fit for their personal goals.  This kind of due diligence is something government bureaucrats, or even quazi-bureaucrats working within the government funds could never do, because it’s not their money they invest. This is what creates, fast, market driven investment.

The Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation decided to to another route, one suspects in part lobbied by the larger consulting and accounting firms who work with larger companies with more fat they can chew off their ‘growth’ clients. The criteria to get access to this fund makes it impenetrable by any company smaller than $2-3M in revenue. It is not clearly not intended to feed the brains who need the develop the fit bodies to compete in a global market, but instead to fund the established companies – or, to be clearer, ones who are well established at finding money within the the government support infrastructure.

This bill provides a strong direct dissuasion from smaller investors getting involved with start-up entrepreneurs. Firstly, the fund is set up with a minimum $1M investment. This predicates any self-respecting entrepreneur taking a serious dilution to get the financing, or just walking away. Most will walk away at that type of deal – the ones who really believe in their company. Many entrepreneurs can make a small amount of money go a long way and, both within Canada and the U.S. angel rounds are often less than $500k.  With that many of them can make significant progress, bringing a beta product to market or implementing early stage marketing initiatives, or simply innovating their product or service.

Secondly, the angel fund required individual registration and applications for each specific investment again raising the transactional cost of the investment. Why not outsource these costs to the angel groups? They are doing due diligence and  often funding it out of their pockets, and they often work with simple legal and share structure set-ups to further reduce transactional costs. The liability for errors can also be moved to the angel groups also, creating a higher level of due diligence within their ranks. Angels do want a return on their investment.

Lastly, there is even a requirement for angels to disclose net worth, to have matching funds applied. This rule makes it clear that the Minister has never met an angel investor in person – I’d suggest he get out more.  We already have angel investment criteria in place. It works.

This bill is designed to support the fat belly of lower growth, mid-stage companies, often well supported by other funds and government initiatives.

But why did the bill end up like this? It makes sense. The people who often influence the minister the most are the consultants, lawyers and accountants who make their living living off Canadian companies too small to leave the country and hire internationally. Their role is to grow their business and they have successfully lobbied to build a fund that does exactly that.

However, the Minister should step back and look at his role. It is not to feed that fat belly of mid-stage companies, but instead support the smart brains – our entrepreneurs – and build them into fit bodies ready to compete internationally.

(Disclosure – I am the President of Home Stars Directory (homestars.com), a company recently funded by a set of Canadian angel investors, most of which would have liked matching funds for their investment, but none of whom would have gone through this process to get it)

Snow Leopard Bricked My Rocket Stick – Rogers charges $500.00

By , September 2, 2009 11:44 pm

RogersleopardbrickAbout 2 weeks ago (20 days ago specifically) I picked up a Rogers Rocket Stick from a Rogers Reseller before an event I was organizing for HomeStars. It is now bricked and unusable because I upgraded my operating system to Snow Leopard.

While I write this blog post I have been on hold with Rogers for over 3 hours, and finally got through to a Rogers representative who has put me on hold again. She has told me that it is my fault that I upgraded my operating system and that, unfortunately, my useless Rocket Stick is now my responsibility. If I want to cancel my service, which I can’t use because I’ve upgraded to Snow Leopard, I’ll have to pay a $500 cancellation fee.

Just to put this in context, Snow Leopard is not a sudden and unexpected move from Apple. Developers have had plenty of time to make sure their software is compatible. There were a few applications on my computer that I’ve had to upgrade this week (for free) because of my Snow Leopard OS upgrade, and all have gone smoothly.

The Rogers sales rep told me that it was my fault that I upgraded, and unfortunately I have to suffer the consequences. (blaming your customer is never good customer service). She also said it was up to the folks at Sony Ericsson, and that it was not in Rogers control. Anyone who has worked with Rogers knows the dynamic between supplier and carrier. If Rogers wants to make it work, Sony Ericsson will make it work – they have global customers at stake, outside of Rogers.

What this says for innovation in Canada is appalling. But the important point is that there is no excuse for Rogers not to have the Rocket Stick fix in their back pocket right upon the Snow Leopard release. With the iPhone partnership, Rogers should be keeping well up to date with Apple’s updates, and have as much hardware compatibility as possible. The Rocket Stick, to Rogers, is the vision of the future – connectivity everywhere. It should work with the latest and greatest software by the second most deployed operating system globally. No excuses!

(and no reason, of course, to be on hold for 3 hours before talking to a sales rep! – but that’s another blog post)

Update: Actually you’d think I’d have more of an update. But a Rogers tech support agent (actually it seemed like a fairly senior one) did get in touch with me. I sent him an update by email last Thursday the 3rd of September. So far nothing back. Will continue to update as the situation progresses.

Update (October 16): Apologies for the late update, but about 2 weeks ago Rogers solved the problem. Turns out there are many types of Rocket Sticks, and the old one didn’t work on Snow Leopard. I’ve now been upgraded to a ZTE version, and it’s working fine. Have to give some Kudo’s to Rogers, but I did get a significant hit on my bill for the upgrade. Ouch!

The Canwest/Globalive Ownership Dilemma

By , September 1, 2009 10:36 pm

CanWestGlobaliveGlobalive, the wireless company launching soon under the brand name Wind Mobile, has been under some attack by the other carriers for it’s ownership structure. With significant investment by Orescom out of Egypt, our telecom and media ownership restrictions are coming under some scrutiny. The issue has become more complex for the CRTC because of a decision they made last year allowing Canwest, with a large investment from Goldman Sachs, to purchase specialty provide Alliance Atlantis.
Canada has restrictions and rules on foreign ownership of media and telecom companies. The essential rule (with a number of variations) is that no more than 20% of the voting shares of company may be owned by foreign entities, and ‘control’ must remain with Canadians. The restrictions apply to both telecoms and media companies equally, despite the differing goals of law within each vertical.
When the Asper family, the majority owners of Canwest, bid to purchase Alliance Atlantis in early 2007 they couldn’t raise enough money in Canada, so they solicited some help from New York bank Goldman Sachs, who loaned the company money (or the Aspers directly, or a subsidiary company – it is not clear) so they could complete the purchase. The CRTC decided at the time that the deal was kosher, likely looking both the media consolidation angle, as well as from a foreign ownership perspective.
Globalive, a feisty Canadian telecom startup, which had been chipping away in the Canadian telecom space for quite some time and made their big mark purchasing Yak Communications, decided they wanted to be in the running for last year’s spectrum auction. Looking for investors they found Orescom, another feisty and entrepreneurial company with a number of global wireless investments, based out of Egypt. Orescom decided Globalive, and its CEO Anthony Lacavera was the company in Canada to back and grow their international wireless investment portfolio.
Before the spectrum auction the CRTC (actually Industry Canada, which runs the auction process) requires quite minimal evidence that the ownership of the companies bidding do, in fact, abide by the ownership rules. They did require letters of credit ensuring that companies bidding could pay their bills after the bidding was complete.  Globalive obviously satisfied these conditions.
Now that the bidding is complete and the specifics on Globalive’s ownership structure is still not clear, the other carriers are calling foul. Building a large Canadian wireless carrier is not cheap. None of the major Canadian investors (Teachers, CPPI, etc.) threw their money behind Globalive. Orescom is the big supporter and believes in the potential of the Canadian market, especially when combined with their other investments.
The CRTC has backed themselves into a corner. By allowing the Goldman Sachs investment in Canwest to go through, they are now tied to stick by the structure. Making an investment that large in Canwest obviously gives Goldman ‘control’ over the investment, if not on paper, but certainly de facto control. Orescom is likely in the same position with Globalive. If they aren’t, they can just ask the CRTC how that deal went through and mimic the structure.
If the other carriers wanted to complain about the ownership structure they should have said something at the time of the Canwest deal. That’s what set the precedent. But they wouldn’t have, because, in Canada, it’s not comfortable disturbing the family compact.
The CRTC is now compelled to approve the deal. The variations on ownership structure has become so convoluted that perhaps it’s time to reexamine the rules. We live in a global economy, and telecom, much more than media, is an increasingly global business. Isolating Canada from the ownership and innovation of foreign companies just limits the technology and economies of scale we could leverage to bring down our wireless and telecom prices.

Dissolve the CRTC? – Discussions for the Future

By , August 20, 2009 1:37 pm

There’s a lot of discussion on the internets this morning about an article Peter Nowak from the CBC has written about a petition and facebook group requesting the dissolving of the CRTC. Twitter users have taken a liking to this from a quick CRTC of the stream and the petition is gaining some steam, or seems like it is. Discussion on the CBC page is extensive and intense with over 220 comments since last night’s posting of the article.

Michael Hennessy has responded on his blog WhenDogsRunFree, with an unusual defense of the CRTC, although I love his admission in the head for his blog, that while he loves free market, he makes his income on regulation itself I now work in an anti-regulatory occupation although without regulation I would be unemployed.Kinda ying yangish”

The interesting thing about this discussion is the fact that we can have it – and it is worth having. Questions like “Why does the CRTC exist?” are real questions worth answering. On the telecom side (we’ll leave it at that for now) we can ask such things as: Is it there to protect us from natural monopolies? To decide where towers should go? or where wires should be strung? how much we, as consumers, should pay for various services? how much companies should pay to each other? or, more broadly, to promote cheap and plentiful communication among Canadians.

The carriers all spend much of their regulatory money on folks like Michael, to promote the notion that the market is highly competitive. And in a competitive market, one assumes we don’t need a regulator. But on the flip side, that regulator ensure that the competition stays minimal. Regulators create nice barriers to entry for new market entrants. Keeping a tight rein on new telecom licencees, issuing tiny pieces of spectrum (yes, that’s Industry Canada, but it’s the same issue), and making sure new phone numbers don’t get too freely given to folks like Skype such that they might tread heavily into the carriers markets. This, for carriers, is highly important to protect.

Rather than get into the nitty gritty of whether the CRTC made a bad decision on wholesale tariffs for TekSavvy, we might stand back and ask broader questions like: What are we protecting? Culture, communications, or profits for an industry. That that’s a bad thing to protect – Bell and Telus employ many Canadians.

We can also ask the question. If we started a dissolving of the CRTC, what would happen? Would new entrants come? or would we revert to natural monopolies? would Global companies offer service at more competitive rates? what would be the downside?

All good questions to engage a discussion.

Look to the future, carriers & Canadians. OECD report reflects the past. ,

By , August 19, 2009 5:14 pm

The OECD came out with it’s most comprehensive telecom report to date, but the headline grabber in this part of the world was highlighted by the CBC’s “Canadian cellphone rates among world’s worst”.

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Speaking from personal experience, I know telecom executives in this country take comments like this to heart. And, as Canadians who once held leadership positions in telecom equipment manufacturing with Nortel, and still wave the RIM flag, we do feel somewhat offended.

Pundits, especially ones who make much of their money defending the Canadian telecoms, jumped on the report as flawed. Issues like the size of the call baskets, issues with incoming and outgoing minutes, LD pricing and such, they say,  make the report flawed to the point of useless.

I disagree. Rudulph Van Der Berg Blogs: It’s here, it’s full of statistics! Statistics we can all fight over!

As a primary author of the July 2005 SeaBoard paper “Lessons for Canada – A Cross National Survey of Wireless Pricing”, I know a bit about building a survey like this. It is challenging.Trying to come up with a methodology to compare apples-to-apples will never work out exactly right. As a researcher, you make best efforts to come as close as you can.

At the time that the SeaBoard paper came out there was an existing OECD paper, which showed Canada in a much better light, using a much more primitive methodology. Carriers thought the OECD paper, because it suited their interests, used the right methodology, and the SeaBoard methodology was flawed. (despite having access to all the spreadsheets and data). When I finally got around to reading this report, I was struck by how much the OECD had adapted the SeaBoard research methodology to include more comprehensive baskets. Their buckets of minutes have increased, well above the SeaBoard’s usage levels, (but that’s likely because usage levels world-wide have gone up).

I credit the folks as the OECD for taking a much more thorough approach. Now the carriers are going to turn their PR guns on the OECD, through the CTIA, because their stats aren’t favourable. Instead they cite the Merrill Lynch wireless matrix, which in full admission, the researchers there have noted that they measure “charged minutes as reported by carriers”, not usage minutes, so it’s not much of a research report for comparing apples to apples. It is very good for telling how profitable carriers are globally.  It’s pretty typical.

Rather than get into detailed criticisms of the OECD report, because overall I think they did a great job. Issues like bucket sizes, # of incoming minutes, average usage per country, are difficult to equate. Considering you can almost never compare apples to apples, I’d point out a couple things to Canadian, and even American carriers.

  1. The survey is over a year old. In telecom years, that’s a long time. I watched how data rates in Canada plummetted drastically during the course of one years, with the introduction of the iPhone inspired 6Gb data plan. So plans a year old are like looking in a long rear view window. What’s behind doesn’t matter.
  2. For some reason the OECD didn’t consider mobile data. They added SMS, and MMS usage (which is almost harder to equate North American to European usage because of the differences), but skipped mobile data – even limited volumes. With the increase in usage of smartphones, blackberries, and other mobile devices, missing that is a key factor in determining phone usage and pricing. Yes, it’s hard to include, because usage among countries varies highly, but that factor would have shown some interesting traits. But it’s more of an example of looking backwards instead of forward. Mobile data is mobile carriers future. With the arrival of skype over iPhone and other VoIP services, mobile carriers should care less about minutes and more about mobile data.

If I was the carriers, or the CTIA, acting as their chief lobbiest and PR folks, I’d dismiss the OECD report as old, and not focussed on the right issues. Move forward, think about tomorrow, not yesterday.

As for Canadians, we’ve already seen drastic shifts in the market for data over wireless in the last 18 months, and with the emergence of companies like Wind Mobile, Public, and DAVE, the market will change again. As Canadians embrace new technology on their own, carriers will need to catch up to consumers.

Explaining Twitter’s Popularity – Reporters, ADD, PR Love, and Influencers.

By , August 10, 2009 12:03 am

I love Twitter. I admit it. It is incredibly useful. I find all sorts of information there, keep up with friends, and even follow people I don’t know for their crazy antics or great information they provide. But it is strange – as CBC’s Nora Young said, It’s a “Crazy and beautiful thing that may collapse under the weight of its own absurdity”.

It’s popularity and the media attention it gets is amazing, despite regular failures, a poor user interface, (so much so people use other apps) and having no clear long-term business model.

Recently it was also pointed out that young people aren’t using twitter, to the astonishment of twitter users and the media. Sean Moffitt has tried to explain, but I think he misses a key point.

I have another theory about its popularity.

I believe twitter is popular – or gets the attention it does – primarily because it is useful to reporters and the media (and I’d include influential bloggers in this group). They are the primary users, and lovers, of the medium. Why do they love it? Because it’s fast, quick and immediate. It’s a great source of current, up-to-date, on-the-street information. Reporters are by nature information addicts. They have short attention spans, and their job is to consume large amounts of information, filter it, and then retransmit it in a changed form, with their own spin and slant. To put it bluntly, they have a reporter form of Attention Deficit Disorder. Read, consume, understand (as much as possible at that speed) and communicate – all quickly.

But there’s also another factor which then amplifies the medium. It is public relations professionals. Their job is to find out where reporters and the media is, and be there in front of them with information they want to convey from their clients. In order to get the attention of reporters  media in general, PR pros need to build relationships and trust with reporters, and twitter is just the medium for doing that.

Media and PR people are generally in their jobs because they are considered ‘influencers’. They are the people that people look to when they want to find out what’s going on – the cool kids that people want to hang with. When they are using new things, others want to jump along and use them also.

What explains the rest of us? We caught on because that’s what we’d heard about. We’d heard about it from the (older) PR and media professionals who were using it to do their jobs. They explained how great it was, because they influence, and it made their life better. We caught on. Young people haven’t yet, but they will.  The medium has evolved. It’s not the small community it once was  – a manageable community, but now filled with too many users, spam, and sponsored tweets.

RIP Mountain Cable – Welcome Shaw

By , July 19, 2009 9:40 pm

There aren’t many independent cable companies left in Canada. Most of the small ones have been scooped up by Rogers, Shaw, Cogeco and Videotron, the four remainders. Last Thursday Shaw cable reached across the expanse of Canada and picked up one of of the the juiciest prizes, Mountain Cable, which ran the cable operations on the highlands part of Hamilton, as well as in many of the local towns nearby. The remainder of Hamilton, the downtown core, was ‘owned’ by Cogeco.

Mountain Cable was founded and owned by the Boris Family. About 5 years ago they took a different tack and hired John Piercy, an ex-AllStream and Bell executive to build a voice business. John looked back to his old company and hired Allstream to assist in building a first class home phone service. The success showed in the numbers. Upon the sale Mountain Cable had 27,000 voice customers out of 41,000 cable customers, and impressive 65% penetration rate – all those customers being a loss to Bell’s local service.

Mountain Cable was known for having excellent customer service. Friends who lived in the area confirm this. It’s rare when you talk to someone who really says “I love my cable company”. I certainly can’t say that in Toronto.

John has moved on to his next venture. Look out for Atria Networks – a combination of the local utility telecom companies which was consolidated and had an investment by Birch Hill Equity Partners, TD’s private equity arm. Good luck John.

As for Shaw’s new investment, one could argue that running a cable network a distance from the core business could be challenging. But Shaw has Big Pipe, and can connect the new service to their old network easily. Locals must be wondering whether the customer service will remain. Other observers might wonder whether Shaw will deal the subscribers to Rogers or Cogeco.

Industry Canada’s Broadband Survey Misses Key Data

By , July 16, 2009 5:23 pm

Industry CanadaTechvibes has pointed out today that Industry Canada is surveying, or more specifically crowdsourcing, Canadians about their broadband connectivity. It’s an interesting survey, but misses a key part of the question – how much does it cost?

As Mark Goldberg has pointed out, and in this case I agree with him, Canadian’s already have universal access to broadband, or at least a decent connection. The real question is at what cost?

I’m sure any of the service providers would be happy to string me a fiber with GigE connection to the Yukon, but it would sure be expensive. The question of universal access to broadband is whether it’s affordable.

If you fill in the survey you’ll find there’s no question about the price you’re paying for your service. That would provide a huge amount of data for them to analyze in terms of looking at price per mbps of service in each region.

Companies like Xplornet have been serving rural areas for years, but at a connection fee of a few hundred dollars, plus a relatively expensive ongoing service compared to what we pay in the city, it’s may be considered an extreme luxury. Additionally, it’s probably fair to say that people in rural areas make less money, so asking what the income level of the people surveyed are would also be good too, so they could analyze the relative cost of the service compared to their income level.

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