Monday, March 31, 2008

CTIA WIRELESS: Viva Las Vegas!

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Although it’s my third time in this city this year, Vegas never gets old to me. There’s something about the air that rejuvenates you the second you arrive, even considering the three-hour time difference between Toronto and here. The weather is gorgeous, and the city is full of talk about the CTIA WIRELESS show, which officially begins tomorrow. Tonight is a big “pre” show event where a group of companies will exhibit in a smaller, more intimate venue (which is often times much more appealing than the crowded and loud show floor). I’ll have tons of great information from that show tomorrow. But before the event has even begun, I’ve already seen my first demo!

Nokia cleverly arranged a car service that gave the company the opportunity to show off its new Nokia Maps 2.0 software (now in beta version) by actually navigating us to the hotel. Although the functions the software offers aren’t new in the portable navigation category, per se, it’s amazing to see how quickly the mobile phone category is ramping up its offerings. Powered by Nokia, the service offers the standard address searches and favourites, but adds a new walking mode that does things like avoid one-way streets, and displays little “bread crumbs”, described the rep, as you walk along your route. The mapping software itself is more robust, with over 15 million Points of Interest (POI), and various viewing modes. It’s worth noting that Nokia showed off the software on the U.S. version of its new N95 handset, which is quite a nifty looking device; not to mention that it includes a whopping 8 GB of internal memory! And the screen itself showed off the vibrant colours of the map in all their glory. The device navigated us to our hotel safe and sound. Hopefully we’ll see this phone in Canada some time soon!

So there you have it. Before I even reached the hotel, I was one step closer to seeing what neat gadgets and technologies are in store at the show. Now it’s time to enjoy 20-degree weather!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Don't Forget Lights Out for Earth Hour!

Don't forget that tomorrow at 8 p.m., it's "lights out" for Earth Hour, a global initiative organized by the World Wildlife Federation. If you're at home, perhaps rather than turn off all the lights and sit in darkness, you can take a well-needed breather from all of your electronic devices. Turn off the TV, the radio, the laptop/desktop computer, and mobile phone, and relax for 60 minutes. A colleague of mine suggested a nice, candlelit dinner.

"Earth Hour is an opportunity for all individuals, households and businesses to send a very powerful message," said Steve Matyas, President at Staples Business Depot, which plans to participate in the initiative.

Other technology companies have announced their support for Earth Hour, which is meant to "take action against climate change," including Best Buy, Sears Canada, Wal-Mart, and Telus Mobility. All stores will remain open although things like signgage will be turned off, and lights dimmed.

Of course what's a global initiative without a party? At 7:30 p.m. in Nathan Philips Square in Toronto, Canadian music artist Nelly Furtado will perform a free concert, complements of Virgin Mobile and WWF. The event will be low-power and carbon-neutral, with renewable energy supplied by Bullfrog Power.

Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group, called it a "party with a purpose". Indeed it is.

What will you be doing at 8 p.m. on Saturday night to help conserve energy?

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Gearing up for CTIA WIRELESS

The big North American wireless show takes place in Las Vegas, NV next week, and I'll be attending for the first time. Up until recently, wireless has really been a category all its own, somewhat distinct and separate from "consumer electronics". But today, mobile phones are virtually multimedia devices, and even mini-computers, crossing over into pretty much every category of CE.

I expect to see a lot over in Sin City (aside from the heavy gambling, drinking, and scantily-clad girls, of course!) Here are a few trends that I foresee taking precedence at this year's event:

Touch-screens: Ever since the iPhone hit the U.S. market, touch-screens have been all the rage in cellular. Sure, the standard messaging phone that comes with a stylus can technically be called a "touch" screen phone, but we're now seeing more advanced designs that are optimized for use by your grubby fingers. Most notable as of late is the HTC Touch with boasts its own TouchFLO technology (stay tuned to the April issue of here's how! for a review of this phone). Just yesterday, LG brought two touch-screen models into Canada. Even Sony Ericsson's 5 MP K850 camera phone includes a partial touch-screen (just the soft-keys). I expect to see tons more touch-able models on the show floor this year.

Apps: Applications are the hot trend for mobile phones now. You can download pretty much any type of application for your phone, from weather updates, to social networking site access, or even a poker game. Sites like serve as home to tons of third-party applications; and many providers try to work out deals with the manufacturer (or rather the carrier) to include their apps with the phones at purchase. Judging from the way the industry is going, along with the e-mail pitches that have been flooding my inbox for the past few weeks, application developers will be at every nook and cranny of CTIA WIRELESS. Some hot application? Social networking, navigation, and, just plain "fun" stuff, like games.

Video: Video on-the-go is becoming a popular category in itself, but being able to access video through a mobile phone is slowly gaining steam. I really saw it begin to take off in Canada a year ago when Rogers Wireless introduced video calling, along with its VISION suite of multimedia services that included, among many other features, access to top videos from sites like YouTube, along with TV content and movies. In the previous blog post, I discussed Quattro Wireless and's announcement to bring a "mobile" version of the Hollywood gossip site to cell phones. Being able to view video on a mobile phone is just getting started, and I gather we'll see tons more innovation in this area at CTIA and beyond.

WiMAX: At the Canadian Telecom Summit last summer, Motorola President Greg Brown said that WiMAX could make broadband "as ubiquitous as air," and he's right. WiMAX is basically an extension to traditional WiFi, permitting wireless access for up to 50 km rather than the paltry 30-100 metres that 802.11 can provide. There's an entire pavilion at the show dedicated to WiMAX, and I'll definitely be stopping by to find out what's in store for Canada.

Sleek, Sexy Designs: Sleek and sexy designs have truly become of paramount importance whether you're looking at the phone that's stuffed in your pocket, or the speakers that surround your TV. With regards to mobile devices, thin is definitely "in", as is large (and wide) screens, big buttons, ergonomic and attractive feel, and convenience keys, like one-button access to a camera, or music keys on the front of a flip-stye handset.

These are just a few of the key innovations I expect to see at CTIA WIRELESS 2008. Stay tuned next week for reports (including video on our sister Websites, and right from the show floor.

[Photo: Famous actor Willian Shatner joins Rogers Wireless' Chief Marketing Officer John Boynton at the launch of video calling in Canada last year.]
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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hollywood Gossip Goes Mobile

The more content you can access on the go, the better, right? It's great that I can surf the Web with my phone. Even better that some models will optimize the view, and perhaps also permit one-button access to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Multimedia packages that let me watch YouTube videos on a phone are pretty neat as well. But do we really need access to Hollywood gossip on the go? Um, yes!

I just received an announcement that popular Hollywood gossip site will be offering an ad-supported, "mobile" version of its Website, allowing mobile phone users to get their daily gossip "fix", including breaking news, photos, and even TMZ videos, on the fly. Need to know if Britney Spears had another breakdown? TMZ can send you a text message as soon as a story breaks. Where's Paris Hilton now? TMZ can help you keep tabs on the socialite no matter where you are!

Quattro Wireless is building the site, while Sony Picture's Home Entertainment has signed on as the first sponsor. AT&T will be the first wireless carrier partner in Q2. To get to the site, just punch in "" in your mobile phone's browser; or send a text that says TMZ to short-code 52662.

"There is an insatiable consumer appetite for the breaking entertainment news that TMZ is famous for delivering, so having a presence on mobile plays perfectly into the behaviour of TMZ's core 18-34 demo," said Brett Bouttier, Senior Vice President, Digital, Warner Bros. Television Group ( is a joint venture between this Group and AOL).

He's absolutely right. The whole idea really does baffle me. But I have to admit that even I have fallen into the trap. I don't actually own a "smart" phone, per se (believe it or not!), but every single time I review one, I find myself surfing sites like and while I'm driving home from the office (I know, it's horrible) or just waiting around for something.

TMZ's core audience is indeed the younger crowd, who also happen to be heavy mobile phone users. This decision is just pure genius on the company's part, as crazy an idea as it seems.

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Try and Buy

The "try and buy" policy has always made a lot of sense to me. A few years ago, knowing that I was (and still am!) a big proponent for satellite radio, an industry member wanted to pick my brain on how providers could attract more customers. My advice? Let people try the service for free for a month or two. It'll cost a pretty penny, but I'll bet a huge percentage of them would sign up after having become used to some of the neat features.

This instance is just one example of "trying and buying", but there are even simpler methods that exist: take active product demos in store or the ever-popular "get the first 3 months free" promotions, for example. But it's even evident in things like test driving cars, taste-testing wedding cake, and age-old return policies that let you bring something back if you "aren't satisfied".

As of late, I've seen some really, clear-cut evidence that getting a product into a customer's hands can not only sway someone toward a particular model or brand, but can also convince someone to buy something that he never would have purchased otherwise. This is especially true when it comes to the ever-growing gaming industry.

A female friend of mine is the last person I'd peg as a "gamer". Recently, she moved into a new place, and her boyfriend lent her his PlayStation 3 to use for entertainment until she got her cable TV and Internet set up. She figured "why not" and gave some game demos a whirl. A few weeks later, the PS3 is back at her boyfriend's place (to her dismay), and she's purchased her own Xbox 360 (after doing some research to find out which console would best suit her newly found "gaming" needs). I'm still blown away that the gal who often said guys who sat around and played video games were "dumb and lazy" is now battling her way through magical lands and dancing into her own revolution. Meanwhile, a colleague of mine had a Nintendo Wii at home on-loan from a friend for a couple of weeks. They played some games simply because it was there, but never would have thought to buy one. After bowling, golf, and a few rounds of tennis, a brand spanking new Wii has now found its home in his.

Of course not everyone will have access to a friend or family member that can lend him products to try out, nor will they see a gaming console (or other product) fall into their lap for a week. But if anything, this reinforces the fact that, not only should a person always be able to try something out before forking over dough to buy it; but we should never "knock it 'til we try it". You never know what might pique your interest.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Landline Users Fed Up With Fees

If you think that it's only Canadian cellular phone users that are ticked off about hefty monthly plan rates, think again. A recent study finds that landline phone users are equally as peeved by big bills.

Yak Communications discovered that a whopping 73% of Canadians (based on a survey of 999 Canadian home phone users) think their phone bills are too high; while 59% are frsutrated by unexpected rate increases. Almost half of Canadians don't understand why they have to pay a "system access fee" (a bone of contention in the mobile world as well), and 40% actually think this fee is mandated by the Government.

Yak's V.P. of Marketing Andrew Boone claims that many telephone companies rely on "consumer ignorance", although he admits that some of the onus should be on the consumer for not actually examining each bill with a fine-toothed comb.

A lack of choice in the mobile arena has always been a major issue, but this study claims that customers feel the same way when it comes to landline phone providers as well.

I honestly never thought to examine the home phone industry in such a light since I myself have done away with a home phone altogether, and strictly use my mobile phone (and the Internet) for communicating from home. But it appears that there are many angry home phone users out there that want more choice and, most important, more affordable billing. Hear, hear!

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Should ISPs Be Able to Slow Down Heavy 'Net Users?

Recently, it has been brought to the media's attention that several ISPs have been using back-end techniques in an effort to slow down heavy-bandwidth activites that people might perform on the Internet. This includes, most importantly, downloading and transmitting large files, like movies. Is it right of the ISPs to do this?

Let's play devil's advocate. If there are 100 people in one area and 10 are downloading massive files, that's going to slow things down for the other 90 people that are just doing regular Web surfing or messaging. Why should they have to pay the price for high-bandwidth activities that tech-savvy individuals want to take part in?

However, isn't the whole point of offering faster speeds and more robust services to accomodate the needs of these "heavy" users? Sure, everyone wants the average Web page to load as quickly as possible. But think about how far we've come: we have the kinds of speeds available these days that can accomodate much more than just a Web page loading in half a second! We can download entire feature-length films. Stream all kinds of music and video. Even upload massive files. Shouldn't we be utilizing these speeds to the best of their ability and not punishing those who are benefiting the most from them?

This issue garnered a lot of attention when Chatham, ON-based Internet provider Teksavvy Solutions Inc., which gets its network access from Bell, recently started receiving complaints from its users. The company realized that Bell was purposely limiting the amount of bandwidth that heavy users could take up during peak hours of service.

ISPs definitely have the right to limit bandwidth usage to ensure the best possible experience for all customers: it's their service. But on the same token, why bother offering things like unlimited bandwidth and blazing fast speeds if, in actuality, these conditions can't be completely honoured?

It's very possible that, in letting things be, the "regular" 'net users might not even notice slower load times. But maybe they would. You can't please everyone all the time so, as bad as it sounds, it might just come down to who the better customer is: either way, one group is going to be upset.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Netflix, Facebook Get a Little Dose of Irony

Isn't it ironic when you use the Internet to make your business processes more efficient, and then it ends up breaking down and causing the exact opposite effect? This is exactly what happened with U.S. movie rental provider Netflix.

If you're not familiar with Netflix, it's a modern-day DVD rental service that lets customers rent DVDs online, and have them mailed directly to their homes. But yesterday, the site experienced a major outage that left customers all over the U.S. literally in the dark...or at least with dark TV screens. According to the Associated Press, DVDs that were to be delivered on Monday were likely delayed until today. Ahh, there's nothing like sitting down with a bowl of popcorn and sodas to watch a movie that isn't there!

Sure, glitches happen, and customers will always have to be aware of that when dealing with any form of technology. But I can see old-school supporters all over pumping their fists in the air yelling: "and you laughed at me when I said I'd walk to the video store to rent my movie!"

But Netflix isn't alone. Over in the Web world, there's another company facing some technical nightmares:, which just can't seem to stay out of the news these days! A security issue yesterday led to hundreds of photos being exposed for anyone to see, including private photos from Hollywood socialite Paris Hilton; and even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg! (Hey, if there's ever an argument for sympathy, it's to say "look, I was affected by this glitch as well!") To put the ironic icing on the cake, the loophole to gain access was discovered as a result of the company's attempt to ramp up privacy controls!

Supposedly the issue was fixed within the hour. The Associated Press noted that "Some members of social networks like Facebook post photos of themselves or others in potentially embarrassing or compromising situations that include illegal drug use or underage drinking that can cause trouble at school or work." Sorry, but if you're posting images like that, Facebook isn't the problem.

As for "normal" members, you can rest easy that computer hackers (likely the only people that would have figured out how to bypass security) were probably more interested in seeing Paris Hilton's photos than pix of you with your little puppy, or your little kid's b-day party!

Monday, March 24, 2008

How Important is Customer Service?

That sounds like a dumb question: of course customer service is important! But just how important is it? I've been wondering lately as I go through different scenarios that both I, and friends of mine, have encountered over the past few months. There have been instances where the service has been absolutely horrible, yet the customer continues to support the brand and/or product. On the flip side, there have been times that it has been great, yet the customer hasn't taken the time to show his appreciation.

Let me give you a few examples. My partner spent a good half hour on the phone with a service provider over the weekend to get something done that realistically, should have taken about 2 minutes. Yet we still subscribe to that service, and have no plans of changing. A few months ago, a friend of mine had an issue with a consumer electronics product and went through a horrible experience just to have it fixed. But when the opportunity arose for him to receive another product from that same brand, he happily accepted, thus continuing to promote its name. In both cases, the all-important customer service experience was negative, yet the company didn't suffer one bit because of it.

Now let's look at the other side. I recently returned to a store with a very expensive pair of shoes that I had purchased, and a zipper had broken. Without even asking, the sales manager said to give her an hour and she'd have it fixed. When I returned, she told me to feel free to come back at any time should anything go wrong again. Wow. I left feeling on top of the world, especially after thinking that I was going to have to argue my case. I decided I would send a letter to head office complimenting the company and the manager on the service experience, but just never got around to it. I'll put money on it that, if my experience was bad, my entire mobile phone contact list would have heard about it!

Unfortunately, this is just basic human nature. No matter how good an experience is, people are more likely to speak out about something when they're angry than they are when they're happy. Think about how many water-cooler stories you've heard that praise a company's fantastic service versus ones bitching about a horrible experience. I'll bet the scale is heavily weighted on the negative side, isn't it?

Providing good customer service is important, regardless of what industry you're in. But we, as consumers, should also put some of the onus on ourselves to make a point to praise companies that do well, not only the ones that have us pulling our hair out in frustration. If the stories of good customer service spread as quickly as the tales of bad, maybe it'll encourage more companies to kick service up a notch. Why strive to improve when no one talks about the good that you do, right? On that note, I'll be the first to start: I've just sent a quick note to that shoe company to express my thanks for its fantastic customer service. How refreshing...

[Photo courtesy of].

Thursday, March 20, 2008

CBC Wows by Offering TV Show Through BitTorrent

My, how the battle between music/video content producers and online download sites has taken a drastic turn. The CBC just announced that it will be offering TV show Canada's Next Great Prime Minister for free download via BitTorrent technology, which (to my knowledge) was once known as a fruitful method for downloading content illegally. There will be no DRM restrictions on the digital content, which means that downloaders can save the file to their PC, burn it to a CD, and even transfer it to a portable device for viewing on the go.

This is a far cry from a few years back when content producers were doing everything in their power to prevent the distribution of their programming and music online. This included, in many cases, lawsuits against Websites and technologies just like BitTorrent, or even YouTube. We then saw many producers take a lousy step forward with DRM-laden, pay-per-use content that virtually prevented downloaders from being able to fully enjoy what they just purchased. This move represents not so much defeat as it does the eventual understanding of the current state of the industry.

According to the CBC Website, it's an experimental move, prompted by the knowledge that the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. is doing something similar. "Do you think this is a good/bad idea?" CBC asks its Website visitors. "Would you like to see more shows distributed this way?" (Sidenote: if you wanted a prime example of the interactive element of media that I was discussing in the previous post, this is a great one!)

If all goes well, I wouldn't be surprised to see more popular CBC programming distributed this way. Congratulations to CBC on making this move. Hopefully it will prompt others to follow suit, although it looks like the majority of content producers are finally "getting it".

Second Life? I Barely Have Time for the First One!

I attended a course on social media yesterday, and came upon some interesting discoveries. The notion of "social" media, for anyone who isn't familiar with it, refers to the fact that the consumption of media today follows a more interactive path than the standard one-to-one experience. Sure, it can be argued that this was always the case, but the stakes have certainly changed.

Think about it: "back in the day", you could read a newspaper or magazine article and if you wanted to comment on something, you'd have to pull out a pad of paper and a pen (or a computer), compose your letter to the editor, fit it into an envelope, stick on a 35-cent stamp, and chuck it into the mailbox. Even just a few years ago, you could certainly send an e-mail to the publisher, but a quick hit of the "delete" button meant that your commentary was likely never heard by anyone but the recipient. Today, via blogs like this one and Website commenting features, one is able to give his two cents at the drop of a hat for literally the world to see! When it comes to TV, the viewing experience used to be 100% passive. Nowadays, we're constantly prompted to call (or text!) in a vote, questions, or even join in a game to win prizes...right from your couch!

The entire nature of media has changed. "Texting" has replaced what was known as "normal" conversation for the younger generation; and, taking things a step further, "virtual" worlds are constantly colliding with our real one. Part of the discussion yesterday was about Second Life, a virtual, online "world" where people can create avatars (likenesses) of themselves, and basically live a second life. Companies have built buildings and stores in Second Life; people buy and sell things with real money, join together for conferences, and pretty much do anything they can do in real life (and more). Supposedly people have made millions running "virtual" businesses in Second Life. Needless to say, we were all wide-eyed in awe that anyone would have the time to live a second life, and asked ourselves why would they even want to?

I took a step back and tried to think with an open mind. If computers and portable devices are replacing books and newspapers, and interactive TV is taking over the old passive, TV-viewing experience, what are virtual worlds replacing? Second Life is like a video game, and people use video games, and other similar activities, to somewhat escape from the real world, right? Then it dawned on me. Virtual worlds are like movies where you're the star. It's your own, interactive movie experience. But why would people want to control the outcome of a story? I'm not sure, but they obviously do: this got me thinking back to the old Choose Your Own Adventure series of books that let the reader flip to page X if he wanted the character to do one thing, or flip to page Y for an alternate course of action. This notion of control, and being involved in the media you're engaging in, has obviously been around longer than we realize.

Would I participate in a virtual world? Probably not. But then again, I did love those Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid because, to some degree, I could control the story.

There's always an underlying fear that all this "social" media could lead to a very anti-social community as people communicate more with their computers and less with real people. But then again, maybe this is just a different way of communicating, and not a way to replace the old methods.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

TV Content Going to the Web, Web Content Going to the TV...I'm Confused

The "hot" trend today is to take TV content, like popular shows, movies, clips, and even commercials, and make them available online. But it also seems that there's a rapidly growing trend to do the reverse: take Web (or just PC) content, like YouTube videos or family home movies, and make them available for the big-screen TV experience.

iTunes is the obvious example of the former, offering tons of movies and TV shows for download to the PC. But there are plenty of other sites and services that do much the same: YouTube, Joost, Miro, and Slingbox are just a few. The advantages to this are obvious: you can watch video on-the-go (in an airplane or train, for example) rather than being tied to your living room. In many cases, you're also able to load that video onto a portable device, like an iPod or other media player, for an even more "portable" and untethered experience.

But wait: now that we've perfected (albeit with nasty copyright restrictions) the TV-to-Web experience, the exact opposite trend is emerging, bringing valuable Web and PC content to the TV. Enter devices and services like AppleTV, Xbox LIVE Marketplace, and, most recently, YouTube, which has just partnered with TiVo (in the U.S.) to permit playback of its videos on the big screen via a new TiVo DVR and software upgrade.

While it appears that the Web is king, there's also an inherent desire to enjoy video the way we've become accustomed to doing. So while there is tons of cool, user-generated video online, and while you can watch your home movies on the computer screen, people still want to gather 'round in the living room and enjoy the fancy new big-screen plasma or LCD. On that same note, we've grown to understand that the Web can serve as a sort-of archival storage space for all kinds of neat video. If you saw a hilarious commercial on TV last night and want to share it with a co-worker, it's probably available online. If you want to learn more about a breaking news story that interrupted your fav show, there's probably video footage on the Web that provides additional information.

For someone looking from the outside in, this might all sound confusing. First you want to access TV on the Web, but then you go back to watching the TV in your living room anyway? I don't get it. But really, it's not an either/or situation. What consumers want is the ability to access all kinds of content everywhere. In other words, producers of content that's typically available through cable or satellite providers can benefit a lot from what the Web has to offer, and vice versa. It's almost a no-brainer proposition.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Are Facebook's 15-Minutes Up?

A U.K. study claims that social networking Website Facebook's 15-minutes of fame might be up because there has been a decline in user numbers there. Fortunately for Facebook, there are plenty of users in other areas (especially Canada, and, according to a recent study, mainly Toronto!) Also fortunate for the site, it appears that what was formerly known as 15-minutes of fame seems to be extending far beyond that today: so-called reality TV "stars" are a perfect indication of that.

As a member of the Facebook online community, I can admit that the site's appeal has somewhat run dry. As with anything, the initial excitement has faded into the "regular"; and the site has become just another part of the daily or weekly routine. However, this doesn't mean that Facebook has lost its purpose; nor its appeal. It's still a great way to send mass messages to people; upload and share photos (as I've said before, it's one of the easiest photo sharing sites I've seen); share similar interests, like movies and books; buy/sell items locally; keep in touch with old and out-of-town friends; and collaborate in special "groups". In fact, our magazines have a dedicated Facebook group called Marketnews & here's how! magazines - All About Tech where we include headlines from this very blog, along with other information, like monthly contests, new videos, and so forth (any member can join!)

So although it appears that the honeymoon is over, it still remains to be seen whether Facebook can live happily ever after, or will end up in divorce as the "next big thing" takes over. I believe that as long as the site maintains its easy usability and interface, and doesn't fall victim to overdoing it with useless applications and annoying new "features", it'll be around for a long time to come.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hello Hulu! But Not in Canada...

Just about a year ago, I reported on our sister Website that Fox and NBC had plans to launch their own online video Website where visitors could watch episodes from TV shows aired on those (and other) networks, as well as movies and clips. Well, the site, which has been available to testers since October 2007, is now open to the public. It's name? Hulu!

The decision was in clear response to the popularity of, which was (and in fact still is) where many TV and movie clips end up. YouTube members often record the content from their TVs, then upload it to YouTube for others to view. This includes everything from funny Saturday Night Live sketches (when available), to Jay Leno's Tonight Show monologue, or even a single scene from a primetime TV show. Naturally, this fueled anger and, in some cases, lawsuits, against YouTube, claiming that it was infringing on copyrights by allowing such videos to be posted. If you're a frequent YouTube surfer, you've likely come across a "this video is no longer available" message at some point in time, which is a clear sign that someone waved a red flag.

Rather than file suit, surrender to YouTube (which is now owned by Google), or sit back with arms folded and lips pouting, Fox and NBC has taken the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude, and conjured up the idea for At launch, the Associated Press claims that more than 250 full-length TV shows are available, ranging from The Simpsons to The Office; as well as 100 or so movies, like Ice Age. In all, programming will be available from over 50 different networks, movie studios, and independent Web-based content makers.

Following the YouTube mentality, the site will also feature humorous clips from movies like Napolean Dynamite and short skits from Saturday Night Live. As for revenue generation, will be supported by ads, and The Associated Press reports that, in some cases, viewers will be "given a choice of advertisements to watch."

I've gone on and on via this blog about how music, movie, and TV producers need to stop, smell the roses, and understand the changing face of content distribution. With this site, Fox and NBC have done just that. If I have to watch a 10-second commercial to see a video clip, so what. I'll suck it up and do it for the sake of supporting content makers. What I don't approve of is companies who throw out lawsuits and force the removal of their content without trying to figure out a way to tailor their own offerings to suit what their customers so obviously want. If you're not going to do it yourself, rest assured that somebody else will beat you to the punch line!

With that said, I excitedly clicked into to check it out, and selected a Saturday Night Live clip. What did I get? A plain, black screen that contained the following somber message: "Unfortunately this video is not currently available in your country or region. We apologize for the inconvenience." Oh brother. Here we go again. So while these two big networks are offering up content online, and loyal Canadians like me are willing to support them, we're stuck in our little Canadian rut, unable to enjoy it. I guess I'll just continue to visit YouTube: supposedly that's helping to promote Canadian content regulations. And apparently so is preventing access to online content from U.S. networks. (Note my sarcasm).

I can't blame Fox and NBC for this, however, so kudos to them for making the move. It's the first major step I've seen from a movie studio to fully understand the changing face of the entertainment industry.

U.S. readers, you can access the Hulu service by simply punching in into your Web browser. It's also available via AOL, Yahoo Inc., and other web portals. Canadians can visit the site as well; but visitor-beware: it'll be nothing but a tease.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

High Crime in Western Canada

Just as the affordable housing survey a few months ago caught my attention, so has a new study by Maclean's Magazine that reveals the "most dangerous cities in Canada". Apparently, Western Canada tops the list of the most crime-ridden cities north of the border with nine of the top 10 cities being located in that region. Noticeably absent from the top 10 were Toronto, ON and Montreal, QC; the latter of which just inched its way into the top-20 in the 19th spot. (Toronto was 26th!) Oddly, good ol' Halifax, NS rounded out the top 10.

Vancouver, BC came in ninth, followed by Victoria, BC in 8th, Chilliwack, BC (7th), New Westminster, BC (6th), Edmonton, AB (5th), and Prince George, BC (4th). The top three spots were reserved for Winnipeg, MB, Saskatoon, SK, and, in the number-one position, Regina, SK! All three of these cities were 140%+ above the national average! Ironically (or perhaps not so ironically) Regina was deemed one of the most affordable places to live in Canada in the aforementioned survey.

Halifax ranking 10th might have blown me away had I not been previously informed (by a friend that used to live there) about the incredibly high crime rates. I was taken aback, however, at Toronto only making it to 26th spot. Not that I'm disapointed, of course. But perception would lead one to believe that Toronto is the rough n' tough city filled with thugs and brutes.

Broken down by "type" of crime, the robbers gravitate toward Chilliwack, Victoria, and Regina; while the car thiefs make cities like Winnipeg and Joliette their home. Interestingly, Macleans points out that car theft rates in these two cities are actually higher than in the biggest car thief capitals of the U.S.: Detriot and Las Vegas! If you're poison is breaking and entering, then you're more likely to live in Chilliwack, Victoria, or Regina. Saskatoon and Regina were also highest when it comes to aggravated assault; and Saskatoon adds sexual assault to that list as well. Although it only ranked 21st overall, Arthabaska, QC, which is halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, can be considered "murder central".

As for my hometown of Toronto, it's likely that we're prone to crimes of a more violent nature, whereas other cities (like Regina) might log more crimes due to smaller-scale situations.

So where can you live to be safe? According to Maclean's, Caledon, ON, a small city about an hour west of Toronto, has been rated Canada's safest community". This doesn't surprise me, since it's pretty much a quiet area full of retirees, lots of open land, and well-to-do folks.

The numbers in this survey are drawn from the highest per-capita crime rates according to 2006 data. In case you're wondering why this data comes from a two-year old survey, this is supposedly the most recent data available from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. But I doubt anything has really changed that drastically over 2007.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

HD Feed Overrides Drive Me Nuts!

I've noticed something really annoying about my TV service over the past few weeks. I subscribe to all of the high-def channels, so naturally, 99% of my TV viewing time is in HD. I often notice that, if a show is running on a Canadian HD network and an American HD one, the sound quality is world's better on the U.S. channel. So, I hate to say it, but I select that one. But minutes into a primetime TV program, the broadcast will be over-ridden by the Canadian network's version. Why?

I understand that we need to air the Canadian commercials in Canada, and that's fine. And I get the Canadian content rules imposed by the CRTC. But why should I be forced to watch a worse-quality feed when I pay for these extra channels? Instead of enjoying the full surround sound experience, I'm stuck with hollow sound and an annoying echo or, as my partner described it, "processed...almost to the point of being over-compressed". It has gotten to the point where we've opted for the standard-def feed just because the audio quality is unbearable (especially when we know what it should be like!)

And then we wonder why Canadians have been slow to adopt the high-def experience! If Canadian broadcasters can't keep up with the U.S. ones, then let us watch the better quality programming, and insert the home-grown Canadian ads where they need to go. For Canadians to actually adopt HD as a mainsteam trend, we need to be able to enjoy it in its full glory. If there's a viable reason why I need to be forced to watch a feed from another network, I'd really like to know what it is.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Disorder: Disconnect Anxiety

Have we really come to a point where the stress one feels without access to a mobile messaging device can actually be deemed its own form of anxiety? A recent study by Canadian research company Solutions Research Group discovered that consumers can be essentially addicted to mobile devices, experiencing some sort of psychological withdrawal when they can't gain access.

As sad as it is, I can imagine this. I've been out with people who can't help but sneak a peek at their BlackBerry at every "ding" or "buzz", and I've been guilty of it myself, having reached over in the middle of the night to check e-mails on a handset I was reviewing. On a recent vacation, I had no access to e-mail, and was very close to jumping into a Starbucks just to log on and get my "fix"! To think there are worse people out there is just absolutely frightening.

Solutions Research described Disconnect Anxiety to the CTV as involving "various feelings of disorientation and nervousness experienced when a person is deprived of Internet or wireless access for a period of time." The company's President Kaan Yigit adds: "What we call disconnection anxiety is not just related or confined to people with BlackBerries, but it's a much broader societal trend. We see it among teens, young adults, older adults, but also seniors."

So are we too connected? On the one hand, technology helps to keep us in touch in ways we never could before, fostering increased productivity, and thus making it possible for workers to avoid overtime in the office, or having to finish a report at home (now you can easily do it on the train or plane ride home!) But on the other hand, are people truly understanding that these devices are meant to free you from the office, not shackle you to it?

I've spoken before about the importance of finding that balance between work and home life. Should someone be checking e-mails during dinner or family time? The answer to this question is an absolute no. Shoud he be checking them while away at a conference where access to his laptop isn't available? Sure.

But on the opposite side, we can't ignore the issue that has been around since before the dawn of the BlackBerry, small and sleek laptop, or tiny mobile phone. Should this same worker be chatting with the family during business hours? Probably not, but chances are he does it anyway!

Essentially, a bit of crossover on either end is OK, and should be tolerated. If you receive an important e-mail at home and happen to see it, you'll feel horrible all night if you don't respond. And if a family member has a big issue and needs to chat during work for 5 minutes, take the time to talk. The important thing is to use discretion. Take advantage of a mobile device in ways that will help improve performance at your job, but not at the expense of your personal relationships. In doing so, you might be able to enjoy the technology instead of loathe its shackling existence. And we might just be able to keep one bogus "disorder" out of the psychological books.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Is it Illegal Downloading, or a Lack of Creativity?

I have been, for years, reading about the music, movie, and entertainment industry crying the blues about illegal downloading, and how it's killing the business, leading to retail shop shut downs, lay-offs, and lost profits. There's no doubt that illegal downloading, pirated movies and such is a contributing factor to the decline. But in observing the direction of music, movies, and TV as of late, I'm wondering if it's simply a lack of creativity and not Internet geeks that's the underlying problem.

Let's start with music. I already discussed this year's Grammy Awards in a previous post, where one big winner was able to accept her award while on hiatus from rehab. Nuff said. But also, remember the previous Grammys when troubled starlet Britney Spears was given the stage to lip-sync and prance around with absolutely no co-ordination, nor entertainment value, and an obvious lack of rehearsing. Is this the sort of content for which consumers are supposed to be willing to pay $17/CD? Of course we have tons of great artists on the scene, like John Mayer, Alicia Keys, Jack Johnson, and Josh Groban (judging from the comments on the aforementioned Grammys post, he has a diverse group of fans!) But when it really comes down to it, who gets the spotlight? The ones gallivanting on Hollywood Blvd., and/or with drinking and/or drug problems, and/or with great or odd fashion sense. There's no focus on the music anymore! In my opinion, absolutely NO artist should be permitted to lip-sync during a live performance. If you can't sing live, find another career.

Now let's move on to the movies. I can't help but notice that many of the biggest box-office sellers over the years have been based on popular novels of the same name. The Da Vinci Code, Memoirs of a Geisha, Atonement, The Last King of Scotland, and even this year's big Oscar winner, No Country for old Men. I'm pretty sure that if you dig deep enough into the credits of most big movies, you'll find that they are in some way, shape or form, based on a book. I do understand that a lot of work is involved in order to turn a novel into a screenplay. But I've seen many movies after having read the book, and the dialogue in some cases is virtually identical. Where's the originality? Are novelists the only people left with talent? Or is there a shortage of original screenplay writers?

Finally, there's TV, which has suffered an unfortunate blow because of the recent Hollywood Writer's Strike (perhaps these guys should have become novelists!) But even before the Strike was a glimmer in anyone's eye, reality TV begun to take over. In a typical prime-time TV line-up, there's probably 10 reality TV shows for every one scripted drama (this is just my guestimate, so don't hold me to this!) Everything from singing to talent competitions a la American Idol, to sticking people in a house or on an island and watching the drama ensue. If anyone believes that half of these shows are actually fully unscripted, they'll be sadly disappointed. But again, where's the originality? The creative juices that are working to entertain, not just provide shock value?

Sure, the Internet is making it much easier for consumers to get pretty much anything when they want it. But perhaps there's a reason beyond this changing face of technology that leads consumers to want to gather as much content as they can as quickly as they can. Do they feel they're not getting the quality they deserve? All I'm saying is that entertainment companies should take a long, hard look at issues like those mentioned above before forcing all the blame onto illegal downloading.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Is Sharing Study Notes on Facebook Cheating?

The power of the Internet and the ability to quickly disseminate information is now sweeping into the education system...but not in a good way. A Toronto Ryerson University student is set to be expelled because of a study group he set up on social networking Website The school is calling the action "academic misconduct" because students were sharing notes, tips, and study question answers on the site.

My first thought is who cares? Not about the student, but about the study group. How is this any different than a group of students getting together in the local coffee shop or at someone's house to do their homework together? Sure, it's on a much larger scale (the group supposedly had upwards of 125 students in it), but once again, who cares? The students are studying together, helping each other out, and engaging in conversation (albeit of the virtual kind) in order to understand the course material. And after all, isn't the whole point of education to learn?

Perhaps in finding out answers to questions within this group, it ends up striking up a conversation that goes something like: "Wow, how did you get that answer? I've been stumped on this all day!" Followed by: "Well, you do X, Y, and Z." And voila. The student has learned something! Maybe it wasn't from the professor. Maybe it wasn't from the text book. But he learned it.

I'm not naive enough to think that there won't be "cheaters" who will just log on, ask questions and copy the answers, then hope for a passing grade. But when it comes down to test time, there's no Facebook to tell you the answers in a classroom. Chances are, if someone is cheating via a Web group, they probably would have found a way to do it without that group anyway. And if someone wants to pay for a non-education, which will most certainly be discovered later in life, well, that's a whole other issue altogether.

Should this 18-year-old student, Chris Avenir, who claims to have had good intentions with the group, be expelled? Absolutely not. And if he is, it'll lead me to believe that the education system is stuck in an archaic state of non-growth, unable to understand how to embrace technology instead of fear it. I'd also suggest that Avenir gather all 100+ group members in a local venue and they all study together live, and in the flesh. What will the school have to say then?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

EXCLUSIVE!: Future Shop to Offer HD DVD Trade-ins

Future Shop has exclusively informed Marketnews (sister magazine to this blog) that the retailer will be offering an HD DVD player trade-in program, similar to Circuit City's recent announcement in the U.S., starting tomorrow (March 7). The program, which will run up until April 3, 2008, will afford customers who have previously purchased an HD DVD player from Future Shop with the opportunity to exchange it in-store for a $100 credit toward an HD DVD/Blu-ray combo player from either Samsung (the BD-UP5000) or LG (BH-200). This, however, excludes the HD DVD player for the Xbox 360 gaming console, which has been reduced to $50 as of late.

It's a pity that there isn't a promotion involving the return of an HD DVD player for credit toward a dedicated Blu-ray player, but you have to admit that the offer is still pretty darned compelling. Think about it: you can buy one of the players (LG's is currently selling for $430 and Samsung's for $800, which are realistically in and around the same price points as Blu-ray-only players anyway) and you're still able to play back all of the HD DVD discs you already have, as well as newly-acquired discs in the Blu-ray format. It's the best-of-both-worlds scenario for people who have taken the HD DVD plunge; and especially for those who have stocked up on tons and tons of HD DVD movies.

As for Blu-ray only players, Future Shop will be offering $50 off on all Blu-ray players (including the aforementioned combo models). Unfortunately, this excludes the Sony Playstation 3 gaming console, which has a Blu-ray player built in. When asked whether the retailer had any plans to offer a trade-in program for dedicated Blu-ray players, Ken Sorhus, Merchandise Manager for Home Audio, DVD & Blu-ray said that Future Shop will indeed investigate the possibility, but it has "no plans at the moment".

Will consumers see value in this existing promotion? Probably not all of them. But if the situation fits, it's certainly an incentive. Right now, if you want the high-def movie experience, Blu-ray is your only option. If you already have an HD DVD player, rather than let it collect dust, or position it next to a fancy new Blu-ray player you plan to buy anyway, why not just trade it in and use one device?

As for the returned players, what does Future Shop plan to do with them? The retailer has partnered up with The Boys and Girls Club of Canada, and will be donating the players for use in after-school and evening programs. Kudos on that philanthropic decision.

[Photo: Future Shop's Ram Manaktahla poses beside Samsung's BD-UP5000 combo Blu-ray/HD DVD player].

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bully: When Does a Video Game Cross a Line?

Ever since video games became more than just two dots on a screen that you paddle back and forth, people have cried out that they're too violent, send the wrong message, or make kids lazy. The last two points are debatable, but game-makers will have to plead no contest to the violence factor, which is rampant in many of the most popular games today. But at what point does a game go too far?

Reports flooding the 'net claim that a group of teachers acround the world are requesting that a new video game, called Bully: Scholarship Edition, be banned from stores. According to the Globe & Mail, the game includes all of the teen angst and self-confidence issues that are often found in the high school scene, complete with fights (including shoved heads in toilets!), naked photos for laughs, and the like.

Let me start by saying that I've seen (or heard of ) some pretty violent video games involving everything from chain-sawed killings, to ripping someone's insides out, biting off heads, and even picking up prostitutes and stealing cars. When it comes to teens and pre-teens, I've always felt that, as long as they understand the difference between fiction and reality, these games are simply for the purpose of having "fun", enjoying comraderie, and perfecting hand/eye co-ordination. But when a game involves realistic situations tailored to a young crowd (the game is rated Teen for those 13 and up), a red flag goes up in even my typically open-minded head.

What's more, the game is apparently a sequel to the already-available Bully, which also caused a stir when it was released a few years ago, although it still managed to make its way to store shelves.

It's very unlikely that a kid will find himself in a lone dungeon with some weird creatures dressed in metal, so separating that fiction from reality should be a fairly easy task for any sane-minded kid. And being a gangster that pulls people out of cars and has random shooting sprees on the streets is pretty far-fetched as well (again, for any sane kid). I don't believe that participating in games like this will affect a child's mindset in the slightest. But when you're looking at a real world environment that's just like his, especially if the kid playing the game is typically on the receiving end of such bullying in real life, it's a bit disturbing. The issue, I think, isn't so much the violence as it is the probable ability to relate to these sensitive situations.

I won't make a judgement call on the issue without having actually seen the game (which the publisher, Vancouver-based Rockstar Games, claims is "one of the funniest games you will play.") Perhaps it isn't as bad as people think. But all I can think when I read things like this is thank God for good ol' Super Mario and clean, fun (and G-rated!) games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Adobe Goes Offline & Microsoft Comes On

Last week, I discussed Adobe's new AIR application that would let people take content from the Web and view it offline on their PCs without an active Internet connection. Now, Microsoft is doing essentially the opposite: extending its online presence via a new beta version of the Office suite that would let faithful Windows users access offline documents while online.

Aptly named Office Live Workspace, the online portal would let you store up to 1,000 Microsoft Office documents, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, then access them on any PC that's connected to the Internet. Funny enough, the Website ( reads: "No more flash drives or sending yourself documents via e-mail", the latter of which is exactly what I do!

Once you've set up a free account, settings can be adjusted to dictate who can gain access to your documents, as well as edit or comment on them. The site also offers the ability to synchronize Microsoft Outlook information, including contacts and to-do lists.

From a personal standpoint, this is a great way to share documents, ensure they are always accessible, and even back them up. From a business perspective, Office Live can act as a sort of "server", where employees can share data among themselves in a really simple way. Pity, however, that photos can't be uploaded as well.

With Office Live Workspace, Adobe's AIR, and even Google's recently announced user-updatable Websites, it appears that a battle is brewing for the management of content both on and offline. If you thought the high-definition DVD format war was a doozie, it looks like it might just pale in comparison to what's going on in the document and online arena! Who ever though plain ol' text could be so darned exciting?

Monday, March 3, 2008

YouTube to Offer Live Streaming Video

Several reports this morning cite YouTube co-founder Steve Chen as saying that the company plans to offer live, streaming video on before the end of this year. This is great news in terms of innovation, but I'm on the fence about whether there's any value in it.

For one, will we be watching Little Timmy at home on his webcam singing live to American Idol? Or will we see more compelling content? Here's another question that could have primetime TV shaking in its boots: will we see live TV shows broadcast via the Internet? Of course we can already access shows on the Web; but will adding this live streaming capability to arguably the biggest online video site add another level of appeal to taking shows online?

Of course adding live video could be tough to implement, especially for a Website already plagued with blame for "permitting" copyright or questionable material. Where and how will censors come in? How can the company possibly monitor every live streaming video on the site at any given time to ensure that there's no profanity? No use of copyright materials? It can't be an easy task to achieve, but with the strength of Google behind them, it might just be possible.

Personally, I'll stick to cable, satellite, or DVDs for the majority of my video content. But YouTube could very well find a niche for live video streaming online; whether it be streaming commentary from someone at the scene of a local accident; to live streaming of a birthday party or wedding that family members overseas were unable to attend. The possibilities are endless for both personal sharing and business development.