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August 2006 Archives

I've written a couple of stories for the latest edition of Playback Magazine, which features the coming Toronto International Film Festvial. The stories can be read here and here.

Loyalty programs are everywhere, and like many, I collect points in various programs through various means. I collect Aeroplan miles when I fly Air Canada, stay in certain hotels, rent cars from Hertz, pay my Bell Canada phone bill, and even when I buy gas at Esso. I collect Air Miles at Rona on an all-too-frequent basis (the consequence of owning a 148-year-old house), and now and then at the liquor store or elsewhere. Such programs can lead to repeat business -- and consumer loyalty.

In The Future of Television in Canada, a report I wrote earlier this year while with IBM Global Business Services, I stated that content purveyors need to find new ways to differentiate themselves, possibly including the use of loyalty programs. Well, according to a story from Broadcaster Magazine's daily news update, that's starting to happen. BM reports that Rogers OMNI Television is going to launch a new loyalty program called OMNI VIP. According to BM, this is the first ever rewards program for conventional TV viewers. The way it works is based upon viewers watching for the "word of the day" and entering this on a website to collect points that can be exchanged for "prizes". Of course, the potential flaw with this is that the word of the day is just that, one word shared by all viewers. It can be shared with non-viewers too (perhaps by e-mail, or posted somewhere on the Internet) and therefore used by people who didn't actually watch the broadcast. No doubt Omni realizes that, and further realizes that there's still promotional value for them and the advertisers (who provide the "prizes" for the "prize vault").

These are, obviously, early days for TV loyalty programs and we can expect to see much more sophisticated programs in the future. With the technology available today for customers watching digital cable, satellite or IPTV (the telco variety or otherwise), it is possible to accurately track what is being "watched". I put the term "watched" in quotation marks because, in and of itself, such technology merely indicates to which channel the device is tuned (or from which website a user is streaming). What it can't do is determine whether anyone is really watching. The lights may be on, but that doesn't mean that anyone's home. In the case of non-Internet viewing, this approach requires that the BDU (that's Broadcast Distribution Undertaking; i.e. the cable, satellite or telco-IPTV company) pass this information on to the individual stations (and perhaps raises some privacy issues, too).

Going a step further with the technology, and making the experience interactive, opens the door to truly knowing whether anyone's watching. Requiring loyalty program participants (and only program participants) to acknowledge, whether by mouse or remote, a periodic "are you really watching" kind of prompt in a timely manner would be a way of determining whether there truly are eyeballs engaged. While this measurement will never be as accurate as a gas pump in determining actual consumption, it will give a pretty accurate picture of things. Of course, this works for real-time TV consumption or, perhaps, a video-on-demand model, but does not work for recorded content on a DVR/PVR (although technology could be extended to accomplish this).

As competition heats up for video download from the Internet, I wouldn't be surprised to see one of iTunes, Google Video, AOL, Vongo, and the like introduce such a program. Or, perhaps, it will be one of the networks that kicks it off as part of their ever-increasing direct-to-consumer initiatives. Once someone starts the ball rolling, it could lead to a pervasiveness similar to today's gasoline scene wherein all of major players (at least in the Toronto marketplace, where I live) participate in some form of loyalty program. As I said in the IBM report, "consumer loyalty is tenuous at best"; loyalty programs will be one vehicle we will see in the future as content distributors, whether conventional or alternative, battle for the consumer dollar.

Discovery Health Channel was granted a reduction in their CANCON requirements yesterday. Their application to the CRTC was based on several arguments: the first being that they cannot find sufficient Canadian content, the second that the usable life of such content is short, the third being that they've never attained the subscriber base they projected and the last being that they've fallen short on anticipated advertising revenues. Essentially, the station is struggling both financially and in fulfilling its mandate and, therefore, sought relief. Financial hardship caused by failure to attract viewers or advertisers should not be sufficient reason to alter the conditions of license until its normal renewal period. However, a true inability to meet the conditions of license due to content unavailability is probably a reasonable justification for an interim review and adjustment to the conditions.

In allowing relief, the commission cited both the financial aspects and the content availability issue as reasons for granting relief. Because the basis of the decision was not limited to the non-financial considerations, we shouldn't be surprised to see other struggling licensees looking to pair similar justifications with financial hardship in order to seek similar relief. That an unsuccessful business model is being accepted as partial justification for reduced Canadian content requirements certainly opens the door to this being used as part of similar relief applications and it would not be surprising to see more such applications in the near future.

No blog entries for a while... been busy golfing (among other things), which got me thinking...

A lot has changed since the 1970's. Although Mick and the Rolling Stones apparently still "can't get no satisfaction", athletes presumably can (or can come closer) thanks to improved sports equipment technology.

Like the 'hardware' we use in the media business, golf 'hardware' has undergone major changes, too. We've gone from hard spikes to soft spikes and can even now buy golf sandals (I love my new golf sandals by the way!). Lighter graphite shafts are now available. We've gone from wooden woods to metal 'woods'. Now, some of the metal drivers of today are bigger than a Winnebago. And ball engineering technology has not only eliminated cuts (when was the last time a golf ball 'smiled' back at you?) but has also increased distance significantly.

While none of these changes individually is enough to undermine the effectiveness of older golf courses, when combined, we reach a tipping point where, apparently, something's got to give. I noticed that last week, playing Bristol Harbour Golf Course near Canandaigua, New York. They were clearly faced with a challenge: what do you do to keep the game properly challenging in light of the consumer equipment improvements that have made things too easy Having no room to lengthen the holes (a scarcity of bandwidth, you might say), they did a wee bit of out of the (tee) box thinking . [A bit of background first. When built, BHGC followed the common tee arrangement of the day where the red tees, traditionally for the ladies and junior golfers, were the closest to the green, the white tees were further back and were intended for mortal men, and the blue tees were even further back and were intended for the gods of golf: the pros (and other really good golfers).] So, if you can't make the holes longer, how do you make it tougher in the face of new technology? Well, for two of the holes, (number 6 and number 10), they swapped the white tees and the blue tees such that the blue were now the ones closer to the green and the white were the ones that were farther back. In and of itself, that would make the white tees tougher but only serve to make the blue tees easier, not more challenging. BUT, if you then change the blues from a par 5 to a par 4 on those holes, leaving the reds and whites as par 5, the blues become harder, the whites become harder, and the red tees remain the same (I guess they couldn't figure out a way around that). I'm sure this isn't a unique approach and has probably been done at lots of courses, but I admire it as an example of innovative thinking in the face of unmovable constraints.