Monday, February 20, 2006

Canada - Leading the Way with Video - Who Knew?

I've long been bearish on VoIP's prospects in Canada, and maybe there's a reason. Maybe it's because we're ahead of game, and are going where the money is - and it's not in voice. It's in video, and I'm in 100% agreement there.

In the big scheme of things, it's starting to look a bit silly with all the fuss being made about voice applications, given how small the revenue streams are compared to video. I'm generalizing here, but there's no doubt there's a lot of money in video, and IP is about to explode on the broadcast front in 2006. We've seen signs of this coming, and Jeff Pulver has been on right edge of the curve here for a while, especially with his early praises for Slingbox.

On that note, I wanted to draw attention to 3 Canadian companies with video-based stories that have all crossed my path in the past couple of days. For two, I have a personal connection, and the third is a large ILEC that just had its Q4 earnings call. As they say, good things come in threes, and when I figured out the common thread to these stories, I say there's a trend happening here.

#1 Telus They had their Q4 earnings call last week, and their story was very much in line with what the majors in Eastern Canada had to say in recent weeks - Bell and Rogers - wireless is booming, wireline is dying and video is happening. More or less.

Aside from these big picture items, Telus has a lot of other very interesting things going on, and it sure looks like we'll start to see more evidence of this in 2006. One item that was noted practically in passing is TTV - Telus TV. Scroll about 3/4 of the way down their Q4 press release, and there's talk about a small scale local launch in Calgary and Edmonton, and further buildouts coming in BC. Canada-watchers know that Telus needs video to compete with Shaw in their home market, and were granted broadcast licenses last year. A content deal is in place with Fox for IP-based VOD, and Western Canada's video wars are about ready to begin.

This weekend's Globe & Mail had a terrific cover story on TTV by Eric Reguly, but unfortunately you need to be a subscriber for online access. It's a great read, and goes into more depth about why Telus is banking so heavily on video - you'd almost think that telecom has become an afterthought for them.

One thing that stood out for me in the feature as a sign they are committed to TV is the fact that Darren Entwistle is bringing on Moses Znaimer to the TTV advisory board. Moses Znaimer may not be well known outside of Canada, but certainly in Toronto he's regarded as the guru of community-based television. He's a legendary character in the Canadian broadcasting industry, and in the 1970s, he was a true innovator, using CITY-TV as his base for creating much of what we take for granted today in how TV interacts with the viewer. If anyone understands the potential for IPTV and VOD, it's Moses Znaimer. Point, Telus.

#2 Itiva Far from being a household name, Itiva Digital Media secured funding about a month ago, and have a beta test going with a Hollywood film studio now. Their Quantum Streaming technology basically allows for very fast downloading of video content over the Internet.

The website shows the company is based in Henderson, Nevada - but there really is a Canadian connection. Itiva evolved out of a Kelowna, B.C. - based company called Crossflux, and one of the founders is a long-time colleague of mine who's based here in Toronto.

If you don't believe me, just ask PC Magazine! They just got a nice writeup there, and if fast downloading of video over broadband is your thing, Itiva is a company to watch. You heard it here first!

#3 - QuickPlay Media Itiva is all about video over broadband, and QuickPlay is all about video over mobile. I first came across QuickPlay earlier this month when I attended the session put on by Deloitte Consulting that featured Jim Balsillie from RIM. Turns out, QuickPlay's CEO, Wayne Purboo sat next to me, and we traded cards. I have been meaning to follow up with him, and now I definitely will! The other day, the Globe & Mail ran a terrific feature on them, with a nice tie-in to the Olympics. The Olympics are a perfect showcase for their platform, and as video-enabled handsets come on to the market, they should be in a great spot for growth. They have partnerships in place with all of Canada's key mobile carriers - Rogers, Bell, Telus and SaskTel, as well as content deals locally with CBC and CHUM, as well as ESPN and Fox in the US. I like this story. Again, you heard it here first!

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