A note about Videotron (So that I can continue my unbiased blogging about Videotron)

I wanted to write a short entry about Videotron’s new “flagship” store downtown today, as I was at Tuesday’s press event, but quickly realized I couldn’t. After what happened over the weekend, I was in a lose-lose situation: Heap praise on the concept and appear like I’ve bent over for the company, or criticize and look like I’m holding a grudge. So for that reason, I’m writing this.

I was interviewed on CBC’s daybreak on Tuesday morning to discuss what happened and had the pleasure during that interview of hearing a clip of Marc Labelle, Videotron’s Senior Director of Corporate Communications. The clip features Mr. Labelle saying that “according to what they hear” I took a lot of pictures from the entrance of the store of the inside of the store with a flash. Patently absurd stuff.

Of course, no mention of the actions of their employees.

On Monday evening, however, I did have the chance to speak with Mr. Labelle personally. After sending an email to Videotron’s PR about attending their press event the next day, I was asked to call the company’s offices. They were concerned I’d pull a stunt the next day. Apparently, getting threatened by Videotron employees somehow gets you confused with Alan Funt, Ashton Kutcher, or Jamie Kennedy. Everyone who knows me is aware I’m about as controversial as 2% milk.

I won’t delve into much detail about the call, but I will say that’s it’s disheartening that they seem to be accepting the bald-face lies their employees have said following what happened. They went so far as to question whether the guy who threatened to punch me in the face even worked for Videotron. I’ve offered repeatedly to ID the culprits, but they are not interested. Mr. Labelle did express regrets that the incident happened, but there was no real apology.

Years back, I was watching a CNN interview with the Reverend Al Sharpton, who was ranting about some controversy and subsequent apology, and how offended he was by the apology. I’ve since forgotten what the controversy was, but I’ve never forgotten the analogy he used to describe an unapology-apology:

When you step on someone’s toe, you don’t say “I’m sorry your foot can feel pain.” You say “I’m sorry I stepped on your toe.”

So while I can’t say I expected much – it’s clear legalities on their end make having an honest conversation difficult, to say the least, I can say that the incident is entirely separate from what I think about Videotron’s products and services.

I don’t think two twenty-something thugs represent Videotron (although many of the people who’ve emailed, commented, tweeted, and talk to me do!) and my only real interest in the company is what they offer consumers, and its continuous battle for market share in Quebec. The actions of those employees was wrong, and as a lot of you have pointed out, assault under the Criminal Code, and they should be disciplined by their employer for their actions.

And that’s what I’ve got to say about that. Cool? Cool. Comments? Comment away.


Don’t mess with Videotron or they’ll punch you in the face

The Videotron Store in Carrefour Agrignon. Thug No. 1 is all the way on the left.

Whoah. Adventures in retail this morning in Montreal. I ventured out in to the semi-suburbs this morning (LaSalle & Carrefour Agrignon) to buy a couple of video games, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, both for the Wii, which are getting pretty solid reviews. Little did I know just how much of a hassle this was going to turn into.

First, I stopped at GameStop. There, the employees tried to sell me opened games as new (A common practice for them well described here, here, and here). Having struck out once, I went to Zellers, since it was closest, and in typical Zellers fashion, they didn’t have them. Why I even tried Zellers, I don’t know. Strike Two. So I decided to go to Best Buy, knowing they’d most likely have the games in stock, and new to boot.

Here’s where the fun starts. Walking to the Best Buy, I noticed the Videotron store, which has recently been remodeled as the company focuses more and more on its new cell phone services. Not only was the store remodeled, but there was a ratio of about 6 employees per customer in the store.  This was hilarious to me, and even more so when I think about how Videotron’s parent company, Quebecor, has locked out 253 Journal de Montreal employees for almost two years now. Apparently the company can’t pay for journalism but can afford an army of numbskulls selling cell phone contracts.

So I took out my phone and snapped one picture of the store from about 20 feet away. Put my phone back in my pocket and walked to Best Buy. About a minute later, I feel a hand on my back.

“Why did you take a picture of me?”

I was floored. “What?” I said, realizing that it was a Videotron employee from the store. He asked the same question again. I looked at him, flabbergasted that he even cared. He looked very nervous, like he knew he and his store was incompetent. He told me not to take pictures of his store, or else. I stared at him, realized I didn’t have to tell him a thing, and walked away, although not before I must have gave him the most confused look in my life.

I get to Best Buy, walk to the games section (major cutie working there today!) and found several new copies of both games. I was happy. I picked both games up. Then, out of nowhere, this guy approaches me.

“If you take another photo of my store, I’m going to punch you.”

“Another Videotron employee? Really?” I was thinking. This goon wasn’t wearing the familiar button-up black shirt that most Videotron employees wear. It was a brown shirt, so either this guy wasn’t on duty or was a manager of that same Videotron store. “Are you threatening me? In a Best Buy?” I asked. He repeated the threat, except this time he said “me” instead of “my store.”

Incredulous, I said “You realize if you do that, I will have you arrested?”

He began to ask why I was taking photos. I could have gone on and told him that it was just one photo, the reason, etc., but stunned that I had been threatened by two Videotron employees within 10 minutes, I simply shut my mouth and took out my phone. “If you don’t get away from me,” I said, “I will call the police.”

He heard that and took a b-line out of the store. Mr. Physical Threats was not a fan of the police, it appears. I went to the cash and paid for the video games. I was going to leave the mall, I really was, but I couldn’t believe I was just threatened twice by a couple of Videotron thugs. So, since I had to walk to my car anyways, I went back past the Videotron store to take one more picture, because intimidation isn’t cool.

Walking to my car, the first videotron thug starts following me again, talking on his cell phone. I look at him, and he shouts “I have the right to follow you!”

I keep walking to my car, but then I see him dart to go grab two mall security people. Again, not willing to be intimidated by punks who sell cell phones for a living (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I go right up to the security guards. Before Mr. Moron can start talking, I tell the guards what happened. The initial photo, the two threats, the next photo. I ask the guards if there’s a problem. They say I’m not allowed to take photos in Carrefour Agrignon, to which I respond, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know that.”

The guards then ask me to DELETE the photos from my phone. Realizing I was in Canada and had rights, I ask “Have I done anything wrong, and are you holding me here?” By then, there’s several people watching this play out right in the middle of the mall.

Videotron’s thug yells “You took pictures! Of me! At work!” The security guards didn’t say anything, but ridiculously ask me again to delete the photos from my phone. I turn around, and start walking to my car. They just let me go, because they knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on.

My return trip to Videotron.

So I walk to my car and go home. As they say in the military, it was a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot kind of morning. So if you find yourself at Carrefour Agrignon this holiday season, show some solidarity with me and take a picture of the Videotron store. Send any pics to and I’ll post them up here in a future post.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play with a Mii version of Alex Trebek.

UPDATE: I’ve added my final thoughts about this debacle here.

HD Television

How to watch CBS, NBC, FOX, & PBS in HD for free

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (I'm with Coco) in glorious free over-the-air (OTA) HD.

A while back, I wrote about what a mess it is getting HD programming in Montreal. It’s either very expensive (Bell and Shaw Direct) or almost non-existent (Videotron). The local options are so bad that I came very close to going grey-market by paying for DirecTV with the help of a friend with a US address. While the costs are similar to what you would pay with a Canadian cable or satellite company, the amount of quality HD channels available with DirecTV provides much more value.

At the end of the day I decided that my television viewing habits didn’t warrant the big up-front and long-term costs associated with any satellite option. While I love TV, I just don’t watch enough of it to warrant an $80-a-month subscription. I’d much rather spend a fraction that cash for unlimited internet on a mobile device (iPad, anyone?) and figure out a cheap solution for a little TV watching now and then.


Finding decent HD options in Montreal not an easy task

Looking for simple pricing and easy to understand HD programming options from Canada’s Cable and Satellite providers? Good luck. After living the last few months with my all-u-can-download high-speed internet and a $20 antenna that picks up HD feeds of CBS, NBC and PBS from south of the border, I decided to take a look at my options for getting some more HDTV. Being in Montreal, my options are limited: Bell, Videotron, and Shaw Direct (née StarChoice), a company that seemingly doesn’t even advertise in Quebec anymore.

I really couldn’t care less about SD channels. Once you go HD, it hurts your eyes when you watch them. So I called all of my Montreal options up directly, and told them what I wanted: A package which gets me as much HD content as possible, at a reasonable price, and I couldn’t care less about SD channels. Here’s a rundown of what I was offered:

What’s amazing about Videotron is that despite going out of their way to serve English customers, (Their terrific english website lists a contact phone number that puts you through directly to an English-speaking customer service rep) they continue to provide the most paltry offering of English HD content possible. The wonderful CSR – who I won’t name so I don’t get her fired! – was very frank. She told me she gets tons of calls about this, that Videotron is trying to negotiate deals to provide more HD offerings, and that if I wanted HD programming, Videotron wasn’t the right choice for me – at least right now. Videotron offers just 35 HD channels, many of them French specialty channels whose programming consists mainly of upconverted SD crap and dubbed episodes of House. And since I spent the last three years with Videotron, I’ve seen first hand how slowly they’ve added HD channels. So I didn’t bother asking for pricing, it’s just not an option. I should also note that Videotron’s channel grid is a complete mess. Channels are ordered in a completely non-sensical manner, a holdover from Videotron’s traditional analog cable past. Videotron is certainly a great option for Quebeckers who don’t mind a limited HD selection and want to bundle services like internet and home phone – it’s just not the right choice for HD fanatics.

Moving on to the company that is somewhat under the radar, Shaw Direct. Shaw boasts that they have the nation’s largest selection of free HD channels, but costs do seem to add up quickly when trying to create a package. If you’re focused on getting as many HD channels as possible, you’ll need to pony up an extra $4.99 for the HD Extra pack, $2.99 for TSN and Rogers Sportsnet, and $3.99 to get RDS/RIS (read: Habs games). Add those extra costs to the seemingly decent $54.99 Digital Favourites package and you’re looking at over $75 after tax. Upgrade to a more expensive Platinum Choice plan and you’re going to spend a Robert Borden ($100) a month.

In their defence, Shaw allows you to add another satellite and receiver (for your country home, RV, or Florida winter pad) for a one-time fee of $99, doesn’t charge to suspend your subscription for up to six months, and requires no contract. I just wish they offered clearer, more concise options when it comes to HD programming.

Where do I start with Bell TV. I’ve told you about my experiences with the company. I’ve shown you detailed accounts from whistleblowers in the company that highlight all of their anti-consumer practices. So it goes without saying that it would take a lot to convince me to sign a service contract. Having said that, I still called Bell, just to see how they were screwing their customer this time what they were offering. It pains me to say it, but Bell offers the simplest HD plans, conveniently called HD Basic ($13), HD Essentials($49), HD Extra($70), and HD Max ($85). Be warned though, in typical Bell fashion, the company is raising monthly rates by $2-4 as of January 1st. As well, Bell wants to get you into a two-year contract, although if you’re willing to pay $99 for installation, you can avoid that.

Some other options to consider:

If you are lucky enough to be able to, get a good outdoor antenna and point it south towards Mount Mansfield in Vermont. You should be able to get CBS, NBC, PBS, and FOX this way in uncompressed high-definition. ABC’s signal is apparently not strong enough to reach us. American channels are now digital-only, so you’ll need an HDTV with an ATSC tuner to receive these signals. You can also buy a converter box from the U.S. and connect that to an old tube TV if you’re super keen.

VDN also offers cable service and HD channels, but it isn’t available in many areas of Montreal. They do good business in large apartments and condos, so head to their website and punch in your postal code to see if it’s available.

Oh, and what about Look TV, the company with the funny microwave antennas? They stopped providing service on November 15. As someone who had Look TV about a decade ago until I bought my first HDTV set just over three years ago, I kinda felt sad for about 12 seconds when I learned the news. Maybe if the company had invested in HD, it would have survived.

Apple Retail

Quebec’s Videotron takes cues from Microsoft, blatantly copies Apple retail

Videotron's iMac on the display floor and three MacBooks at the cash are all running Windows.
The Videotron store has an iMac on the display floor and three MacBooks at the cash - all running Windows.

I had to go to an Apple store at a suburban mall today to get my iPhone 3GS replaced (The screen was abnormally dark, wreaking havoc on the auto-bright setting) and about 100 metres away a store seemed very familiar…

Large light wood tables? Check.

Metal accents? Check.

Macs? Check.

Knowledgeable staff? Eh, not so much.

That last point was the clue that I wasn’t at another Apple store, but at a new Videotron store! Somebody has beaten Microsoft to the photocopier. More photos and full deets after the break.

Apple iPhone Smartphones

What a Bell & Telus iPhone means

If you believe what The Globe & Mail reported earlier this evening, the iPhone is finally headed to Canada’s other two big mobile providers. This comes after the companies worked around the clock and at great cost to launch their new iPhone-capable networks a year ahead of schedule. The urgency at which both Bell and Telus moved to make this possible offers some great insight into the state of the Canadian mobile phone industry. The most important things that this news highlights: