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January 2006

Marriott's "Gracious" Service

Marriott_ren_cenFor about a year now, I've made business trips to Detroit, MI, on almost a weekly basis. When I'm there, I try to stay at the Marriott Renaissance Center, because of its close proximity to the office and client.

The Detroit Marriott is a decent enough spot...it's known for having occasional mixups (like missing ethernet cables, or assigning you to an occupied room), but most nights I know I can roll upstairs after a long day and collapse in a reasonably clean room.

And while I don't expect the type of white glove treatment from Marriott that I would from, say, the Ritz-Carlton, I do expect an honest, straight-forward business transaction with them when I plunk down my American Express card.

On a recent ride up the Marriott elevator, I took the time to scan the copy on the small paper envelope which holds the room key card. This is something every guest receives, but I wonder how many have read the fine print.

On the cover, it reads "Welcome. Marriott Rewards. Elite Member. Thank you for your loyalty." Great, they've recognized that I have "status" with them, thanks to my many business trips out there. On the inside, there is a welcome message from Bill Marriott, Chairman and CEO, which speaks to the "tradition of gracious service" and "sincere commitment to helping you make the most of your travel opportunities." Nice...I'm envisioning a crowd of helpful staff, just waiting to assist me.

But then...at the bottom of the inside cover, in a font smaller than all the rest, is the following statement:

"I have requested weekday delivery of USA Today and reservation of the Wall Street Journal. If refused, a credit of 75 cents and/or 50 cents, respectively, will be applied to my account. Please call the front desk or check here to refuse (please drop off at front desk during your stay.)"

Am I the last traveler - business or otherwise - to realize that the nifty newspapers they leave outside the door each morning are not complimentary?! Newspapers that are faithfully delivered despite never being requested...ones that I (and I'd wager, many others) rarely even read?

It seems to me that if Marriott wanted to follow a truly customer-centric way of doing business, they would not require patrons to opt-out of this newspaper delivery service. Instead, they would ask upon arrival if you wish to receive the service, and inform you of the additional cost.

I realize it's not a lot of money, but seemingly deceptive practices like this can really damage a brand. It's hard to accept Marriott's self-proclaimed "spirit to serve" when you see practices like this in action.


Riya

Riya_logo_1PSFK - the global trends collaborative - recently added a post about photo-sharing startup Riya on their site. Like the wildly popular Flickr, Riya allows users to upload, tag, and share their digital photos online.

But Riya has an added twist: they've incorporated face recognition technology into their application in order to make the search process easier. The free service allows users to search their own photos or others by "looking into the photo" to identify specific people or text, in addition to the more conventional folder or file names, manual tags, date, etc. Searches of public photos are readily available, but in order to search your own - and take advantage of Riya's auto-tagging feature - you need to create an account and upload your photos.

Red Herring reported last week that Riya has received a $15 million second round of venture funding. The company has 24 employees (9 in India, the balance in Redwood City, CA) and plans to officially launch at the DEMO conference in February.

Incidentally, the Riya team publishes its own blog, cleverly called Jamboriya.


Doggie Dining

Lulu_french_2Say what you want about the French...but I love Paris. Besides the exquisite dining, fabulous shopping, and beautiful architecture there's its famous dog culture. I'm talking, of course, about the many stores and eateries at which our four-legged friends are not only welcome, but often the guests of honor.

Years ago, I read the story of the Café le Bouledogue Brasserie, on rue Rambuteau. While owned by Pet_t180 humans Didier Delor and Jean-Pierre Rubine, this establishment is run by the dogs: in particular, two French bulldogs named Titi and Nelson. On any given day, the boys welcome about 15 other Frenchies and their owners for some traditional French food and conversation.

_41178420_bonchienokLast week, I read about a new dog-friendly patisserie: Mon Bon Chien. But this one doesn't sell human food - it sells cat-shaped bacon biscuits and bone-shaped foie gras cookies, among other specialties. It's run by an award-winning American pastry chef, Harriet Sternstein, who moved to Paris with her dog Sophie-Marie to combine her two favorite things: pastries and pets.

Indeed, accomodating pets is a way of life in France. The Hotel Palais de Versaille, provides canine guests with their own beds and a room-service menu. At the glitzier Four Seasons-George V Hotel Four Seasons Paris Hotel and the Hotel Meurice, pets receive rubber mice and bones, as well as blankets embroidered with dog names. And let's not forget the Hotel Lancaster's faux ostrich-skin designer dog bed (just $112 a night!).

Sadly, the States aren't nearly as welcoming when it comes to pets-in-public-places. My Lulu's dining options are usually relegated to a few outdoor patios or her own home (which is probably for the best, given her manners!). But I was still happy to see Starwood Resorts recent rollout of pet services in their W and Westin hotels, including toys, treats, beds, wee wee pads, and walks. One of these days I'll have to get Lu to Paris for a dinner date with Titi and Nelson :)


Urge Redux

In a recent post I questioned whether Microsoft's new Urge download service could effectively compete with the reigning provider, Apple's iTunes.

News from last week's Consumer Electronics Show may prove Urge to be a formidable competitor. Among the highlights:

  • The aforementioned deal with MTV to provide the Urge music/television download service
  • A deal with DirecTV to allow satellite customers to stream video to laptops or PCs running Windows Media Center software, or through televisions hooked up to wireless-equipped Xbox 360 game consoles
  • Another deal with Verizon Wireless to put Windows Media Player at the center of its new music download service

Apple may have a stronghold on today's early adopters, but I could see Microsoft winning over later entrants, particularly those who opt for the cheaper (Window OS) MP3/video devices (especially the younger MTV audience that will no doubt be the target of their campaign).

While not at the show themselves, Apple will benefit from products unveiled by third party add-on and accessory developers. Among them is the iSee from Advanced Technology Office, which allows users to slip their iPods into a slightly bigger box, which contains a 3.6-inch screen, and download video directly from computers, televisions, satellite, or any other analog source; the iSee is expected to hit retailers' shelves early this year and sell for $249.

And rumor has it that Apple itself is pushing the tv-viewing envelope by getting into the HDTV plasma screen display business. Details are allegedly set to be announced at this week's MacWorld.


The Book of Daniel

Fallpreview2bookofdanielI tuned in to NBC's new drama The Book of Daniel last night, just to see what all the controversy is about. In the week leading up to its premiere, the new show made headlines for its troubled characters, including a minister addicted to pain pills (played by Aidan Quinn), his wife who is fond of drinking, and their 3 children: a teenage daughter who sells pot, one son who is gay, and one son who is adopted. Oh, and they have a lesbian neighber who is having an affair with her husband's secretary.

Not surprisingly, the American Family Association, religious zealots known for protesting things like this, criticized the show for portraying a Christian family in this manner, and went so far as to accuse the network of "anti-Christian bigotry." This is the same group who last month boycotted Ford until they agreed to pull corporate advertising from gay publications, and Target until they agreed to use the word "Christmas" in their marketing (vs. the generic "Holidays").

First of all, The Book of Daniel is a horrible show...but not because of the "controversy." It's poorly written, with too many issues at once in a seeming attempt to get ratings.  And it's poorly acted...especially the bearded & robed Jesus character that quips with the reverand throughout the show. It smacks of Hollywood radicals just trying to seem edgy.

Second, the AFA needs to get real. The topics and issues raised in Daniel are very real parts of life in 2006. If they don't like it, then they simply shouldn't tune in. Instead, they succeeded in getting several local networks to pull the broadcast. If Daniel gets yanked, it should be because of low ratings, not censorship.


Ivy's in Limbo

IvyLast night, my coworkers introduced me to a soon-to-be hotspot in the Ladder District, Ivy. Located at 49 Temple Place, in the old Limbo space, this stylish new spot is still operating in stealth mode - "until we get the kinks out," according to the bartender. There were only a handful of patrons in there last night, hopefully attributed to the current lack of promotion.

It was good to be back in the space I'd frequented so often 4 or 5 years ago. I was friendly with the owners of Limbo at the time (some of whom lived with Jeremi in a fit penthouse apartment above the restaurant) and saw it through pre-construction, launch, and its ultimate demise. We even had the One to One Interactive company holiday party there one year.

The Ivy team has maintained much of the look and feel of its predecessor - 3 levels; long, narrow Limbo bar; seated dining in the mezzanine and main level; and a lower lounge. They've replaced the high-top tables near the bar (pictured at right) with swank, red banquets and installed glittery chandeliers above, but have maintained the cool lounge soundtrack and friendly, personable staff. If I remember correctly, Vincent Conte is the manager (a familiar face from the Limbo days).

I didn't review the menu in detail (although I remember a distinctly Italian bent), but opted for a few shared apps at the bar, including crusty bread with chickpea spread and dipping oil, an Italian butcher block of meats, cheeses and olives, and a creamy macaroni & blue cheese dish. All of it was excellent.

Ivy is set to host its grand opening in the coming weeks; word is they'll unveil an accompanying website at www.ivyrestaurantgroup.com


Love Those TV Downloads

TvI’ve never been a big television-watcher. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the programming, but it’s usually just not convenient for me to watch the shows I like. I’ve had my favorites over the years (Alias24…dare I admit, Melrose Place), but I inevitably tune out because my schedule just doesn’t accommodate being in the same place at the same time every week.

But the advent of downloadable programming via iTunes and others has made network media relevant to me again. In fact, I’ve watched the entire first season of Lost, and most of the second season, plus a few episodes of The Office. I’m so enamored of Lost that I’m now motivated to catch up with Season 2 so that I can watch the rest of it live, using iTunes as a backup for weeks that I may miss.

No, I’m not watching the shows on the small video iPod screen…I’m watching them on a 61" television or on my 15” laptop…and the quality is just fine (especially on the former!). But my favorite part is being able to watch “current” programming on my own terms. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone (to the tune of 500,000 downloads per week).

Which is why I wholeheartedly disagree with some of the sound bytes from recent industry publications discounting this channel. Among them:

“The iPod deal doesn't mean very much,” asserts Mitch Oscar, evp and director of Carat Digital. “TV 'appointment' viewing is up to 4 hours, 22 minutes a day. With something like Desperate Housewives, you're going to want to see it when it's new, on a big-enough screen in your living room or bedroom, and you're not going to want to pay for it.” (Adweek)

Huh? Which is worse – missing it entirely because you’re not around when it’s on, waiting for the episode to come out on dvd a year later, or watching it later in the week? And, as I mentioned above, you *can* watch it on the big screen (with the appropriate media cables). If you’re that much of a fan, you’ll likely pay the $1.99 to download it (which is cheaper than you’d pay for move movie rentals or paid on-demand options).

Here’s another, from Forrester Research:

"No one will substitute iPod video for TV; although the iPod’s 2.5-inch screen is surprisingly good, it is awkward to view for 40 minutes and doesn’t do justice to the high-end production values of network TV. Plug the iPod into a TV and the flaws are magnified to an unacceptable level. So forget the iPod...”

To their credit, Forrester does go on to illustrate how any shift from the broadcast-viewing audience to the download audience would result in significantly more gross revenue to the network. So, ABC stands to make a fair amount of incremental revenue from Desperate Housewives fans that missed the show, plus newcomers that want in on the action (like my recent adoption of Lost). So there’s a revenue opportunity in this channel, even if a small percentage of viewers choose to go this route.

Lastly, 2005 marked the first time more Americans were connected to the Web than to wired cable TV; over half of them have broadband. Add to this the fact that time is an increasingly precious commodity, and time-shifting is the new-new thing, and it’s only natural that tv-downloads will be a success. I look forward to an increased content offering; now I just need to get a larger hard drive...


Jeanne Balsam

Xmas_card Some time ago, I came across the work of Jeanne Balsam, an New Jersey-based artist with a penchant for drawing animals - bulldogs and terriers in particular. I, of course, was drawn to her portraits of Frenchies...and to date have purchased two pieces of her work: a replica of Toulous-Letrac's "Jane Avril Dancing" that cleverly adds a black Frenchie to the foreground, Bafrenchielautrecswand my Christmas cards this year, which depict a Frenchie snowman.

Holding degrees in both Fine Arts and Psychoanalysis, Jeanne has run her own therapy practice as well as started an animal rescue league before returning to her art full time. And animals are still close to her heart: she donates 10% of all portrait income to her favorite animal charities.