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13 June 2010

Virgin gets around town - 12th June 2010

Founder leads fast-paced life. Promotes race team, unveils new phone


Sir Richard Branson wouldn't let a little jet lag keep him from staying on message.

The founder and chairman of Virgin Group was in town to promote his racing team, which will take part in this weekend's Grand Prix, and a new mobile phone being offered through Virgin Mobile.

However, Branson, who arrived in town yesterday afternoon and was escorted immediately to a media event, refused to say much about a rumoured return to video games for the company. He'll be making an announcement at the E3 video game conference on Tuesday.

"All I can say is that many years ago, we had a really good games company," Branson said during a sit-down interview at the Primadonna Restaurant on St. Laurent Blvd., at the corner of Sherbrooke St. "We actually sold it and we no longer have a games company, and we'll have to watch this space."

Virgin Games and later Virgin Interactive, founded in 1981, was a highly successful venture. It produced games such as Westwood's Dune II and Command & Conquer, Revolution's Broken Sword and its sequel, Trilobyte's The 7th Guest.

Branson confirmed there would be some announcement about video games, and while many have speculated he would start a gaming company, he said "it's not necessarily what you are thinking."

The British trade magazine MCV reported last month Virgin would get back into gaming, offering an online-only distribution service for video game publishers.

Branson, who downed two coffees in the 18-minute span of the interview, said he travelled to Montreal to see the Virgin-sponsored team race, and to unveil Virgin's new phone -the HTC Legend, Virgin Canada's first foray into smartphones. The Virgin Mobile Canada brand is owned entirely by Bell Canada Enterprises.

Branson lamented about the state of the music business. He said the industry has changed a lot since he started the Virgin group in 1970 as a mail-order record retailer, but this might be its most challenging time.

As a result, he said, Virgin is getting away from distribution and is closing shops that are struggling.

"The music industry is pretty much f---ked at the moment," he said. "We are going much more toward live music, putting on free live concerts all over the world. Live is where it's at. You can make some money selling music, but it's more and more difficult."

He added book publishing will be in the same boat in about 10 years time as the iPad, Kindle and other electronic readers will bring about the death of bookstores.

"The writing is on the wall," Branson said, ignoring an obvious pun.

Branson, who is known for his publicity stunts, raced in go-karts against Indycar racer Alex Tagliani on the block between Sherbrooke St. and Prince Arthur Ave. He came in last, just behind Tagliani, but joked he would have performed better if he hadn't just got off the plane.

As for his plans in Montreal, Branson was scheduled to see the Cirque du Soleil show last night, which he called "Montreal's most famous brand" and then take in the races this weekend before heading to Los Angeles.

(Credit: The Gazette)

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