Place-Based TV Finds Its Place
Indeed, "advertisers are excited by the opportunity to touch consumers at times when they've traditionally been very hard to reach," confirmed Jeff Minsky, director of emerging media platforms for OMD Digital. Unlike regular TV, place-based installations allow advertisers to reach people as they are coming or going from work, or in retail establishments--all ideal times for ad messaging.
"We've seen for years and years that people were thinking about money migrating out of traditional television, and now it's really starting to happen," observed Mark Mitchell, executive vice president of sales for Premiere Retail Networks (PRN). By contrast, Mitchell boasted, "our business has experienced double-digit growth for five years in a row." With installations in over 6,000 stores around the country, including "big box" retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Costco, PRN is the nation's largest place-based TV network.
According to Mitchell, PRN attracts advertisers in part because it offers "a lot of targetability both on a geographic basis as well as a demographic basis." For example, "in Best Buy you'll get the younger males, pretty much everywhere in America." At the same time, "the fact that we're a satellite-fed network means you can also target local demos based on profiles in zip codes--so you can reach, say, specific Hispanic or African-American communities." And in the latter case, PRN announced in March that Wal-Mart TV had partnered with TV One, a cable network targeting African-Americans with lifestyle programming.
Mitchell said that PRN's various retail networks, in aggregate, deliver 700 million viewers every month--many of whom are repeat visitors. PRN's ratings system is "a lot more than just store traffic," he explained. "We typically use Nielsen for pure viewership measurements, but just this year, we also signed up with Telmar and TNS, and we can integrate our Nielsen data with regular broadcast schedules for broadcast, cable, print."
Since 1997, another place-based TV network, Captivate, has installed 7,000 screens in elevators in 700 office buildings throughout the United States and Canada, with contracts to install about 400 more, according to founder and CEO Mike DiFranza. Captivate's wireless digital screens--located in tall buildings where even the fitness-minded eschew the stairs--reach about 2 million white-collar workers a day, DiFranza said, characterizing them as "an upscale business audience with tremendous buying power both at a consumer and B2B level."
Whereas PRN reaches consumers in a retail environment, Captivate attempts to penetrate a different commercial context, DiFranza said: "What's interesting is that most online shopping happens during work hours, so we're seeing a lot of advertisers using us as a bridge between their offline media and their online media. They know that elevator is the last touchpoint before [office workers] turn on their computers." And perhaps not surprisingly, DiFranza said, "our top advertisers as a category are all dot-com companies."
Asked about the slow cable and network upfronts, DiFranza agreed that "place-based media networks absolutely benefit from advertisers holding back dollars and thinking about different ways to reach the target audience." In fact, according to DiFranza, media planning agencies "have appointed professionals to become experts on place-based research--positions that didn't even exist 12 months ago. That's a recognition that people have to be reached during the workflow."
Although it's up for debate whether the mainstream TV "upfronts" really even matter, they do manage to focus the attention of media planners on TV, and thus are a logical window for new place-based networks to tout their wares. One such network, Transit TV, secured a 10-year contract with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) and also bagged a new contract with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System in April--not coincidentally, just in time for the upfront season.
Gerry Noble, CEO of Transit TV, said he began making pitches to media planners about halfway through the upfronts, hoping to benefit from flagging demand for mainstream TV ad inventory. "We're getting lots of interest, in part at least because it would appear some of the clients have reduced their upfront activity." Advertisers expressing interest in Transit TV include categories that have historically been big spenders on regular TV, specifically "automotive, entertainment, and communications."
Transit TV has installed a total of 8,000 screens on 3,500 municipal transit vehicles around the country, such as PRN and Captivate, delivering video ads to consumers when they're more likely to consider making a purchase. Noble said a large percentage of riders are exposed to the programming as they commute to or from work, on routes with frequent stops at commercial hubs; interestingly, Transit TV has also proven popular with "employment and recruiting" advertisers, who perhaps hope to reach dissatisfied workers brooding on the bus.
Noble's strategy of timing pitches for the middle of the network and cable upfront season is not unique, it seems. David Leider, CEO of Gas Station TV, confirmed that the network's June launch was "by design. The upfronts traditionally signal the start of the annual media planning season, and we were hoping a June launch would make us a little more top of line in clients' minds. But at the same time we wanted to let things settle out a little, so we went towards the middle and end of it."
Gas Station TV, an Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) network, will initially reach pumps at "about 100 stations in Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston by this fall," said Leider, "with "an average of 12 screens per station." By January, Leider said, "we'll be in the remainder in the top 10 DMAs, for a total of 400 stations." Like the other place-based networks, Gas Station TV offers its own unique approach to consumers on the go: "You know they're of car-owning age and income, and they're also mobile, which means they're ready to make a decision."