Original Community Content Focus of New LA Digital OOH Network

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A Southern California video production company has taken over programming screens in McDonald’s locations throughout Los Angeles, driving a digital OOH network that tries a very different spin on dining area screen networks.

The big difference with America’s Community Network is programming that is predominantly original and all focused on the people, places and character of LA’s many diverse communities. The spots tend to be longer-form, and take a broadcast TV approach in terms of a studio set (albeit a very laid-back set), hosts and broadcasting-style graphics.

The programming also rolls in a partnership with the news department of a local ABC affiliate, but that also carries some customization – as opposed to reports purely shovelled from TV on to these screens.

The company announced it was joining the Digital Place-Based Advertising Association last week, which caught my interest. But the details were pretty scant, so I contacted ACN to get a better sense of the efforts. CEO Dean Waters kindly got back to me with some answers.

The network is owned and operated by Mood Media, which has a multi-year operating agreement with the Southern California McDonald’s marketing coop. The network has a total of 560 venues, and the screens and mounts are owned by the operators, who took them on when another network called the McDonald’s Channel went down. ACN is now effectively buying the programming time on the network Mood runs via its hybrid satellite/terrestrial IP platform.

ACN already had a background in doing content for these locations on the earlier McDonald’s Channel, through the video production firm Vimby, a company Waters founded nine years ago and now owned by reality show producer Mark Burnett.

Q: How does the business model work?

Waters: We sell ad inventory and offer brands integration/ custom content development opportunities.  Giving brands an opportunity to connect with the community through a trusted and authentic voice.

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Q: Where are you installed and who “owns” the screens?

Waters: We are installed throughout the Los Angeles DMA (all 5 counties), 580 stores.  The screens are owned by McDonald’s.  Mood Media is our tech partner.

Q: How does the programming model work?

Waters: The programming model is local/ community based. 100% original. We have a local news partnership with KABC and a few others local media partnerships that will be announced in the coming weeks. All of the output from these partnerships will be original content. While these local media partnerships are incredible, ACN is still programming the majority of the content.  ACN content is a celebration of Southern California lifestyle, culture, kids in the community and people making a difference.

Q: I assume, right or wrong, that digital screens are just one content distribution channel?

Waters: Yes.  Social and the ACN app are in addition to the restaurant experience.

Q: The video I watched – a dog beach in Long Beach – was I think 2:30 in length. Most digital OOH environments are lucky if they get people watching screens for more than 7 seconds. Will this long form content fit, or is the idea that people will watch these longer pieces and glance at the interstitial ad spots in between?

Waters: Our dwell time is 20+ minutes.  Our typical length is :90-2:00, some shorter length with man on the street or trivia. Our commercials will run between segments.

Here’s a link to a recent wheel. We do multiples a week.

Q: The name suggests LA is the start, but other communities would follow?

Waters: That’s the goal.  We are focused on Los Angeles, with the hopes of scaling the local model across the country.

Q: Do you get grant money or subsidies to offset production costs (something I have seen happen in the UK)?

Waters: No.

Q: How long has the company been around? I gather it has only been live/public a matter of days or weeks?

The network launched July 13th 2015.  In addition to ACN, I’m the founder of VIMBY, The Mark Burnett Content Studio.  VIMBY was formed 9 years ago with dedicated crews in 85 US cities.  Overtime, we’ve perfected the local story telling model.  ACN was a natural progression.  

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Interesting stuff. I like the community spin and fresh content approach, but that’s not cheap to do. And anyone who has tried running ad-driven networks in QSR and fast casual restaurants will confirm selling ad time is a tough game.

Dave Haynes

Dave Haynes

Editor/Founder at Sixteen:Nine
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than a decade. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He's based near Toronto.
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