And now a history lesson

July 24, 2007 by Dave Haynes

A couple of people have pointed me today at a piece in MediaPost about NBC‘s new venture into in-store TV sales.

Guys like Rob Gorrie and Bill Gerba have already commented on the merits and prospects of that (I’ll say only that it will be a big wet fart unless they have truly dedicated, laser-focused sales people).

What I found interest in Joe Mandese’s piece was the history lesson he provided.

… NBC’s deal with Premier Retail Networks isn’t the first time it’s ruffled its feathers in the retail media space. Anyone remember NBC On-Site? I do. I was a young reporter at Advertising Age when I wrote what was likely the longest media venture profile story every published by the venerable trade magazine. That venture, a partnership with grocery giant Flemming Industries, cost NBC and parent General Electric millions in start-up costs before it eventually pulled the plug, amid a broader shake-out in what were then called “place-based” media networks.

NBC was not alone. Turner Broadcasting sunk millions into the Checkout Channel and even dabbled with a McDonald’s TV network, before it pulled those plugs. This was during the pre-Internet, early 1990s, when big TV outlets were looking to expand their shelf space, and didn’t have the Web to contend with. Physical space seemed like a good idea for extending their franchise. Pioneering Whittle Communications had already paved the way with networks on college campuses, in doctors’ offices and even in public schools. In fact, Whittle’s Channel One is one of the few survivors of the first wave of place-based television, though it has since changed hands from Whittle to Primedia and now to Alloy Media. The only other significant out-of-home television network from that period to actually make a go of it is CNN’s Airport Network.

Among the problems that beset those early incarnations were some important proximity-based issues, and high capital costs. The emergence of low-cost digital screens, wi-fi and broadband access has mitigated the cost part of the equation. Proximity issue can still be an important factor. Both NBC On-Site and the Checkout Channel ultimately checked out, partly because they could not figure the whole silent TV thing, when it turned out that both patrons and retail workers weren’t especially fond of the same audio tracks being looped over and over again. It was so irritating, in fact, that many stores simply pulled the plug.

I have been around long enough to remember all that stuff, but I suspect there are a lot of people in this space that think the whole thing just started when companies like Elevator New Network, PRN and Accent Health started sticking screens in places. What we’re doing isn’t particularly revolutionary. Evolutionary is alot more appropriate.

  1. Rob Gorrie says:

    Does anyone else get a bit of a giggle out of the fuss that is made any time a new, larger player enters the digital Signage space?

    Remember all the fuss folks made about Google’s imminent entry into the space?

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