U Choose Network unveils ad portal for venue operators

February 19, 2008 by Dave Haynes

(Disclaimer: these guys are loosely a competitor to my guys.)

There’s word this morning of a new third-party ad network going after the same sort of space as guys like Danoo and Ripple, but taking a decidedly different approach.

The U Choose Network is built around a Web portal that allows advertisers to post spots they’d like to get placed, and allows venue operators to choose the ads they are willing to run, and gain revenue from them.

According to a press releaseU Choose Network has announced the launch of a nationwide digital ad content delivery service. Digital signage is the most effective and fastest-growing form of advertising today. But the digital signage industry grew so quickly with no “master plan,” that it soon became fragmented — much like a city that grows too quickly with no city planner. In order to get their content on digital signs in a particular region, advertisers and agencies had to contact a myriad of sign owners individually; nationwide coverage was next to impossible.

Well, the guys at SeeSaw Networks and Adcentricity, never mind NBC Everywhere, might take issue with that.

In response to the market, U Choose Network (UCN) of Necedah, Wis. (Ed. – Up the road from Madison, by the looks of it) is introducing a one-of-a-kind nationwide network that allows advertisers to have access to digital signs nationwide from a single Web-hosted portal. The company is offering a free orientation Webinar at 1 p.m. CST on Feb. 27 to show advertisers and agencies how the UCN works and how they can make it work for their clients.

Advertisers or agencies sign up with the UCN and log onto the UCN portal from any Internet-connected computer to upload their content in digital file form. They choose geographically where they would like their ad to run, what types of locations or businesses may display it, what dates they would like their ad to run, and they set their own CPM. Then they set a maximum budget for each campaign.

Sign owners log onto the UCN portal to see the ads available to their businesses. They can select the content that will help them sell more products in their stores, or choose the content that pays the most. As they choose the ads they would like to run on their signs, they see a running total of how much they will get paid for the ads. This gives sign owners two of the things they want most from their digital signage — cash and control.

Once they download an ad, it must run for the duration they set, and the UCN monitors the ads to ensure they are displaying correctly.

Advertisers are billed only for the locations that download their ad, and only after it is verified that their ad did indeed run on the sign. Advertisers or agencies can watch this in real time on their UCN portal.

I like this press release because it is one of those rare times when a company limits the chest-pounding and just gets the facts out about how things work. However, the U Can Choose guys do soft-peddle or flat ignore a few key points that you have to root around for.

1 – Venue operators have to buy their “Appliance” to take over for whatever media player is now driving content to the screen in the venue.

2 – The system is “free” but there is a monthly access fee of $24.95, which in areas other than central Wisconsin translates as not  free.

It’s an interesting model, and U Can may have a role in the space that seems to be defined today as “hyper-local.” I definitely don’t see national advertisers logging in and using such a system, and there will be a monumental marketing job needed to make Tier 2 and local advertisers aware of the offer.

I think the real challenge for a lot of venue operators will be that this digital sign will offer them no real value other than a few bucks in the door from ad sales. The content on the screen is entirely in the control of U Can, so unless I missed this, there is no opportunity for a local venue operator to get their brand or messaging on the screens. If you want to take an ad off prior to the end of a campaign, operators have to contact U Can.

Compare this to a few companies that I am aware of (some who I deal with, others I don’t), who have the money organized and plan to roll out a hyper-local ad model in which they pay for the gear and the installation, cover the monthly cost, and hand off a revenue share.

Sincere best wishes to the U Can folks. They have a tough slog ahead, but they should be applauded for trying a different angle.

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