Indie coffee network thinks programming first

July 24, 2009 by Dave Haynes

There’s been some hoo-hah the last couple of weeks about ad-based networks, with Danoo getting traction and rumours, underscore rumours, that Ripple TV is in “last one out turn off the lights” mode.

This sort of change and upheaval has long been expected in the space and will keep on happening. Maybe the economic climate is improving. Maybe not. Even if the clouds are clearing, it will be months and months before media spends kick in and make a difference for struggling ad networks. It is a far tougher business model than most people think, and a lot of the entrepreneurs STILL entering the space STILL think this is a land-grab play and the ad money will just naturally follow when the venues get tied up in rev-share contracts.

Thats not actually working for many people, and one of the biggest reasons is that prevailing attitude that it is about the venue and the technology.

It’s actually about the business model, and the content model that comes out of that.

The whispers about Ripples state of being got me thinking about a much smaller, but to me, more interesting ad-based network that is also based in LA. I had been meaning to write about the Independent Coffee Network for a while now, as the guys behind it have a refreshing approach.

When CEO Dave Shikiar sent me a note many weeks ago asking for a little advice, I shuddered at the notion of another company putting screens in coffee shops. The cluttered news, sports and weather thing I have seen from other guys doing it makes me dizzy and leaves me cold. These guys, by comparison, are thinking content first, and tuning the programming to the environment.

Instead of news, sports and weather data jackhammer-tickered at viewers, these guys do digital artwork on the screen, with music for indie label artists. They also do film shorts. Music videos. Acoustic performances.

In other words, theres a chance people will more than glance at the screens, and that the content actually matches the sensibilities of the venue.

“With screens going up everywhere there is still a severe lack of interesting content.  We have chosen to focus on content that is contextual to the coffee house environment first.  That has made our screens an engaging experience through music and art and an gives marketers reach to a highly coveted demographic during their daily routines,” said Shikiar in a recent press release.

Its by no means perfect. The screens are still screens hanging from sticks. And it is still a rev-share model in which the venue operators have no skin in the game, and therefore no particular incentive to see it thrive. But I like, a lot, that these guys actually thought through the programming, probably because the company behind the network, World Wide Arts, does video post editing work. Anybody who sells or consults in this space knows way too many network start-ups only start thinking about content months into their planning and development.

ICN has about a half-dozen stores up, with more imminent, and a goal of 20-25 in a few key markets to start. Near-term, they want to be the top 10 DMAs. They are sticking with indie shops, which have the right vibe but have to be sold and legally papered shop by shop. The interesting piece, to me, is a notion of building a network of independents that actually turns into a better organized group not only for media buying purposes, but on the flip side might have some weight as a buying community for goods sold in these kinds of stores.

No network is a slam-dunk in this space, but ICN deserves credit for at least brewing their own concoction, as opposed to just doing what everybody else is doing and hoping that model actually works.

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