A $100 million DOOH pioneer … from 10 years ago

August 19, 2009 by Dave Haynes


I have been working the last few weeks on a very large special project that involves a mountain of writing and a lot of looking ahead, and a little looking back.

It was really interesting today to root around into the past and remind myself about the big dogs in the industry 10 years ago, when I first got involved and was looking at who was doing what. There was PRN (Walmart), which is still around, and there was a company called Next Generation Network, an ad-based network that did screens in c-stores, fast food and public places like train stations. At its height, it had more than 7,000 screens deployed across the US and a few in other countries, through an elevator deal with Otis.

What’s interesting, looking back, is going through their press releases and interviews and seeing where their heads were at and how they pitched the market. What they were doing 10 years ago is pretty much exactly how a lot of companies now go to market in chasing that sector – a blend of national and local ads, steadily updated news and weather, and the whole pitch about captive audiences.

Using something called the Wayback Machine, you can actually go back and look at fully archived versions of websites, and while it is spotty here and there, it is possible to see how NGN was pitching itself a full decade ago.

At some point the company had more than 150 staff and was burning through cash like an Escalade through unleaded. By some estimates they went through almost $100 million, with their eyes on an IPO that never happened. The cost of screens and computers going back 10 years would have been crippling. As someone who was paying $2K for a 12 inch open-frame LCD in 1999, I know.

Costs aside, by most measures NGN was probably 10 years too early into the space, which is just now starting to ramp up and get interested in buying time in c-stores. This was eight years or more before anyone was using the term digital out of home.

By 2002, the company was acquired by what is now National CineMedia. Ironically, NCM now has a working relationship with Reach Media Group (Danoo until this morning), which does a reasonable facsimile of what NGN was doing way back when.

One thing that is particularly interesting. The ads are FULL SCREEN – no stupid tickers eating up space. Even 10 years ago that was obvious. And they were doing things guys like Gorrie go on about – defining the audience and getting proper measurement.  

Steve Nesbit, who runs Reflect Systems, was an exec at NGN back then.

Eric Unold, formerly of WebPavement (now part of Netkey), did a dissection of this whole thing about five years ago.

Obviously, these guys made a pile of mistakes and were in way too early, but there are things to learn from what they and some of other true pioneers did. They made things up as they went, and they paved a lot of road for the companies that followed. I know, for example, some of the audience measurement calculations that are fundamental to OVAB’s view of the world are just more modern versions of what Ed Voltan put together 10 years ago at the old Elevator News Network (I was there).  

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