Toronto school board invites entrepreneurs to install ad network that largely forbids ads

September 27, 2009 by Dave Haynes

Some free consulting advice …

If the RFP for the Toronto District School Board digital signage program found its way to your email Inbox, highlight that one, and hit Delete. Don’t be tempted by this particular Medusa of an “opportunity” because the only opportunity it offers is to pour some money down a deep hole.

As passed on by an industry friend … the Toronto District  School Board Scope:

The Pilot Project is expected to include 4 TDSB secondary school sites. The Board reserves the right to expand the pilot to include additional locations if deemed necessary. The pilot is intended to assess whether Digital Signage has the potential to offer value to TDSB school communities, including in particular students and staff of individual schools and, if so, assist in determining a business model for the use of Digital Signage in TDSB schools.

The “winning” bidder gets to implement a digital signage network under the following conditions: 

 The vendor gets the “opportunity to generate revenue” — presumably through ad sales.  However, “while any revenue generated during the Pilot Project would need to be reported to the Board, it would be reasonable to expect some revenue could be used to help offset capital costs of the vendor. Should those costs be covered in their entirety, the Board would expect the vendor to provide details as to how any excess revenue would be shared.”

As my friend reasonably wonders: “Does this mean: ‘if you do manage to figure out how to make a profit doing this, we would like that money?’ ”

So you get to take all the risk in putting in four screens, one in the staff room and one in the office, and also get to take mountains of abuse from a politicized constituency for injecting advertising right near classrooms. Then you have to make money under what the TDSB defines as revenue generating opportunities.

These “must be non-commercial and may include sponsors such as post-secondary institutions and agencies such as the Milk Marketing Board. The Pilot will provide an opportunity to assess what revenue generating may be appropriate, given Board policy, if Digital Signage is expanded following the Pilot.”

So advertising is sort of allowed, except not if it is by anyone who actually wants to be in there, other than wholesome marketing boards.

Unfortunately, there will be someone who’ll jump all over this opportunity and put in screens thinking there’s a pot of gold just at the other end of this big beautiful school board rainbow. There’s not.

One of two things needs to happen:

The school board needs to realize if it really wants screens in its schools it needs to build an ROI model and budget the screens and other gear itself, and be prepared to incur the indignant wrath of parents who will argue there are better ways to spend finite funds than on screens promoting the dance in the gym on Friday night. Or the board needs to get far more realistic about the commercial interests needed to make an ad-based network in its hallways. There is a decent chance a wireless phone company would step up and pay the whole shot if it could put it in to high schools and block out competition.

The RFP also states that even if you are nutty enough to drop money and time on this thing, this is just a proof of concept and it goes back to RFP again if the board wants to do a full rollout. 

The wild-assed notion that entrepreneurs will put in an network when most potential advertisers are not allowed doesn’t have great prospects. But cynical old me suspects there are people banging out their response even as we speak.

Your bid needs to be in by Tuesday at 10 AM, by the way, if this is somehow appealing. 

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