Reach Media Turns On Today Network, but will viewers care?

March 1, 2010 by Dave Haynes

Reach Media Group, aka RMG Networks, has done a deal to run New York Times content starting today on some 850 screens in five big cities in coffee shops, casual restaurants and airport newsstands.
The plan sees RMG taking content from the Web site and re-branding it as the Today network. Another 850 screens will be added over the next few months. The financials of the arrangement were not disclosed.
Garry McGuire Jr., chief executive of RMG, told the New York Times in its own piece about the network that “the people who would see the screens are a good match for The Times — in fact, the newspaper is sold in 70 percent of the screens’ locations. He said his company could offer advertisers “a lot of demographic data on the users in the environment.”

The basic presentation will show an article on the left side of the screen and pictures and video on the right, on a 14-minute cycle, with ads, and some of the content, tailored to the location. Viewers can use cellphones to download either the Times work they have seen or coupons from the businesses they are visiting.

Yasmin Namini, The Times’s senior vice president for circulation and marketing, called the arrangement with RMG “a good branding opportunity for,” exposing it to new readers in important markets.

The screens are an appealing vehicle for advertisers, “especially in areas where people are waiting, sitting, standing in line, kind of captive for a while,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive of the Kaplan Thaler Group, a Manhattan-based ad agency.

RMG is one of several companies, like Health Club Media Networks and Clear Channel, in the fast-growing business of placing video screens in front of affluent, captive audiences.

The Times network will be a small part of RMG, which has tens of thousands of such screens.

RMG is a privately held company whose largest owner is the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
In the absence of knowing what the deal terms are, it’s hard to pass a lot of judgment on this arrangement. It should help drive some single-copy sales of the NY Times, though not at really significant levels. It might actually drive more people online to the Web site via smartphones. But the NYT’s head of reader sales clearly says this is more about branding.
The RMG Website clearly shows what was Danoo is now totally branded as Today, and the look and feel is that of the paper. It is an interesting foil to the Wall Street Journal’s Office Media Network, though I doubt the existence of the latter is what really worries the NY Times people day to day.
I have very mixed feelings about this new direction for Reach. I had seen Danoo quite a bit and didn’t think it worked. Busy screens. Mostly bad content model. I put a Tweet up a couple of weeks ago wondering aloud what had happened to RMG. Evidently this was getting pulled together.
The Times is a great brand, unquestionably, but there is a huge open question now as to whether this is the right brand and content for the dynamic of people going in to places like Dunkin Donuts, Quizno’s Subs and airport newsstands. Airports, yeah maybe. The others, nope.
What seems to get lost, often, is thought around what actually interests the audience at a time, and at a place. Waiting in line for a coffee at Dunkin Donuts, it’s not cross-border tensions between Pakistan and India. It’s just not.
Social media is quickly giving publishers a real sense of what interests people, down to geographies, in near real-time. RMG’s VCs have funded endless Silicon Valley companies. You would hope they’d be steering RMG to something far more compelling and relevant than this.

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