Time to cut bait on Toronto DOOH in schools concept

March 10, 2011 by Dave Haynes

The reporting on the Toronto Public School Board debate about expanding Onestop Media’s Digital OOH network in local high schools is a little on the confusing side.

The project is dead … but not really, it seems.

The pitch in its current form was referred, after more than three hours of debate, to a committee … which appears to be a way to kill something without actually pulling a trigger. Death by paperwork.

Some of the reporting I have read suggests this opens the door for Onestop and its proponents within the  school trustee group to come back with revisions at the next meeting.

The objection of trustees was entirely around the presence of advertising on the screens, and even with descriptions of what’s actually been running, that didn’t ease minds.

Consider this report in the National Post:

The video pilot project, which was already running in four city schools, allowed students and administrators to post notices, vote on school decisions and watch the news. But the agreement with Onestop Digital Media also reserved 30% of the screens for advertisements, which the board said would be “non-commercial.” They included ads from the Ontario government reminding students to wash their hands, recycle and buy local, along with ads from the food industry encouraging children to eat eggs and drink milk.

Then consider the grandstanding, over-the-top opinion of one of the trustees:

“It is shameful, absolutely shameful, that we are being forced to prostitute ourselves and sell access to the children in this system because we are an underfunded institution,” said Beaches-East York trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher. “We’re here to educate our children, not to sell their souls.”

Prostitute? Sell Souls???

And …

Trustees also worried that the policy to have non-commercial advertising in schools could still allow some commercial sources, like American media, onto the screens.

“The fact that Fox or CNN might even possibly end up on the screens is enough for me to oppose it,” said Toronto Centre-Rosedale Shelia Ward who voted in favour of the plan. “It’s bad enough that we have bad media in Canada, but at least it’s our own.”

So the nutbars are in the thick of this now. From my perch up in the cheap seats, my suggestion to Onestop is to cut bait and stop fishing this particular pond. The company’s decision-makers would have thoroughly calculated the risk versus reward on this, and in this case, it didn’t work. Oh, well.

When the tone of the debate moves from reasoned to shrill in nano-seconds, as it will with politicians-in-training like many school trustees, it’s just time to move on. It won’t get better unless Onestop returns with an offer to put stuff in for free, with no ads (or business model).

This would actually be an interesting opportunity for a company like Samsung, which has free software and low cost monitors, to offer up systems in a trade-off for simple branding and the goodwill PR noise they could make with that gesture.

I looked back at a post I wrote when news of this came around more than a year ago. At the time, it looked like Onestop was the one company interested in this thing. It gradually emerged that this was a Onestop pitch, and the board issued a nonsensical, pre-ordained RFP looking for interested companies.

This probably happens all the time, but this RFP was seriously stinky from the get-go.

The chest-puffing press release about the pilot, from Jan. 2010, noted how great this project would be, but never mentioned the word advertising.

I wrote: “But the careful avoidance of the ad word in this release speaks to the minefield Onestop is going to have to cross with a hyper-political school board and both educators and parents, who will immediately conclude the devil is now broadcasting in Toronto’s high school hallways and poisoning minds.”

And so it went.

On the plus side, a lot more people have now heard of Onestop Media.


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