Loop TV CEO Jon Niermann On Growing A Streaming TV For Business Service To 71K+ Screens

October 30, 2023 by Dave Haynes

Bars and restaurants have long been a targeted venue for digital OOH media start-ups, the attraction being scale, dwell time and lots of products and services that could be put in front of people sitting around having a drink or three.

But there’s been a lot of roadkill through the years, because selling in to these kinds of venues was time-consuming and hard, the cost of installs was substantial, and most of the operators didn’t want to pay for anything.

Much of that has changed, except for the evergreen fact that venue operators are highly attracted to free, with benefits.

A couple of ambitious start-ups have emerged in recent years chasing the space, and arguably the most aggressive has been the LA firm Loop Media, which markets a service called Loop TV. The selling proposition is very straightforward and familiar – qualified venues get a free media player and free video and music content.

What’s different from the past is Loop’s service is all built around streaming, and uses the connectivity and TVs already in a venue. So the capital cost to Loop is just an Android set-top box, and that gets put in a box or envelope and sent to the venue – which then plugs it in, connects to the Internet and uses an activation code to get things rolling. Minimal hardware costs and zero labor.

The company is now north of 71,000 screens, with venues in all 50 US states. And it’s now expanding beyond the U.S.

I had a great chat with CEO and founder Jon Niermann, talking about the company, how ads are sold, what content resonates, and how he found his way from high-level executive jobs with Disney and Electronic Arts into connected TVs in places like bars, health clubs and small retail.

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John, thank you for joining me. Can you give me the rundown of what Loop TV is all about? 

Jon Niermann: Sure Dave, you bet. We provide streaming TV for businesses. It’s free, ad-supported or you could do a subscription if you like, but a majority of the businesses are free ad-supported. Think about what you do at home as a consumer using Roku or perhaps Firestick and then do streaming on that. The difference is you’re watching TV series and movies primarily. In public venues, like we support, it’s premium short-form content, Think of music videos. We’re the largest provider of music videos, for example, across the nation. So very contextualized, customizable type of content. 

What’s the business model?

Jon Niermann: So we provide it for free, it’s ad-supported. Especially coming out of the pandemic, a lot of these public venues were looking for ways to cut costs. So what we’ve done is we’ve taken the cost of what you might have to provide for cable and satellite, for digital signage if you’re doing menu boards for licensing if you’re doing it correctly and we’ve taken that all away and put it into the loop player. If you don’t mind showing ads, which a lot of public venues don’t, because they’re already doing that anyway, you could get this content for free. 

Our model then, is the ads that we get for the content that we work with various ad supply partners, or if it’s a subscription, then we have a set price per month if you don’t want ads to change the vibe of your venue. 

I’m guessing a hell of a lot of people are willing to have ads if they don’t have to expend the operating expenses on the service. 

Jon Niermann: You guessed right, it’s over 90%. That’s typically the way the model goes and people are more than happy to have that experience because like I said, you’re out there anyway, you’re partially distracted at a bar and restaurants or the doctor’s office, or you’re just captive. So they don’t really mind it as much as they do at home ironically. 

What’s the footprint that you have right now? 

Jon Niermann: We’re in all 50 states. We’re in Canada, we’re testing in Australia, New Zealand, and soon in the UK. But we started in the US here in 2020, we rolled out and we’ve got all the major metro areas. So we’ve got anything as small as a corner pub all the way up to a university campus. Think of everything in between. It could be an airport, it could be a mall, It could be a gymnasium. You think of it as a public venue and that’s what we cover. 

And does it tend to tilt quite a bit to bars and pubs instead of fitness facilities? 

Jon Niermann: The largest percentage of our business for sure are bars and restaurants.

But gyms, I’d say are probably one of the top three, doctor’s offices are great. For gyms, think of it this way, we provide music. So even if you’re at a place where you watch sports and you have multiple screens, chances of having one of those screens on audio is pretty low. So venues will still play music. So why not have a screen showing music videos, you just play it overhead and it covers that aspect of the business. So really anything. 

If you could think of changing your oil in a Jiffy Lube, for example, thinking of sick of the junk that they have on some of the TVs, you like sitting there in a bar and having Judge Judy scowl at you, Dave, it’s no fun. You don’t need that. You’re out having a good time. You just don’t need Wolf Blitzer, it just doesn’t kill the vibe. 

And do you hear that from your venue operators, they just want something that’s just inoffensive? It’s not Fox News. It’s not CNN or MSNBC, and it’s not Judge Judy or anything. It’s just providing passive entertainment. 

Jon Niermann: Exactly. It really enhances the environment, so I talked earlier about contextualizing. If you’re at an Italian restaurant, and you want nothing but Italian music or Sinatra and drone footage of Italy all day, you could do that. So it really just adds to the atmosphere.

And if you’ve got local news or something playing, a bunch of talking heads. It’s not exactly that escapism moment that you’re looking for when you’re going out and enjoying that time away from reality. 

You mentioned that it can cut out some of the costs of digital signage. Do you enable a venue operator to have some time to put in, such as Thursdays are happy hours, starting at three and running until seven or whatever?

Jon Niermann: Absolutely, and it’s super easy to just get on your laptop. It’s very intuitive how to walk through it and throw your logo on the screen. So if you’re Billy’s bar and Grill. You got the old Billy’s logo up at the corner and happy hour, as you said, every Tuesday and Wednesday night, on Saturdays we’ve got Billy and the Beaters here on Saturday.

So everything that you used to do with digital signage, you could have crawlers underneath. You could have full screens. You could have a split screen. You’re able to do that with your Loop system, all part of it for free. 

That was going to be my question. It’s not a fee-based one that’s included in what you’re doing if you get the media player for free in the whole bit. 

Jon Niermann: Exactly. So we provide the media player for free. We try to make it as very low cost and low barrier as possible for people just to plug this Loop player up and get going. 

The players are Android boxes, right?

Jon Niermann: Yes. Correct. 

So low cost. When you do a deployment, all you’re really doing is sticking in a UPS envelope or whatever and sending it off to the site and you’re done. 

Jon Niermann: Yeah, that’s it. And if you think about how, a lot of these bars and restaurants, especially worked in the past and still many of them today. You’ve got these giant AV racks full of computers and big expensive equipment that’s bulky, and our players like it a little, it’s about the size of a Roku player and Apple TV. You can Velcro it to the back of your screen. You can put it on a rack underneath. It’s just something you’re used to, and it’s odd because this really never existed over the past few years until then because it’s just the AV stuff, but everybody’s used to using that at home. So it’s quite easy for them to take that into their businesses and get it hooked up. 

Yeah, if you buy an Apple TV box and plug it into the back of your TV, then it loads and you find the application. In this case, you’d find a Loop app, and then there’s probably an activation code or something. 

Jon Niermann: Yeah. We have for us, you have to have a specific Loop player. So we don’t want to have other types of content or anything that may not be licensed. But yeah you load it, you sign in, you put in your code that you get from us, and you’re good to go.

And there’s a bunch of channels, right?

Jon Niermann: Yeah, we’ve got about a hundred music channels, so think of them as playlists. One of our popular ones, for example, is Beach Country. Who knew, right?

Yeah, I don’t know what that is, but okay. 

Jon Niermann: So you get all these. We have Darcy Fulmer; she is fantastic, just in terms of customizing and putting all the playlists together for us and curating and really on the pulse, long-term time music industry executive, a great relationship with all the labels. So she really knows how to customize these things, and we weekly look at what are popular channels, we could adjust, we put in seasonal channels, we put in celebratory type channels. Obviously, with a bunch of Halloween ones now coming up, Christmas is always a popular time. So the venue has over a hundred of those to choose from, and then you’ve got about 50 non-music channels. 

So if you want everything from Looney Tunes, believe it or not, it is a popular one for people to choose from because again, you are just looking at the visual type of stuff. But for failed videos, viral videos, we got the TikTok channel. So it’s a great brand, World Surf League. So if you’re at a surfing store, hunting, fishing, anything that, again, is contextual and customizes that environment, if you’re in autos and cars and you want that type of playing all day, you can do that too. 

So, I’m guessing you have a pretty big content edit team and also have to have folks who specialize in licensing rights and approvals, that sort of thing, right?

Jon Niermann: It’s funny. Our team is so small. The company itself has about 70 people. I think on the content side, we’re between the studio, the creative team, and the curators; it’s less than 10, believe it or not. So we’re very lucky. I already mentioned Darcy, but we have Justis, who runs our content, and Luke and all the guys who have been with us for a long time who understand.

What the customers need. We talk to the venues, we get ideas of what they want, and what’s going to be popular, and then we strike deals with these companies. We do the editing, and the customizing and get it all ready to go. 

So are you able to say to the surf channel or somebody like that, that here’s the format, here’s the run times that we would like and so on, and they will send that to you or do you pretty much have to take their stuff and then touch it?

Jon Niermann: It’s both, so you’re right. There are some that could just do an RSS feed and just say, here you go, and we give them the specs, and that works. Others will just dump a bunch of stuff in a folder, and then our editing team goes at it.

Are there obvious trends and things that you know that people will like and other ones that you’ve tried and thought, let’s just see, and then you find out it resonates or it doesn’t? 

Jon Niermann: Yeah, it’s funny you say trending-type things like what’s popular now; people like to get those headlines. So, if you could picture a screen, it’s full of visuals, it’s full of subtitles and context because you have to be able to understand what you’re looking at without lip reading. 

And that’s part of the reason we know that talking heads are sitting down, even like you’re used to with say, ESPN or some of those shows, it doesn’t necessarily work that well if you just got a bunch of people up there talking. So we’ve gotten that feedback. We understand that it’s a very strong visual. It has to be short, like a two or three-minute type thing, and you have to have enough hours per day where it’s not repetitive, and that’s super important as well. 

So, would a three-hour window or whatever run every day for a week or a month or something like that? 

Jon Niermann: Yeah. Typically, for us, we’ll do at least six hours. Some of these playlists are 20, believe it or not, and then not only that but if it repeats, it’ll shuffle. So, the chances of actually seeing it really don’t exist. So you can understand if you’ve got all those files in there and you’re shuffling, you won’t see the same order again. So it’s not only the customers, it’s clearly the employees that you don’t want to get fatigued. 

Do you call this a digital out-of-home, or is it like consumer TV or some sort of segment having to do with fast streaming, or what’s the nomenclature for this?

Jon Niermann: It’s a fantastic question, and I laugh because it’s what we’re talking about all the time these days because it’s trying to define it to the advertising community, especially. For us, it’s simple. It’s just TV. Just think about where you’re watching your TV. If you’re on your couch or if you’re in a bar, you’re watching the same TV, it’s different content. This is premium television. This is not just all YouTube user-generated stuff. We’ve got branded partners. 

So for us, we’re very much connected to TV, CTV for out of home. So when we talk to the ad partners, they are like, look, you can take your CTV budget, and you can put this towards a Loop because it is premium TV. If you think lots of times when they’re thinking out of home or digital out of home, they’re thinking of billboards, they’re thinking of that type of display, as you know very well. So we’re developing and introducing that space of, it’s just TV. It really is. It’s CTV. So think of Loop that way.

Yeah. It’s interesting. I’ve been involved in this space for, God, almost 25 years now, and I can remember when I started a digital out-of-home media network in the early 2000s, going to media planners, and they’re looking at me with their heads tilted and going, What the hell are you going on about?

At that time, the people who were advising me or I was working with were saying somehow or other we have to tap into the TV bucket and call ourselves in some way TV because there’s way more money in that bucket than there certainly was at that time in the out-of-home bucket. But that’s changed a lot, but I would imagine that connected TV is still probably a bigger number to tap into than out-of-home.

Jon Niermann: For sure. It’s significantly higher still. I think both are growing to your point. Digital out of home, the budgets are certainly increasing. It’s one of the fastest-growing components of the advertising mix, which is great, but CTV is also that way.

People have shifted away from the traditional linear TV, Cable, et cetera. They moved into streaming. So, it’s not unlike any evolution. It’s something we often try to talk about as well. If you think back to 2007, when Netflix started and then Hulu came on and all these channels, you’re like, who the hell are they? I’m used to buying NBC and Fox, and I just wrapped my head around the weather channel and ESPN, and now you’re trying to introduce this streaming stuff. Today, of course, most people are buying streaming, and so for us, we’re in that same evolution for the businesses with out-of-home, kind of where they were in 2007, and consumers like, look, this is another form of television. So you’ve got to treat it that way with your funnel of advertising span. Otherwise, you’re really missing out on a fantastic mix and opportunity to reach these consumers in a captive way. So it’s always a constant education going on when you’re introducing something.

You’re competing against all kinds of media, but more specifically, Samsung TV and LG TV show up in your smart TV, whether you want it or not.

Jon Niermann: Yeah. Again, it’s about licensing. Many of these companies aren’t licensed out of home, believe it or not. It’s a whole different set of licenses, especially on the music side. You have to have performance rights. You have to, and venues could get big fines. You cannot plug your phone in and play Spotify, for example. You can’t turn YouTube on and play those videos.

But they do, and they will continue to do that. Just like people are seeing the 65-mile-an-hour speeding thing, they’re going to get away with 75, push it up to 95, and you’re pressing your luck. So, if you’ve got a lot of venues out there, they will do random checks. So for us, it really truly is about, we can’t control that side of it, but what we can control is providing a reason for them to use us, and that’s typically through the content and just through easy use and affordability.

So you can say to your end-user customer base, “Use us, it’s going to be reliable. It’s stable, and guess what? You won’t get a cease and desist letter from YouTube or Spotify or anybody like that.”

Jon Niermann: That’s right. Yeah, or the associations like ASCAP, BMI, all those guys out there that are just tracking and waiting to find people for public display. 

One thing that interested me was how you are doing, I think this happened within the last year or so. You’ve activated self-serve ads. I’m curious how that works and why you went down that path. I suspect it has a lot to do with somehow tapping into local ads that are really hard to sell unless you’ve got an army of salespeople.

Jon Niermann: That’s exactly right. You nailed it on the head. As for your time in this industry, local ads are a big part of it, you’ve got your national and regional ads, but local ad budgets are large and growing from what we can see. So the ad server that we created, Bob Gruters, who’s our chief revenue officer, came from Facebook and Instagram, and he has a lot of experience with the ad server that they used over there.

And it’s very easy. It’s a self-serve type of thing. So we’re being innovative and providing this for an ability for you to put your ad on TV that way, where you could go in as any type of business and if you want to have your ad on Loop and across our network, whether it’s locally in your town, your County, your state, you’ll be able to do that. So it’s a very simple way just to go and upload an image or a video and have that play. 

Do you give them any help in terms of video production or through templates and things like that?

Jon Niermann: Yeah, we do. There are easy templates for people to follow, and again, we try to make it as simple as possible. The closer you can get to plug and play for everybody. 

First of all, they don’t have time, they don’t have patience. If it’s too complicated there, they’ve got 50 other things they’d rather deal with or have to deal with. So you’ve just gotta make it super simple for them. So, for us to be able to say, if you just want to throw your logo in, we’ll do the rest. It’s that automatic.

You’ve done this like a third-party partner, right? I think it’s Orca TV. 

Jon Niermann: Yeah. Orca TV, they’re here in Santa Monica with us in the LA area, and they are fantastic partners. They’ve been a partner with us for a couple of years now, and just some really talented people like Mike Woods over there and their ability to develop, they’ve just done a great job.

I assume this is something you theoretically could have done on your own, but then you have to support it and keep it up and secure and everything else. It’s just easier to go with somebody who focuses on that. 

Jon Niermann: Yeah, it is. And Liam McCallum, who runs our tech, has been with us from the beginning. In fact, Liam came with me from Electronic Arts. He used to run EA’s kind of online gaming out in Asia. So very capable, smart tech guy, but with a small tech team; coming to my point earlier, sometimes we just have to work with others to get it done, and Mike and the Orca team, we had a great relationship with, and they have the capability and the ability to do it now.

In terms of sales, are you going direct? 

I realize for hyper local, you’re using this self-serve platform when you can, but do you have a direct sales force, or are you relying on programmatic partners? 

Jon Niermann: We do have a direct sales force. That really only ramped up, I’d say, over the last quarter, so about the last three months.

Prior to that, we had to really build our scale. We had to build our distribution. Once we got to about 20,000 venues last fall, we could start to sow the seeds directly. And as you know, that just takes time. So, over six to nine months, we went out there, spread the word, and then the deals started coming across as we continued to grow; we’re over 70,000 now. We’ve had that ability to move from just pure programmatic. 

I mean, we were in programmatic, like an open auction, and that was it, and then the bottom kind of fell out of that market, as we all know, the end of last year and the beginning of the year. So having the diversity now of direct sales and local ads is going to be much better for us going forward.

Yeah. I was curious about programmatic. I was in New York last week for a couple of days and dipped my head into the DPAA conference and chatted with some people and I got a sense of frustration and disillusionment from them about the promise versus the real return that they’re seeing out of programmatic, which is always challenging to me because I don’t understand what the hell they’re going on about, but I gather that it’s not really generating the revenues that operators like you need.

Jon Niermann: I think it’s a couple of things. I think there was definitely a dip, and people for no fault of the programmatic partners, the advertisers weren’t spending as much, but that’s come back, and I think the other thing is probably what you were tapping into or hearing because we were also at that conference and we just discussed TV. How do you define where those monies go with programmatic, how did the agencies allocate them, are these programmatic partners doing a good job and really advocating for television, CTV, and digital out-of-home?

That’s potentially where some of the tension could come from, but we’ve been very fortunate to have some great programmatic partners step up and then we’ve also felt like there’s some that could do a lot more, and certainly in defining this, the way that we’re talking about would benefit them as well as the clients and it would obviously benefit people like us down the stream.

Is the right mix having you primarily sell directly and then supplement that with programmatic versus relying on programmatic? 

Jon Niermann: I think it just takes a minute to get there. I think it’s always going to be probably a best-case, like a 50-50 type thing. I think programmatic is always going to be a big part of it.

Direct needs to be built, but programmatic works. It’s efficient. There are some great ads, and there are some great dollars that kind of come through that. You have all different types, right? You’ve got everything you need, but as part of the mix for us, I think direct and local will certainly increase.

You’re not alone in doing this. There are a handful of other companies currently chasing this kind of business, and it’s a medium, so to speak. It’s been around since the early 2000s, the whole build it and they will come at that time, it was very expensive to do now as you know more than just about anybody, it’s not as expensive to do it.

Where are you at with it? 

Jon Niermann: It’s funny, because where are we ever on the evolutionary scale? It’s like you started a business ten years ago. How many times have you heard people say you were just too early? You were just ahead of your time. I think for us, to your point, people have tried. I don’t know if the timing has been right. I don’t know if the content or the technology has been right, but it feels like it’s right now and certainly coming on the success of streaming, and how that blew up, it became huge and “ the streaming wars,” and everybody’s talking about it. They completely ignored out-of-home, and I get it; the consumer pie is bigger, but this pie is not small. 

So I think the big companies aren’t focused on it because if you’re those big companies, you’ve already built your libraries with the content of TVs, and movies, you spent billions of dollars. You’d have to do a whole different thing to build this. With this type of content and targeting, and even if you’re a big player consumer, it doesn’t mean you can all of a sudden have 50,000 locations overnight. It’s a long selling process for a lot of these venues. So, I think we’re at a very good place. I think that we’re about 2% penetrated in this market between us and the other players, and there are a few private players that are doing this streaming TV either by ad-supported or subscription and if you add us all up, I truly believe that we’re about maybe 1%-2% penetrated. So, a great green field ahead of us. 

I’m sure you don’t want to go on at length about your competitors, but how do you distinguish yourself from them?

Jon Niermann: I think if you look at other competitors out there, some will charge an activation fee, some will take a credit card. Those are barriers to entry that we don’t think are necessary and not great for customer relations. The minute you throw that credit card down, you feel better as a company, I think, because you think you’ve got a path to revenue or more secure revenue, but you start having things, where you just disagree with a customer and credit card comes into play. It’s not a good thing. 

So, I think for us, it’s just more of a pure relationship of let’s make this work. So, I think people are trying different models. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even if it’s ad-supported, a subscription, it goes back to the old cable days as well, remember there used to be big activation fees or they waived activation. So, it’s just part of the business. So I think for us, we deal in premium content. We, by far, I believe, have the top premium content. We’re really the only one that had those music videos with Sony, Warner Universal, and even Disney. We’ve got all the licenses from the majors. That really sets us apart. 

Your background is with Disney, as you just mentioned, and with Electronic Arts. How did you find your way into this back in, I think it was 2016. 

Jon Niermann: Yeah, it’s funny. I was with Disney for 15 years. I went out to Asia with them at the end. I was actually president of Disney Asia for several years and then went over to Electronic Arts when they were really growing their online and mobile games. In fact, we launched the first online and mobile game for EA out in Asia. That was just a really big and opportunistic time for me to learn about that industry, so I really enjoyed that, but also, you got that entrepreneurial bug. 

You see all these companies being built around you, and you’re thinking, I really want to do that. I took about 22 years in corporate and decided that I wanted to be linked somehow to entertainment, media, and technology, and we had a couple of different iterations before it ultimately ended up here as Loop. 

What did family and friends think about going from pretty substantial companies to a media startup?

Jon Niermann: Oh, the typical mix that I lost my mind. Let’s just start with that and stop with that, probably. But it was like, why would you leave these jobs? These stable jobs have great titles and access, and it’s true. You’ve got that card, with Disney, EA’s President on it, you can open up a lot of doors, and then all of a sudden you become a co-founder, CEO of Loop Media, it’s like who, what? 

Everything just has to start over, in a sense. But I found that exhilarating, and it’s been up and down and sideways and easy and challenging and rewarding and regretting and every emotion that you go through. But to get to where we are today is extremely satisfying. And again, going through bumpy times this past year. The previous year was great. We launched our company. Our revenue went from 5 million to 30 million. We went to the New York Stock Exchange. In this past year, we got hit, but we’re fine, and we’re coming out of it and looking forward to this coming year.

That’s a good way to wrap this up. I am curious what we’ll see out of the Loop in the next 12 months. 

Jon Niermann: I think you will see us be aggressive with distribution. I think a couple of things that we lack awareness of, we’re undiscovered. So a lot of people just don’t know about us. So you’re going to see more marketing. You’re going to see more brand building, more partnerships, and more engagement with clients, consumers, and venues. For example, we’re launching a new Trivia product that’s hosted Trivia. You have the opportunity that’ll become interactive soon.

We’re looking at various other things that’ll become interactive within the venues. So I think it’s a very exciting year to just increase that engagement and take advantage of connecting with those consumers. 

Yeah, it’s interesting. You mentioned some of them like doing other things in the venue. That’s one of your competitors, maybe not a direct competitor, but it does similar work. They’ve focused as opposed to just pure entertainment. They’ve focused on kind of venue operations and helping to sell more stuff and communicate to staff, and everything is you’re angling towards that as well.

Jon Niermann: Yeah, we do. I mean, you could take your Loop player. We have it right now and use this back at home for staff communications because a lot of staff members are not going to read email, so if you just have this screen with the messaging going back of the house, you can certainly use a Loop system for that. So engagement is definitely a big part of what we’re looking at in the future.

All right, John. This was terrific, I appreciate spending some time with you 

Jon Niermann: Thanks, Dave. I appreciated it.

  1. Bruce C. says:

    Why has the stock dropped from over $6 to under .40? Will you be reporting 71K screens or sites? You mention both in the headline and copy?

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