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TV tries to pump up viewership

A gas pump with TV screen

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: The Writers Strike is headed into its fourth month, and the damage just keeps coming. We already saw the annual Golden Globes extravaganza called off. The Academy Awards might be next, and even the fall season is in doubt. As we reported yesterday, the studios are cutting loose writers who had been under contract to develop new shows. That's not just a problem for viewers. It could be a killer for the networks and their advertisers, but the sponsors do have other places to turn.

As Mary-Rose Abraham explains, the living room isn't the only place for TV viewers -- or advertisers anymore.


MARY-ROSE ABRAHAM: These days, when television networks talk about chasing viewers, they mean it literally. Movie theaters, grocery stores, gas stations and sports events -- if you're there, they want to be there.

NBC COMMERCIAL: Everywhere. In our fast-moving digital world, you want the news to move with you. That's why NBC News gives you so many choices. Everywhere you go, there we are.

As TV viewing declines, all the networks are pushing their content into new places, and they'd like advertisers to be there, too. Today NBC held an elaborate presentation for marketers and media buyers at its New York headquarters. It wants to establish out-of-home media as a separate market, rather than an advertising after thought.

MARK FRENCH: People are really looking to learn more about the space.

That's Mark French, senior vice president and general manager of NBC Everywhere, which handles out-of-home media.

FRENCH: It's very different than both the TV and the Internet world, but at the same time, very complementary.

There are an estimated 500,000 advertising screens in retail stores, supermarkets, movie theaters and other businesses in the U.S. Industry experts say the market could be worth more than 2.5 billion ad dollars by 2010. That's a far cry from the $9 billion the big networks brought in last year for ads on prime time, but digital ads can go where TV cannot.

BRAD ADGATE: It kind of attracts the hard-to-reach viewer.

That's Brad Adgate, a senior vice president at Horizon Media in New York. His firm buys media space and time for its advertiser clients.

ADGATE: This is the last 20 feet or 25 feet of a marketing plan, is having an ad close to a point of purchase area, such as in a retail store. That can be very powerful, and marketers are looking at that.

So grocery shoppers, lured by clips from Access Hollywood, can be reminded to grab a carton of orange juice before leaving the store. At more than 500 gas stations around the country, "NBC at the Pump" airs clips from prime time shows and local news mixed with ads.

BIG O TIRES COMMERCIAL: Sorry to interrupt. I see you're busy getting gas, but what about your oil?

Earlier this week Big O Tires began running 15 second spots for 80 of its franchises in Southern California. JC Cordero is president of Cordero and Davenport Advertising. That's the agency for Big O. He says the company chose the stations because they're near Big O dealerships.

JC CORDERO: We wanted to talk to this audience about their vehicles at a time when they are interacting with their vehicles.

But many advertisers aren't swayed that digital signs are a good investment. For one thing it's hard to measure how many people see an ad, and whether it's the reason they make a purchase, and for some businesses it's just not the right fit. Erik Thompson is director of advertising at Mercury Insurance, which sells auto and homeowners insurance policies in 13 states. Thompson says he's sat through many presentations about checkout stands, gas pumps and cell phones, but he's not convinced they will work to sell insurance.

ERIK THOMPSON: It's pretty difficult to get a quote via a cell phone. That's a pretty onerous and cumbersome process.

Thompson says it's also difficult to measure the impact of the ads. That may be why digital signs now makes up less than 1 percent of ad volume in the U.S. Again, Horizon Media's Brad Adgate.

ADGATE: Basically, alternative out-of-home media is not television. At least, not just yet.

I'm Mary-Rose Abraham for Marketplace.

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