NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The press corps at this year's Consumer Electronics Show may find themselves jostling for soundbytes and product demos on the Vegas strip with video crews from Best Buy.
Yes, the retailer is now a publisher, rolling out a multichannel network filled with original editorial content spanning everything from how-to videos and gift guides to new-technology primers and behind-the-scenes looks at popular movies. The network, called Best Buy On, includes a website it bills as an "online magazine" and a huge in-store component with its content and ad messaging "broadcast" on screens across the store, including in the TV, mobile and portable entertainment sections.
The project has been in "soft launch" mode since 2009. In that time, Best Buy has established an internal advertising and editorial team, cultivated relationships with media buyers and advertisers including Sony and Procter & Gamble, and invested in new screens and online video players. And later this week, Best Buy On, which is now ready for prime time, will be cranking out content from Las Vegas' MGM Grand.
Advertisers have access to nearly 145,000 screens, as well as video players and standard ad units on Best Buy's global home page, every product home page and BestBuyOn.com. Two to four screens per department are being added, allowing advertisers to specifically buy into the mobile department or portable entertainment department. Between 100 and 150 screens per store will ultimately be a part of the network, said Keith Bryan, senior director-media strategy.
The project is ambitious, considering that any number of in-store TV ventures have struggled to gain traction and been plagued by image problems. Even the Walmart Stores Smart Network, the most high-profile venture in the market, has rolled out significantly slower than originally anticipated. The network targeted 2,700 stores two years ago -- Walmart has more than 3,700 stores in the U.S. -- but had rolled out to just 1,200 as of early October. By comparison, Best Buy's network is deployed in 98% of its nearly 1,100 stores.
Mr. Bryan said Best Buy On isn't simply an in-store network, and is significantly different from other retailer's models because it lives in multiple channels and produces original editorial content. So far, advertisers like P&G's Swiffer, Tide, Duracell and Braun have advertised with Best Buy On, as have vendors like Canon and Sony.
"We're just getting our feet wet, but it's already beating our expectations," said Mr. Bryan, who would not comment on the company's financial commitment to Best Buy On or its marketing budget.
Mr. Bryan, who is responsible for both buy- and sell-side media at Best Buy, said nearly every advertiser that has experimented with the network is coming back, because of the value proposition, competitive CPMs and engagement that he claims is as much as 10 times that of other online media publishing networks. He declined to comment specifically on the network's CPM. Best Buy boasts the ability to reach a billion people a year via its stores and site.
In promotional materials for Best Buy On, the network makes a case for why its shoppers are influential in categories, such as automotive, food and beverage, home and furnishings and travel. While electronics vendors are a no-brainer, Mr. Bryan also expects the network would be a good fit for advertisers in the hospitality, travel and automotive sectors, and even the apparel category could make sense, he said.
"Strategically, it makes a lot of sense to me," said John Swift, president-integrated communications at Omnicom Group's OMD . "We need to find different ways to connect our messages with consumers in different places."
Editorial content is shepherded by Bill Anderson, VP-creative director Best Buy Media Network. Mr. Anderson, who has a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota, acts as Best Buy On's editor, overseeing the editorial calendar, which includes stories like "Are Your Kids Too Connected?," "Tech 101: Connected TV Basics" and "Inside 3D Animation."
Execs say the intent is to be complementary to, not competitive with, publications like CNet, Engadget or Gizmodo, which cover consumer electronics. But while Best Buy says it's not looking to compete for eyeballs, media buyers say it will be competing with those publishers for ad dollars.
"We're not looking at them as a peer to some of the other, bigger consumer electronics publishers, yet, because they're still growing in scale and reach," said Jeff Rossi, VP-digital director at MediaVest, which has made buys with Best Buy On on behalf of P&G. "But if they do get there, content is of a strong enough quality that it provides another competitor in that space."
Editorially, Best Buy On is steering clear of controversial territory, focusing on broader tech stories rather than product reviews, lest it get into sticky situations with vendors. "We're going to stay in a nonbiased place." said Mr. Anderson.
While stories will be told from a Best Buy point of view, something executives say is clear to customers, stories are meant to be journalistic in nature. "It's not journalism in the sense that they're not independent of commercial pressures," said Stephen Shepard, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. "If they do a good job of it, it's welcome. I don't mind reading something from Best Buy, if it's fair and informative and honest."
And, at the end of the day, it's just one more example of marketer as media, something Mr. Shepard says, for better or worse, is becoming more common.
"I don't know that all brands can aspire to be a media outlet that's relevant to the agency community," Mr. Bryan said. "But multichannel brands that have a footprint physically and digitally can very much be media. Multichannel brands could be one of the most important forms of new media in the next 10 years."
"Customers expect us to have a point of view," Mr. Bryan continued. "If the only way we can do that is in a 30-second spot or a Sunday free-standing insert, then we're screwed."
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Contributing: Michael Bush