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COMFORT FACTOR A PROBLEM, BUT DATABASES, CURIOSITY SOAR FROM HIGH-TRAFFIC KIOSKS

By Published on .

All the talk about routing the information superhighway right through private homes often overlooks an existing thoroughfare: interactive media in public venues.

Already, stadium-based kiosks, satellite-fed interactive trivia games and information and shopping services wired directly into office lobbies and hotel rooms are winning supporters on the highway.

While few growth statistics exist on the number of out-of-home new-media categories, SRDS notes that the number is growing quickly. There are already 750 active, solely ad-driven kiosks-bulky and expensive informational or direct-response systems.

The role of new media in out-of-home works a dual purpose, says Stan Getz, SRDS publishing director. It acclimates advertisers and media companies to the role of new technology while at the same time "getting people accustomed to doing things in a different way."

Apart from pitching product, out-of-home interactive has become an ideal way to develop consumer databases from high-traffic areas.

When the Chicago White Sox baseball team in 1993 wanted to build a database of season-ticket prospects, it used an IBM Kiosk Solutions' FanTracker trivia game to run on three kiosks at Comiskey Park. In 1993, the team gathered the names of 10,000 fans.

A similar application for the Cleveland Indians the same year was underwritten by Starter Corp. and puts game winners on the stadium's scoreboard, says Fred Brodie, project manager with Kiosk Solutions.

When Chevrolet's truck division wanted to build a list of prospective truck buyers last year, it sponsored "Undercover," a pictorial trivia contest on the NTN Entertainment Network, a gaming system for the hospitality trade, says Jerry Petrie, senior VP-marketing with NTN Communications. At the end of the game, players were asked to type in their names to receive literature from Chevrolet; 13,000 people participated.

Limiting intimidation is critical to out-of-home interactive's success, says Mr. Brodie. The $27,000 system uses touch-screen technology to invite users to the kiosks. FanTracker relies heavily on graphics and audio to draw users of all levels of understanding and computer awareness, he says.

Intimidation aside, it's the content that will lure users and, in turn, attract more advertisers to interactive systems, says Michael North, president of North Communications. He anticipates new media will earn a permanent place in out-of-home when viewers believe they're getting something for their time.

"There's an appetite for media when there's a perceived value," says Mr. North, whose viewers spend about eight minutes on the system.

Over the 13 months that MicroMall has tested its CD-interactive system in office and hotel lobbies in Chicago and Wilmington, Del., 100,000 people used the system, according to President-CEO Chuck Spong.

Mr. Spong says people bought items from the free-standing CD-i systems the same way they do from traditional advertising or catalogs. He says women bought more aggressively than men; the most common users were between 25-45 years of age; and the 55-plus market hardly investigated the system at all.

Convergence of out-of-home and the comfort of a relaxed setting might help introduce new viewers to the technology, says Tom Pelletreau, director of new business development with Bell Atlantic Directory Services. The company launched a six-month test of its InfoTravel information system in the Santa Clara, Calif., Marriott hotel in April.

Such tests, like many of the new systems in place around the country, are charged with "breaking in" the technology, says Mr. Pelletreau. "We're going to learn as we go."

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