SignCast's bar-rage

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For david tanzer, the path of place-based media has led him from the schoolroom to the nightclub.

Mr. Tanzer is CEO of SignCast, a new company that's building an advertising network based in bars and nightclubs, trying to reach young adults outside their homes. Mr. Tanzer previously was president-CEO of Primedia's consumer magazines division, and before that he held the same title at Channel One, the news and advertising network that has 350,000 screens in schools across the country.

Since last January, New York-based SignCast has been installing large video monitors in bars across the U.S., and beaming to those watering holes entertainment programming spiked with silent TV commercials. The service is designed to augment the music in bars and nightclubs with fast-paced video footage from music videos, fashion shows and urban lifestyle features. Within each half-hour segment, about 30% of the programming consists of silent video commercials.

"The target audience of this group is people ages 21 to 34, a group that's increasingly hard to reach through traditional print or TV advertising," Mr. Tanzer said. "We know this group goes out a lot, and our goal is to bring advertisers to this group in an environment where they're relaxed, and give them great entertainment and ads that fit into their lifestyles."

GROWING INTEREST

Marketers are showing a growing desire to target young adults with video programming in bars, and SignCast is only one of several companies in various stages of development for such place-based video advertising. Big Fat Promotions, New York, recently announced plans to develop its own on-premise video network, with an emphasis on promotions from specific liquor marketers.

Marketers involved in early tests and the rollout of SignCast included R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. for various cigarette brands, Allied Domecq Spirits USA's Sauza tequila, Samsung Electronics America for its portable digital audio players and Eastman Kodak Co.

So far, SignCast's network encompasses 1,100 monitors at 850 establishments, and this month the company inked its first deal to install screens in bars overseas, as well.

The company's goal is to have 6,000 screens in 5,000 establishments in the U.S. by 2004, and in addition to bars, Mr. Tanzer plans to extend SignCast into casinos, lounges and some hotels. Ultimately, SignCast wants to have 10,000 screens worldwide.

Most venues have signed multiyear agreements to feature SignCast's screens and its entertainment feed, supplied by cable or Internet, and each has agreed SignCast will become its exclusive provider of such targeted video programming, Mr. Tanzer said.

YOUNG ADULTS' PREFERENCES

The silent programming devised by SignCast has been created specifically for young adults, who prefer a constant stream of diverse entertainment, Mr. Tanzer said.

"We're constantly seeking new ways of reaching customers and highly appropriate channels," said Richard Johnson, director of marketing communications for Samsung. "We're advertising our portable digital audio player here because the medium is all about music, and it's a great fit. It's definitely more efficient than advertising on TV, but it remains to be seen whether it's more effective."

Don Hill, owner of a Manhattan nightclub that bears his name, agreed to carry SignCast's programming early this year and said it has been a successful experiment so far.

"People who go to clubs are in the mood for this kind of fast-paced entertainment -- it's something they recognize and they seem to respond to it," Mr. Hill said.

SignCast says the average visit to a nightclub in the U.S. is 90 minutes, and most clubgoers are only likely to watch the in-bar video for about 15 minutes, so the company doesn't fear repetition by repeating its 30-minute feed throughout the evening. SignCast constantly updates programming, and by the middle of next year its feeds will double to 60 minutes and eventually expand to 90 minutes, Mr. Tanzer said.

12 BRANDS SIGN UP

So far, 12 brands have signed up for SignCast's feed, in categories including spirits, tobacco, consumer electronics and entertainment. Mr. Tanzer expects more music and record label marketers to join the service and total advertisers to reach 20 by early next year. He also expects to sign advertisers from wireless communications companies and credit card marketers.

SignCast asks advertisers to create commercials especially for its soundless medium that don't rely on background music or spoken words; the company also provides a service of creating such ads for advertisers.

Next year, SignCast plans to roll its service out in Spain, with a goal of adding one country per year for the next several years.

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