Telly up to the bar

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Nightlife tv is the latest entry in the race to wire the nation's nightclubs with on-premise video entertainment, but this offering has an unusual interactive TV twist.

A joint venture of Big Fat Promotions, New York, and the Dish Network unit of EchoStar Communications Corp., NightLife TV promises to reach between 4,000 and 6,000 establishments with its satellite-based programming that launches early next year.

NightLife TV says the difference between its revenue model and that of place-based rivals is its emphasis on liquor trade promotions aimed at bar employees, and its side benefits to tavern operators including opportunities to reduce their liability insurance and give healthcare benefits to employees free of charge.

What the bargoer will see on NightLife TV is a stream of satellite programming regularly provided to nightclubs by Dish Network, including CNN, ESPN and movies. The customizable feed of programming for bars also may also include advertiser-sponsored, exclusive previews of movies and special events, said Jonathan Ressler, president-CEO of Big Fat Promotions. Individual restaurant chains can harness NightLife TV's feed for their own exclusive programming events.

For bar operators, NightLife TV will offer special programming created specifically for bartenders and servers. The programming can be downloaded from the Internet and replayed on demand, usually after hours or during training sessions. Most bars subscribing to Dish Network already have Microsoft Corp.'s WebTV, allowing downloads of other types of programming via the Internet.

LIQUOR COMPANY INTEREST

Liquor marketers including Allied Domecq Spirits USA, Remy Amerique, Seagram Co. and United Distillers & Vintners have verbally agreed to back the effort, and Heineken USA has expressed interest, said Mr. Ressler, a longtime specialist in on-premise liquor marketing.

"Every major spirits marketer has said they will come aboard, because we're giving them an unprecedented opportunity to promote their brands directly to the bar trade and its employees, who are a huge and influential part of the consumer promotions equation," Mr. Ressler said.

Dish Network saw the opportunity to team with Big Fat Promo-tions as a way to enrich and customize its content for the sought- after hospitality category, where it's competing head to head with DirecTV, said Polly Dawkins, Echo-Star director of business solutions.

"This venture allows us to promote our service in more hospitality locations, and it gives us content no one else will have, plus a share of revenues," Ms. Dawkins said.

NightLife TV's trade-targeted programming will include specific promotions from liquor marketers, including recipes for new drinks; lore and history of certain liquors such as whiskey; and lessons on how to serve the perfect version of classic drinks. As many as 20 different liquor promotion programs of 13 to 15 minutes each will be offered to nightclubs each quarter.

"Bartenders and nightclub personnel are the people who actually make on-premise promotions tick, and liquor marketers are always looking for ways to reach them more directly," Mr. Ressler said. "Our program makes bar personnel more knowledgeable about liquors and specific promotions going on, so they can clue consumers into specials, new brands and how to appreciate unusual liquors."

NightLife TV is not the first to try offering liquor-sponsored instructional videos to bars, but previous efforts involved paying for the service. "Bar owners don't want to pay for this stuff, we discovered," Mr. Ressler said.

To motivate bar personnel to watch the instructional programs, NightLife TV has created an incentive program billed as the first of its kind in the tavern industry. After watching the instructional program, bar personnel can take a short quiz. If they get the answers right, they get "tips"-points redeemable for merchandise and other rewards including health insurance, which is rarely provided to the estimated 3 million part-time workers in the nation's bars.

NightLife TV has cut deals with two major insurers so that employees can earn and maintain their own health insurance (paid for by NightLife TV). Employees also can earn points by watching a 1-hour instructional program on ways to prevent irresponsible drinking by patrons; if a majority of employees pass a quiz on that program, a bar's owner will receive rate cuts of up to 20% on business liability insurance policies in another deal NightLife TV has cut for bar owners.

"We have plans to develop videos on dealing with sexual harassment and teaching people about management training, that any employee can watch and get quizzed on for points," said Mr. Ressler, who claimed he has been incubating the NightLife TV idea for the past five years.

PROGRAMMING FREE TO BARS

NightLife TV's programming is free to bars, but they must subscribe to Dish Network and buy a minimum of two feeds of programming, he said. For establishments that currently lack a hookup to Dish Network, NightLife TV will pay for installation, including providing a player and a dish. Establishments must get their own video and computer monitors.

The cost to liquor marketers offering promotions to NightLife TV is $250,000 per quarter, a fee Mr. Ressler said is "a lot less than the average nationwide table-tent promotion."

Bar owners see NightLife TV as a way to fill the "void" in educating high-turnover staff, as well as improving overall management, said Mr. Ressler, who learned about the gaps when he owned 10 Manhattan bars during the 1990s.

For Dish Network, NightLife TV is helping expand its reach, and NightLife TV is compensating Dish Network for the time it uses on the satellite feed, Ms. Dawkins said.

"We're both taking a risk here," she said, "but we think the plan makes sense because we're offering tangible benefits to bars and liquor marketers. In the end Dish Network is reaching more eyeballs."

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