Jaded riders are ever-tougher sell

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Fourteen million Americans use public transportation daily, and advertisers aren't just along for the ride anymore.

A range of innovations-most based on recent technological advances-are presenting new opportunities to grab the attention of a captive audience riding trains and buses or waiting at terminals.

"What makes these non-traditional media attractive is that they're new, innovative and on the cutting edge-and in some cases over the edge," says Robert L. Figa, senior VP at Wilkins Media Co., Atlanta, which specializes in directing advertisers to various forms of out-of-home advertising. "It gives a client an opportunity to be at the forefront of something new and different."


"We're seeing a lot of LED [light-emitting diode] technology [boards that usually scroll messages], a lot of plasma screen technology and video technology so that the advertising messages within these closed environments are more like television commercials," notes Stephen Freitas, chief marketing officer of the Outdoor Advertising Associa-tion of America.

Orlando-based Itec Network can incorporate traditional 30-second TV spots into the mix of general news/entertainment, transit system information and advertising that it offers on the wireless system now in place on about a dozen Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority buses in that Florida city. Under a 10-year contract in Orlando, Itec will roll out the flat-screen monitors and audio systems in the authority's 240 buses. Commercials are running for a Rod Stewart album promoted through Atlantic Records, Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Pepsi, Advantica Restaurant Group's Denny's and the U.S. Marines.

Itec VP Daniel West says the company is in negotiations with about 15 other U.S. transit authorities; at press time, Itec announced a deal to enter Milwaukee. Mr. West says a contract proposal made recently to a major U.S. transit authority with a fleet of 3,000 vehicles included a conservative ad sales outlook and gross annual revenue projection of $30 million.

In addition to a new revenue stream for transit agencies, Mr. West says, systems such as Itec's provide enhanced rider services such as transit system information and stop announcements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"In the past, transit agencies paid a fortune to acquire [ADA-compliant] technology," he says. "What we found is that when we paired that core and tangible value with a platform to sell advertising, it was a breakthrough for the transit agency."

Sheldon Watson, project manager for community and media relations at the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, says the authority weighed several factors when it considered Itec Network. "Mainly, any advertising program that we go into [shouldn't] be offensive to our customer base or our funding partners," he says, adding that it also should benefit all parties involved-the transit agency, customers and funding partners.


Similar video-only systems that incorporate news, transit information and advertising include the Mass Transit Network, a text-based wireless system on large LED screens at rail stations and smaller screens onboard trains. Atlanta-based Mass Transit Network International and transit agencies in Atlanta and Cleveland are conducting 90-day tests of the system this summer.

Pathvision, a fiber optic network of 275 monitors in 13 rail stations operated by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, features news, transit information and advertising that's generated using Flash computer technology. Nassau Broadcasting Partners (nassauvision.com), which operates Pathvision, hopes to bill $10 million to $15 million in advertising during a five-year contract with the Port Authority that began in December 2000. Advertisers on Pathvision tend to be local malls and auto dealers.

All the systems differ slightly in format, but each embraces a drive in transit advertising to more closely target specific consumers through the ability to change messages quickly. Another initiative linked to transit advertising is Streetbeam, which allows consumers with personal digital assistants to interact with advertising mounted on phone kiosks, bus shelters and rail displays, and receive enhanced messages such as movie show times in the area.

"Out-of-home is fabulous for a lot of things, but one thing it's never been good on is immediacy and a changeable message. Now suddenly we can do that," says Jodi Senese, VP-marketing at Viacom's TDI Worldwide, which is rolling out Streetbeam to 300 New York locations and will introduce the program in San Francisco this summer. The cost of a Streetbeam ad is $500 per unit per month.

"What these new technologies are doing for advertisers is providing very targeted opportunities to reach very specific consumers with very specific messages at very specific times of their daily life pattern," the OAAA's Mr. Freitas says.

That's not to say traditional transit advertising is disappearing. In fact, the idea is to make it more visible than ever. New York-based TDI has rolled out exterior-mounted light boxes for king-size bus ads in New York. In addition, new products such as "electric paper," which holds a charge and gives signage a glowing appearance, and changeable-reflective media have been tested in recent months. Illuminated king-size bus ads can command a 30% premium over the rate of traditional exterior bus ads of the same size.

The changeable qualities of materials are a priority to companies such as graphics manufacturer 3M.

"One of the next important things for us to develop is systems to aid in the installation of materials," says Charlie Calisto, business manager of 3M's commercial graphics division. "One of the first things people look at is the cost of the material, but 50% or more of the cost lies in the installation and de-installation of the graphic. So if we could find ways of reducing the labor intensity and the cost, advertisers and ad agencies can all benefit."

New York advertising company Submedia is leading advertisers into a new environment-subway tunnels. Submedia's initiative, simple compared with some other developments in the medium, features light boxes along stretches of subway tunnel walls. Train riders will view the light boxes in quick succession as their train passes, giving the same illusion as flip-book animation.


Coca-Cola Co. will use in-tunnel motion picture advertising for its Dasani brand water this summer as part of Submedia's six-month agreement with the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transportation Authority. Sub-media is installing light boxes along 1,000 feet of right-of-way for a display that will last 20 seconds for train passengers.

"This is an innovative type of media where we have an opportunity to reach consumers every day in a pretty captive environment," says Kellam Graitcer, senior brand manager for Dasani. "This is a great way for us to generate broad awareness-when people are sitting there with nothing to do, nothing else to distract them."

We are going to evaluate it from a research perspective as it begins and then determine to what extent we roll out further," she adds.

Submedia CEO Joshua Spodek estimates that 500 subway tunnels in North America would be suitable for the medium, creating a potential $250 million-per-year market.

"It uses miles and miles of unused real estate," Mr. Spodek says. "Most people don't think of it because it's underground, but subway systems have incredible amounts of real estate, and it's all in the commercial downtown core."

Mr. Spodek and others in the transit ad business also say they're targeting a desirable demographic. According to American Public Transportation Association statistics, nearly three-quarters of public transit users earn at least $15,000 per year, with 17% earning at least $50,000 per year.

"If you think of who rides the [mass transit] system, it's people going to or coming from making money or spending money," Mr. Spodek says. "It's just huge numbers of people."

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