Screens barrage shoppers with sales pitches

From supermarkets to apparel outlets, in-store screens barrage shoppers with video sales pitches. But Borders’ plans to install TVs in hundreds of its outlets come with a more ambitious agenda.

They’re featuring real entertainment programming — not ads.

The book, DVD and music seller plans to install the screens in some 250 stores by February, with programming consisting of of chatfests, live performances and other fare. Borders says 60% of its programming will be original. One show, “Live at ’01,” features performances by music acts Joss Stone and Gomez, and interviews? with author Khaled Hosseini, TV chef Nigella Lawson, Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, Donald Trump and Bill Cosby.

If people actually watch, there’s no doubt it can be lucrative: Consider that Wal-Mart’s in-store TV network regularly draws an audience of about 127 million shoppers weekly at 3,100 of its stores.

McDonald’s, Target, American Eagle Outfitters, Hollister, Best Buy, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Jack in the Box, EB Games and Radio Shack, as well as malls, grocery stores and gas stations are among some of the other new outlets putting up the screens.

But content has been largely limited to a lineup of ads and infomercials set on repeat mode. Ads equal additional revenue, after all.

The Borders programming will run from 30 seconds to 2.5 minutes, with little of it repeating within two hour blocks, considering customers spend on average 58 minutes in its stores per visit.

Much of the programming already appears on BordersMedia.com, which attracts three to four million unique visitors a month. Other retailers like American Eagle are also repurposing webisodes and screening them in stores.

“We have amazing content that we felt we only get to share online,” says Myles Romero, VP of strategic marketing and entertainment alliances for Borders Group. “We wanted to get more eyeballs to the talent we’ve got coming in.”

Borders produces the segments itself, through an inhouse production crew based at its headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., and will soon broker deals with other producers, like cablers and magazines, for new fare.

The overall strategy for all the companies, of course, is to use the in-store entertainment networks to entice customers to spend more time in locations and to buy more.

Screens in Starbucks identify songs playing in stores that can be purchased on site wirelessly via iTunes, for example.

They could also help change perceptions along the way, retailers say.

First and foremost: Borders is not a library, and certainly not with noise-emitting screens.

“Borders has traditionally been pictured as a book retailer,” Romero says. “We’re now establishing ourselves as a media network that sells books, music and DVDs.”

But will anyone watch what Borders or anyone else puts on the screens?

Borders hopes the screens — placed in its periodicals and multimedia sections — will captivate auds the same way small lounges at Hollister stores have encouraged tweens and teens to hang out.

Not all video content is captivating, however. At retailers like Target and Best Buy, programming longer than five- to 10-second clips hasn’t played well. That’s because such fare is little more than repackaged promos, says Robert Goldberg, whose GMG Entertainment consults for marketers. “Eventually,” says Goldberg, “it will evolve into more.”

But industryites say things won’t change until marketers pony up more dollars to the creation of original programming. Right now, they rely on firms like Premiere Retail Networks, Ripple TV and Channel M to program the screens with mostly commercial messaging. About 34 minutes of what airs each hour in Wal-Mart is ads.

“There’s an opportunity for marketers,” Goldberg says. “They capture tens of millions of people a week. But the retailers don’t see themselves as media companies, and until they do, they won’t understand how to direct the right resources toward it.”

Wal-Mart’s been experimenting with fresh content, with the help of brands.

Earlier this year, Wal-Mart co-produced with Frito-Lay a 13-minute segment featuring a performance by country crooner Tim McGraw, that aired in stores.

And Borders, Romero says, wouldn’t have turned itself into a video village “if we hadn’t had the content.”

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