Taxi TV faring well

Ad-laden cab screens catch captive aud

NEW YORK — Taxi TV is only a few months old, but it’s catching on fast, especially within the entertainment world.

Starting this week, taxi riders in Chicago will be able to watch “Entertainment Tonight” on the way to a Cubs game. And New Yorkers are interacting with a spot for “The Italian Job” while heading across town.

It all began in September in Gotham, when a couple hundred cabs were outfitted with small video screens on the partition separating driver and rider in a test launch organized by the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission.

Of Gotham’s 12,187-cab fleet, 482 currently have taxi TV. By the end of the summer, more than1,000 will. This week the rollout extends to Chicago, to be followed by Boston.

Marketing companies like I Love Taxi TV and a handful of others are providing the content. In some cases that means Gotham-centric programming (profiles of neighborhoods such as Chelsea and Chinatown) created by the firms; in others it means clips from the likes of A&E’s History Channel. In all cases, it means advertising, and increasingly that advertising is coming from the TV networks, record labels and movie studios, all of which are keen on the idea of viewers stuck in front of a screen.

“One thing it does provide is exposure to a captive audience. Other than turning down the volume, they really have to watch what’s in front of them,” said Artie Scheff, senior VP of marketing for A&E, which has a promotional contract with I Love Taxi TV.

Fantastic for films

Movies marketers also are tapping taxis.

“A natural fit for us is the movie business, because not every movie is a blockbuster with a huge budget,” said Randall Ferguson, prexy of Gotham-based 2 Bridge Media Group, creator of TaxiVu. “A smaller-budget film needs a more focused demographic and advertising.”

Flexibility is another advantage. “We have the ability to do more than a 30-second spot,” said Ferguson, who has tested trailers for 20th Century Fox and Universal, and is in “ongoing discussions with a number of other studios.” He said different marketing formats were in development, such as mini-films and “behind-the-scenes” programs similar to those on DVDs.

Atlantic Records, another TaxiVu client, is considering airing concert footage.

Back-seat ticketing

Interactive Taxi also is cozying up to Hollywood. Unlike TaxiVu, its product does not have programming, but instead works interactively with links to restaurants and news. As part of Paramount’s marketing campaign for “The Italian Job,” riders can use a touchscreen to see showtimes and theater listings. By the end of the year they’ll be able to book tickets from the back seat.

During May’s Tribeca Film Festival, fest sponsor American Express advertised with the company, and riders were similarly able to look up screenings.

Sean Cowan, head of sales for Interactive Taxi, attributes the medium’s appeal to targeting media hubs like New York, where moviegoing is more lifestyle than entertainment.

“From the standpoint of Hollywood, you’ve got New York and Chicago, these big media towns that are big markets,” Cowan said. “You need these cities to build buzz.”

Interactive Taxi is currently in talks with Warner Bros., CNN and Turner Broadcasting.

Not all New Yorkers want an interactive or visually stimulating cab ride, though. Through an online poll on the TLC’s Web site, Gothamites are vetting taxi TV, and not all of it is positive. This summer the TLC will analyze the feedback and decide whether taxis get the go-ahead in the fall.

One shortcoming is audience size. “You’re getting one consumer at a time. We’re talking hundreds rather than thousands,” Scheff said.

“But I believe it could easily happen. It’s a baby medium,” he continued. “The Internet was a baby medium at one time.”