These TV channels can’t be turned off

Jun 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Are you exploring the future of television advertising or new network branding opportunities? Then you just might want to get out of the think tank or the executive suite and pop over to your local Wal-Mart, Sears or Best Buy store.
There, amid the bustle of everyday commerce, you most likely will find multiple television sets placed around the retail space-and not just that familiar wall of sets on sale in the electronics department.
All those sets probably will be turned on and tuned in to the same network-a Nielsen-measured, digital “custom” network that is most likely satellite-delivered and beaming tailored advertising and advertising-related content at in-store shoppers. Chances are they’ll be watching PRN.
San Franciso-based Premium Retail Networks, which has been in business since 1993 and claims a 100-million-shoppers-per-week universe (and an actual viewership of some 100 million shoppers per month), has just concluded one-year programming and branding deals with TechTV and Discovery Health Channel under which each cable network will provide six to 12 minutes per month of original programming for PRN. The two new deals follow a recent similar deal with Oxygen Media.
TechTV will provide short-form programming in its area of expertise (like a brief video on how to operate a new digital camera that just happens to be for sale at Sears or Best Buy). Discovery Health will do the same in its areas, which include health, medicine and nutrition (with, for example, summer health tips that can run on a monitor in the Wal-Mart department that sells sunscreens).
The TechTV and Discovery Health deals call for content to air on the various PRN-operated networks, including Wal-Mart’s own in-store network, as well as in Sears, Best Buy and other PRN venues, according to Charles Nooney, PRN’s president. Mr. Nooney joined the network 18 months ago after 15 years with Disney and Disney/ABC Cable Networks, where he most recently served as executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing.
The benefit of this deal to the cable networks is obvious: Their branded content will position them as in-store “experts” for potentially millions of buying-minded viewers who might not otherwise find the niche networks when they tune in at home. Now the consumers will be sampling the networks at the very moment they are inclined to make a purchase.
And PRN, which is already available in every designated market area in the country, will expand its programming resources, which currently include a 45-person in-house programming and editing staff as well as content from Oxygen Media, ABC News, VH1 and various individual advertisers and agencies. Currently PRN is in some 5,000 U.S. stores, of which 2,150 are Wal-Marts. By the end of the year, Mr. Nooney said, PRN will be in more than 2,400 Wal-Marts.
PRN content on Wal-Mart’s network includes new-product and health information, seasonal shopping tips and information on sports, pets, toys, fashion and movies.

While PRN uses satellite delivery for the majority of the content it supplies to the in-store networks it operates, the network also arrives via T1 lines and “bicycled” DVD discs in some locations, Mr. Nooney said. PRN has the technical capability to supply different feeds to each TV set in a store, providing customized programming for each department, though for the most part most retail outlets show the same content on all monitors in a particular store. Each year, Nielsen’s out-of-home division turns up at PRN’s retail venues to do the “intercept” research on which PRN’s universe and viewership numbers are based, Mr. Nooney said.
PRN programming is definitely short-form, usually 30 seconds or less. “For us, long-form is 60 seconds,” Mr. Nooney said. One recent spot that Mr. Nooney singled out for praise was created in-house at PRN for an electronics manufacturer that was experiencing a high level of returns on its new products. The spot was a practical demonstration of how the new line of products actually worked, and the result was a lowered return rate, he said.
PRN has about 50 individual major accounts for its networks, Mr. Nooney said. Those accounts are companies that “either are selling products in the stores or want access to people in those stores.” Advertisers on PRN networks include Bayer, Gillette Co., DirecTV, The Walt _Disney Co., EchoStar, Procter & Gamble, Sony and Unilever.
Unlike many wary advertisers and network-sales and agency executives, Mr. Nooney said he welcomes the personal video recorder future in which millions of consumers will be able to fast-forward through the commercials they watch at home.
“They can’t fast-forward PRN,” he said, adding, “People don’t mind seeing ads in stores. They’re receptive to expert advice, and they’re there to buy.”