The Digital Signage Insider

Do In-Store Checkout TV Channels Work?

Published on: 0000-00-00

If you've been to a Wal-Mart lately (and about 90% of America has), you may have noticed the new "checkout channel" digital signage network being deployed by PRN to inform and entertain shoppers while they're waiting in line to pay.  Checkout channels made headlines in 2005 with Albertson's announcement that PRN would be providing the service to complement a more traditional in-store digital signage network operated by SignStorey, and Wal-Mart deciding to launch one as well. Proponents of these networks argue that shoppers (who don't typically like waiting in line) are entertained by the content on the screens, which makes them feel that they're waiting for less time (and if there's an opportunity to do some innocuous advertising, so much the better).  Detractors, on the other hand, say that shoppers don't want to be blasted with more thinly-veiled ads masquerading as entertainment while they're waiting on line, especially since they're at the end of their shopping process and are not likely to get out of line to purchase advertised products (beyond the relatively small product assortment available at the register itself, like candy and magazines).

While many of these arguments focus on the nature of the content being displayed (which is something that can obviously be controlled by the network owners/managers), I've always wondered if shoppers would be receptive to TV-like content in the checkout lines at all.  With so many different demographics assembled in line at any moment in time, I'd guess that even generic content from CNN Headline News or maybe the Food Network (in grocery stores, anyway) would lack the widespread appeal to get a large percentage of people to watch.  Plus, I have this feeling that while many wouldn't admit it, they actually enjoy scanning headlines about the latest government conspiracy or alien mummy rampage in The Sun.

Still, when companies like PRN try to implement a checkout channel, we all have to pay attention.  They've been working with big retailers and grocers for years now, and obviously have built up a good amount of in-house expertise about what's likely to work.  That's why I was particularly excited to come across this article from Media Life Magazine about PRN's checkout channel (called Checkout TV), which is currently deployed in several hundred Wal-Mart stores across the country.  It's a few months old by now (having come out in November) but it offers the most detailed look at checkout signage channels that I've seen to date.  For example, the article notes that:
  • Commercials run in a 12-minute loop, five times an hour.
  • The screen is split to run content in a large screen area, with local news and weather in a ticker.
  • Content in the larger area is a mix of community information, entertainment and ads.
  • Ads may be for items actually available in the checkout lane, elsewhere in the store, or even for goods and services not sold at Wal-Mart.
  • The checkout channel allows content creators to use sound, thus vendors can utilize their existing TV spots
  • Local content is often provided via partnerships between the area's local newspapers and Wal-Mart.
  • National brands can purchase flights on the entire network, while local vendors can specify which region they'd like to be featured in down to the individual store level.
The point I find most interesting here is that local newspapers and whatnot are partnering with Wal-Mart to deliver community-specific content.  I'd love to know more about who arranges such partnerships, and where the division of roles between PRN, the newspapers and Wal-Mart lies, as I have to imagine that this could be an enormous logistical challenge.  If done successfully, though, it could be a fascinating new source of income for small local papers, giving them a revenue boost and a new place to woo subscribers (since the newspaper's logo appears on the content they provide) at the same time.

As for network performance, the article provides some information on that as well.  Nielsen has already studied a 283-store trial of the network, and will next "design a study to measure the national audience, looking at factors including store locations, time of day, receptibility (sic) to advertisers and brand recall, as well as total percentage of store traffic that views the loop," according to PRN VP Mark Mitchell.  Research conducted in May 2005 found that 76% of shoppers viewed Checkout TV, and 94% felt that it was a "good thing."  How does that translate into dollars?  Well, Nielsen found that there are about 15 million potential viewers for any four-week period, from which PRN estimates that about 40.1% of Wal-Mart shoppers see the screens.  Ads typically cost around $80,000 for a guaranteed 5 plays per hour over four weeks.  According to the article, this somehow yields a CPM of between $5 and $12, but I must either be missing or misinterpreting a number, as I can't make the math work out right.

While a checkout channel might not be an absolute success in every situation, PRN has demonstrated a viable model that seems to appeal to shoppers while generating what could be a very healthy amount of revenue.  If the high approval ratings noted above hold up over time, I think we'll likely see many more checkout channels in the future, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of these turned out to be managed separately from other in-store signage channels (like in the aforementioned Albertson's network).  But in my opinion, the most important takeaway from this article is the potential for partnerships between retailers (and/or their signage vendors) and local media providers, as demonstrated by Wal-Mart's Checkout TV.  News organizations already have the ability to reach local businesses and sell ad space (otherwise they wouldn't be in business), yet we rarely hear of large digital signage networks tapping them for help selling locally-targeted content.  While the logistics of such an undertaking are certainly challenging, it seems to me that the potential upside would be large enough to make it worthwhile, or at least worth a closer look for anyone involved with in-store networks.

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