Ok, it's not exactly a surprise. After all, AV Interactive hinted at the same concerns in a digital signage-oriented article last October, which I pointed out in a blog article on November 4th ("Are shoppers turned off by instore TV networks?"). But considering JCDecaux's considerable weight in the industry, something must be wrong with those installations if they're really having trouble selling the ads. According to Brand Republic writer James Quilter:
The [Tesco TV] roll-out has stalled at 100 stores and no more screens have been installed in new large-format Tesco Extra stores.Language like "according to insiders" and "advertisers are understood to be unhappy" indicates (to me, at least) that some hearsay and speculation may have been mixed in with the factual information gleaned during the research phase of this article. (Perhaps a few advertisers had unrealistic expectations fueled by an overzealous sales team and strongly voiced their concerns, overshadowing others who might be pleased with the results.) That, and a Tesco spokesperson indicated that the channel was under internal review, but didn't outright suggest that they were disappointed to the point of pulling the plug on the whole project. Still, there has been too much gossip to ignore the situation entirely.
According to insiders, the chain is considering taking the channel out of its revenue generation team and plans to put greater emphasis on activity such as trolley stickers and window banners.
The original intention was for Tesco TV to divert revenue from TV advertising. But its sales house, JCDecaux, was forced to slash its rate card by 30% in early 2005 following poor take-up.
Major advertisers are understood to be unhappy about the network and have cited the placement and intrusive nature of screens as problems to be addressed.
So what could the problem be? To me, the key is in the last sentence of the quote above. The "placement and intrusive nature of the screens" is something that can have quite a strong effect on not just the overall performance of the network, but also how it is perceived by shoppers. I'm sure that Tesco analyzed their store traffic patterns when deciding where to place their digital signs, but traffic patterns can only tell you so much. They might give you an idea of where shoppers tend to walk and where they frequently linger, but they won't tell you which direction they tend to look (you can speculate to some degree, of course), or what other visual clutter is in the area. Maybe the screen placement interfered with the shopper's march through the store or their ability to search for products. It's also possible that there are simply too many screens in place and the overall effect is more harassment than promotion. After all, Tesco TV's 40+ screens per store is quite a bit more than most retail media networks employ.
Or perhaps the content running on these screens is to blame for the network's allegedly poor performance. Bright colors and blinking messages might be attention-grabbing, but it can also grate the nerves after a while. JCDecaux's own content guidelines recommend creating spots that are 10 seconds long, with sound. The cacophony of multiple screens running different clips combined with the rapid visual changes of several 10 second ads swapping out might have overwhelmed some customers.
Fortunately, if the above items do turn out to be the problem, they can certainly be addressed. I'd be willing to bet that the screens could be moved, rotated, raised, lowered or otherwise adjusted into less obtrusive spots while still retaining their visual impact, and a focus group could probably help the stores make the right choices there. With regard to content, there are virtually limitless ways to make attractive, eye-catching segments that soothe and suggest, not chafe and coerce.
As the aforementioned Tesco spokesperson said, Tesco TV "is a relatively new product still in development," so the company acknowledges that there is room for improvement. Hopefully Tesco and JCDecaux will put this high on their to-do list for 2006. And when they do solve their problems, I'd love to see a case study outlining what the culprit(s) were, and what the ultimate solution turned out to be. Keeping screens friendly and unobtrusive while still retaining their visual impact is no small task. This would be a great opportunity for these two companies to come out with some "best practices" for digital signage advertising that our industry could adopt in general.
The Brand Republic article also underscores another important point: retail environments are diverse and dynamic, and even the best-planned networks will face unforseen challenges. As much as I'd like it to be true, new in-store marketing initiatives don't achieve 100% success, especially not right from the get-go. It would just be nave to believe otherwise. So, hopefully Tesco TV will take the initial challenges in stride, run some good, solid experiments, find out what needs to be changed, and emerge all the wiser once said changes are in place and their digital signs are meeting or beating their expectations.