TimeLine Media to Target DM Prospects at Gas Pump

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TORONTO - TimeLine Media Corp., Kitchener, Ontario, has launched an electronic network designed to deliver a captive audience of consumers filling their cars with gasoline to DM advertisers.

Last month, following two years of development and testing, TimeLine installed its first Internet-based, full-motion, full-audio monitors at a gas station in Toronto. If all goes according to plan, there will be 30 participating stations in the Toronto area, and as many as 40 in Montreal, by the end of the year.

The monitors are built into the gas pumps and display full-motion ads while motorists fill their tanks with fuel.

Currently, the monitors play a pre-scheduled loop of ads, but plans call for scanners to identify different types of automobiles. This information, combined with station site data, will enable the system software to determine what ads to transmit. The software will also select what coupons to print.

John Lowndes, TimeLine's founder and president, says research suggests motorists like the idea of watching ads while filling up.

A survey by Toronto's Research Dimensions found that 82 percent of respondents surveyed had a favorable impression of the TimeLine Media system, while just 6 percent said they were opposed to it.

During the time the fuel pumps are inactive, the monitors display text-based news and information, but when motorist begins fueling up, the monitors switch to full-motion ads.

A typical fillup takes four to five minutes to complete. The system can play ads of any length, from 15 seconds to several-minute infomercials.

Lowndes, a civil engineer who is also president of Petro Maintenance Ltd., a company specializing in gas station maintenance and environmental clean up, says he hopes to sign as many as 4,000 gas stations across Canada over the next three years. In all, there are about 14,000 gas stations in the country.

TimeLine plans to use the Internet to deliver its programming to stations, and will employ wireless technology to send a signal from the station building to each monitor.

Lowndes, who began working on TimeLine in his basement in 1997 and now employs 20 people, including 10 programmers and engineers, knows of no other gas station TV network.

He considers TimeLine to be more than just an ad medium. Rather, he sees it as a specialty channel that delivers a mix of information programming and advertising.

He says that to be successful, it has to provide content consumers have an interest in watching. "I'm a consumer as well and I don't like to be inundated with ads," he said.

The system's initial advertisers, including National Car Rental, Daewoo Auto and a local radio station, were allowed to run their ads for free. At present, the system is operating without the benefit of scanners, so the advertisers can't tailor their ads according to the cars at the pumps.

When scanners are installed, automotive advertisers will be able to promote aftermarket products and services to owners of specific classes and models of cars. Non-automotive advertisers will be able to make media decisions based on car type and geographic location.

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