NYC Tests Interactive Video in Taxis

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Sitting in a taxi isn't what it used to be. Instead of staring out the windows, passengers in New York's cabs are watching TV monitors that provide programming about the city -- as well as an ad or two.


Seven companies will offer varying forms of the technology under a one-year test program that was approved by the city's Tax and Limousine Commission last fall.


"The public is going to decide what they like," said Allan Fromberg, the commission's deputy commissioner for public affairs. "Once we gather enough feedback, we'll decide whether or not we go forward with the program. If they want the monitors, we will create a list of specs based on what they liked."


Fromberg said four companies have their systems in 200 of the city's 12,187 cabs, with the others to follow in the next few months. The systems vary in several ways, including monitor size and level of interactivity. Some of the companies also want to create ads that will target passengers by offering coupons to be printed out on taxi receipts or "dedicated 800 numbers," which can be tracked, that riders can call from their cell phones.


"It may never be a one-to-one marketing tool because you can't keep track of who is jumping in and out of them all day and night," said Sean Cowan, senior vice president at Global Vision Interactive, which currently has its system in 20 cabs. "But there is a target affluent demographic that exists since 70 percent of the people that ride in cabs are from Manhattan riding to a destination in Manhattan."


Cowan said Global Vision expects to have its Interactive Taxi system in 200 taxis by the end of March. The touch screen, mounted in the seat behind the driver, plays a continuous 13-minute scroll of advertising controlled through wireless technology. The company chose an interactive system to let passengers dictate what they want to see.


Along the bottom of the screen are six buttons that provide more information on New York, restaurants, nightlife and business or pleasure. Advertising runs full screen until a passenger touches one of the buttons, which then divides the screen.


"One-third of the screen will have information on their inquiry," Cowan said. "The other two-thirds will run the ads."


So far, major brands like American Express and General Motors are among the nearly 20 advertisers taking part. Cowan said the system in each cab gets more than 1,000 inquiries -- defined as a touch of the screen -- daily.


Richard Thaler, president of Omni Media Network, said its eTaxiNY system has a mechanism in the back seat that lets passengers print barcodes for pre-flight check-in at the airport.


"The system is capable for a full range of couponing incentives that we will look into," he said.


Next month, City Media Corp. is to launch its system, City Media InCabTV -- The Taxi Channel. Once a passenger enters the cab and closes the door, the "Buckle your seat belt" message will air. The ads then pick up from where they left off when the previous passenger exited. City Media's monitors can be muted and will contain closed captioning.


Founding partner Joe Dane said the number of initial cabs hasn't been determined, but he would like to be in 3,000 cabs by year's end. The company is working with 13 to 15 national advertisers as well as local restaurants, movie theaters, museums and Broadway plays. The goal is to have 30 advertisers by next year.


Dane would not name his advertisers but said they are from the automotive and retail industries. Informational ads also will run about the city.


2 Bridge Media Group has TaxiVu, a closed-loop DVD-based system, in 117 cabs. Each month, TaxiVu will highlight a neighborhood in Manhattan, president Randall Ferguson said. The half-hour program will discuss the neighborhood's history and provide details on its nightlife, where to shop, museums and movie theaters.


The feature will be structured like a television show with two 30-second commercials airing in the middle and at the end of the program.


"We have taken a low-tech approach because we think it better suits the advertisers' and passengers' needs," Ferguson said. "The idea is to catch their eye and get them interested. Delivery and content is the way to do that."


Ferguson said he expects to have 150 to 200 units installed by the end of January. Fewer than 10 advertisers are signed up, but he is confident the number will rise by the end of February.


"This medium is perfect for major airlines, credit card companies, banks, cellular and wireless providers and retail apparel companies," he said.


Some of the companies plan to expand their programs into several cities in California as well as Boston and Chicago. Some also expect to begin operating in Las Vegas, where it's reported that half of the city's cabs have monitors that run advertising only.


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