The Richmond Times-Dispatch is taking its single-copy sales racks to the next level, launchingVirginia’s first digital out-of-home video marketing solution that combines technology with customer data.

In January, the Times-Dispatch rolled out theVirginiaVideo Network, a location-based video advertising solution, across 25 locations across Richmond. VVN uses demographic data to determine the best locations to market directly to consumers at the point of purchase in high-traffic retail locations.The Times-Dispatch also partnered with GPM Investments to place 10 displays in its most trafficked Fas Mart convenience store locations.

“It is aTV display monitor on a newspaper rack,” Broderick Thomas, director of VVN advertising, told News &Tech. “They can be mounted anywhere — so it doesn’t have to be on the rack — but putting these where we already have racks is the easiest way for us to get into the market.”

Thomas, who served as director of digital sales for theTimes-Dispatch before the launch ofVVN, said the project was a year and a half in the making. The publisher first became interested in the technology in late 2017, but when Lee Enterprises took over management of the paper for Times-Dispatch parent BH Media Group in June of 2018, the initiative stalled.

WithThomas at the helm, the project ramped up again in October 2018 when the Times-Dispatch ordered a total of 50 monitors for its single-copy racks.

“Since we started in January, we’ve been getting phenomenal data,”Thomas said.

How it works

The technology, underpinned by PhoenixVision’s SiteView digital billboard technology, is essentially a monitor that features a data-collection mechanism.

“It’s sort of like the (Nintendo) Wii strip in that it’s picking up movement,”Thomas said.

The displays do not collect images or video, so there are no privacy issues.

“It picks up people within 50 feet of the screen and if they engage for more than three seconds, the scanner is picking up data that is based on shoulder width, facial characteristics, etc.”

The technology can deliver information on age and gender, with a 90 percent accuracy rate. It allows the Times-Dispatch to give its advertisers reporting on how many people have seen their ads and some information about who those people are.

“It has revolutionized our ability to provide the valuable news content our audience wants, and to improve the results we deliver to our advertising partners,” Thomas said.

New advertising targets

TheTimes-Dispatch’s sales force has been creating promos to market VVN. Most of the program’s current customers are existing print advertisers who are relatively new to digital advertising. But Thomas said the program is also allowing the publisher to target traditionalTV advertisers by offering them a cheaper, yet highly effective, advertising buy.

“We can give them a similar type of ad, and the best part is that we are catching the viewers when they are out in the marketplace buying, rather than at home on their couches where they’re often getting up to go to the fridge or bathroom during an ad,” Thomas said. “It’s a much more captive audience.”

VVN runs and repeats content every seven minutes and new content loops in 15-second increments.The displays run news, updates and in-store promotion for the retail location of the rack. The remainder of the time is for Times-Dispatch advertisers.

“Your advertisers get a high level of frequency — they’re getting more screenplay than they ever would on aTV ad,” he said.

Thomas said VVN welcomes all advertisers willing to spend money, but he believes there is a huge opportunity to attract those advertisers with a television budget.

“If they’re spending “$20,000 a month onTV, we can give them visibility here for $2,000 a month and increase their reach — they don’t have to do one or the other.”

Locally, Thomas said VVN is a great fit for businesses that appeal to customers that frequent these news rack locations, such as transportation companies (think buses and carpool pairing services). The best audience depends on the objectives and the market the advertiser is trying to reach, of course, but Thomas said he’s excited that the Times-Dispatch can provide advertisers with the data to help guide those decisions and ad buys.

“Weallknowthattraditionalprintisindeclineand this is a huge benefit for papers,” he said. “We aren’t just going to let the newspaper die.”

Thomas is hopeful that VVN will increase newspaper subscriptions as well. Oahu Publications was the first publisher to roll out video marketing and Thomas said the Star-Advertiser in Honolulu has seen a small increase in subscriptions.

“This gives us the ability to continue to put out quality journalism,” he said. “As we move to the future, we can continue that and help our advertisers shift to a new paradigm.”

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