Commuter TV Finds Captive Audience

Starting next week, Atlanta commuters can watch local news on the bus. Meredith Broadcasting's CBS affiliate WGCL is producing five-minute newscasts to run on about 500 buses on Atlanta's MARTA system through Transit TV.

“This gives us an opportunity to extend our brand and get our anchors in front of commuters every day,” says WGCL General Manager Andy Alford.

At a time when local stations are fighting to keep viewers from defecting to new media, broadcasters are hungry to reach audiences in more places. Local news is considered a station's greatest weapon. Broadcasters are already bulking up their Websites and wireless products, and working with Transit TV or other out-of-house networks is just one more way to get exposure.

Atlanta is one of five markets, including Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles, where Transit TV's service runs on buses and trains. It will expand to San Diego later this year and has bids pending for Washington, Boston and San Francisco systems. In each market, Transit TV runs hour-long loops of morning and afternoon programming, with 46 minutes of news, weather and entertainment and 14 minutes of ads and promotional spots. Content is updated throughout the day when buses drive through wireless “hot spots.” With the audio kept at a modest level, Transit TV claims that complaints about the offerings have been nonexistent.

Six-year-old Transit TV is part of a growing pool of companies piping video to audiences stuck on buses and trains—and even at gas stations. On Atlanta subways, a rival system, The Rail Network, pumps programming—including news from powerhouse ABC affiliate WSB—to 15-inch flat-screen monitors. Earlier this month, Gas TV, which is testing monitors at pumps in select Dallas gas stations, unveiled plans to wire up its service at stations in the top 25 markets by early 2008. It's partnered with ABC for national news and gets local segments from ABC's owned-and-operated stations and affiliates.

In Orlando, Hearst-Argyle's NBC affiliate WESH produces two five-minute newscasts daily for Transit TV's system. General Manager Bill Bauman says he can reach new groups of viewers, including the city's fast-growing Hispanic population, who might not be watching WESH. Bauman himself recently hopped on a bus to check out the product firsthand. “The news would come on, and everyone would look up at the monitors,” he says.

Along with exposure, Transit TV's system offers stations a business upside. WGCL gets a segment for promoting its programs during the newscasts. When WESH's Bauman negotiates a new contract, he says, he may ask for a 30-second spot to sell to an advertiser.

Transit TV is seeking station partners in its other markets too. “Los Angeles is a particularly hot one,” says Director of Marketing Robert Bridge. “The system has 1.2 million riders per day. The exposure is comparable to a network show.”