Birmingham entrepreneur pumped to be a TV mogul at gas stations

Entrepreneur fuels business at gas stations

  • The Detroit News

A Birmingham entrepreneur wants to have the largest television network in the country — reaching more viewers than the largest cable or traditional networks. And he thinks he has just the way to reach that mass audience — at the gas pump.

As founder and CEO of Gas Station TV, David Leider already has become a fast-growing media and retailing phenomenon.

In five years, the TV network has grown to employ 37 people, reach 27 million gas pumpers a month at more than 1,100 service stations across America and have a presence in more than 100 metropolitan markets.

“Right now, during the course of a week, we’ll deliver as many viewers as one of the top 10 TV shows on one of the networks,” said Leider, a 44-year-old former advertising agency executive. “So we intend to be the largest TV network in the country by number of people reached. That will be a lot of work, but we have a goal.”

When Leider started the business, he sought to succeed where the oil industry had failed. About 15 years ago, major oil companies tried to figure out how to get customers to watch TV at the pumps, but failed because the screens cost too much and broadband connectivity wasn’t widespread. They also weren’t TV-savvy.

But Leider is because of his advertising and marketing background. For example, when he worked at Yahoo!, he oversaw sales, strategy, marketing and public relations for its automotive, pharmaceutical, travel and consumer packaged goods categories.

With financing from IZI Media, a New York-based venture capital firm, Gas Station TV first was tested at Murphy USA gas stations at Wal-Mart stores in Texas. Quickly, Leider found out that captive consumers at the gas pump prefer four basic types of programming: news, weather, entertainment and sports.

So he struck deals with major providers of each for pump-specific reports: ESPN, Accuweather and NBC Universal providing NBC, CNBC and MSNBC News and its “Access Hollywood” show.

Each programming cycle lasts no more than 4 1/2 minutes because that’s the average time it takes for Americans to pump the average tank of gas. Gas Station TV content is updated eight to 10 times a day. But updates come three times daily from ESPN, so pumpers expecting to get up-to-the-second scores may be disappointed. Still, Leider said his service can deploy major late-breaking news on all of its TVs within 15 minutes.

Leider has been able to line up blue chip advertisers that include Chevrolet, Ford Motor Co., American Express, Pepsi, Allstate, Sprint, Verizon and Yahoo. Lately, Gas Station TV has shared with them new Nielsen research that showed a near tripling of purchase intentions for PepsiCo’s Amp drinks among Gas Station TV watchers after an eight-week advertising campaign.

A strong part of Gas Station TV’s appeal is its ability to localize messages. Each ad supplies an “action tag” with geocentric information such as the locations of the nearest Chase bank branches, or even the availability of Pepsi Amp in the service station’s convenience store.

“That’s a huge differentiator for us compared with local TV,” Leider said.
“I can cover a market like they can, but every station has its own (Internet) address, so we can drive people to the closest (auto) dealership or Best Buy.”

Leider gains by keeping his startup in Metro Detroit, he said, because of the inexpensive real estate and the availability of lots of great talent who have lost their jobs in the recent meltdown of the local advertising community.

A couple of rivals have popped up since Gas Station TV’s debut — Outcast and PumpTop — but Leider professes little worry. The competitors are much smaller, came from the electronics-hardware business and can’t match his company’s relationships with content providers, advertisers and retailers, he said.

But last month Gas Station TV sued Outcast, claiming its vice president of sales, Michael Mongelluzzo — a former NBC employee who had negotiated with the Birmingham company — had stolen trade secrets and made false claims that resulted in $1 million in lost business. Outcast wants the case dismissed, saying it is a frivolous suit.

A Mediaweek story reported that some ad buyers weren’t impressed by Outcast’s negative sales pitch against Gas Station TV.

But the controversy hasn’t diverted Leider from his lofty goal. The question now is whether he can reach more viewers at the gas pump than traditional and cable outlets can in the home.