Networks Compete For Gas Station Viewers

Number of Chicagoans who watch TV at the pump projected to double by spring

A new kind of media war is heating up at gas stations across the country, and Chicago may be a pivotal battlefield. Two fledgling networks — Outcast Media and Gas Station TV — are competing for viewership with pump-based screens that broadcast four-minute programming loops while drivers are filling up.

Nearly 52 million customers are getting snippets of weather, sports highlights, celebrity gossip and commercials with their gas each month, according to Nielsen, a growing trend that may either ease or exacerbate the pain at the pump, depending on your perspective.

More than 4 million of those mobile couch potatoes are in Chicago, a number the companies hope to double by spring with beefed-up programming and the accelerated rollout of 10-inch color screens, coming soon to a gas pump near you.

“Our weekly reach is actually larger than most of the prime-time TV shows,” said Nathan Gill, 35, who co-founded California-based Outcast and serves as its chief revenue officer.

Outcast, which just kicked off an exclusive content deal with NFL Network, has about 13,000 screens and reaches more than 24 million monthly viewers nationwide. Michigan-based Gas Station TV has about 9,000 screens and reaches more than 27 million monthly viewers nationally. Outcast has a bigger local audience, with 2.6 million Chicago-area viewers to Gas Station TV’s 1.5 million. Both are audited by Nielsen, which of course also provides ratings for more traditional TV networks.

“We know exactly how many viewers we have because we know exactly how many transactions occur at every pump,” Gill said. “Our consumer is connected to that screen with a 6-foot rubber hose.”

Working with programming partners such as CBS, ABC, ESPN, Bloomberg and Extra, the customized loops repeat up to 15 times an hour. Segments range from 15 to 30 seconds, with half of the time devoted to content — usually promo packages for network shows — and the balance devoted to commercials.

“To the consumer, we look like television,” said CEO David Leider, 46, a former ad agency executive who co-founded Gas Station TV five years ago. “With our advertisers, we’re much more like the Internet, where everything can be sliced and diced and targeted down to that individual station level.”

National advertisers include Ford, Kraft, GM, Chase and Allstate, while local advertisers include the participating gas stations, which can pump everything from slushies to oil changes as part of the deal.

The concept dates back to 2003, when Fuelcast, formerly VST, launched the first gas-pump TVs at select stations. Outcast Media was formed in 2008 when Fuelcast merged with Bhootan, a digital out-of-home media company operating in the retail sector. In February, Outcast merged with PumpTop TV, solidifying its national footprint with more than 1,200 stations across the U.S., according to Nielsen.

Founded in 2006, Gas Station TV has grown more organically, leveraging corporate partnerships to spread its programming. While the company has fewer stations in its network, higher volume gives it an edge in total audience, with 27.5 million monthly viewers at more than 1,100 stations across the U.S., according to Nielsen.

Gas-station television networks are part of the nascent industry known as digital out-of-home media, which ranges from interactive kiosks to Jumbotrons. The overall industry grew more than 15 percent last year to $2.1 billion, according to Patrick Quinn, CEO and founder of PQ Media, a Connecticut-based research and consulting firm.

The transit category includes screens in airports, airplane, taxis, buses and trains, and is projected to surpass $100 million in revenue this year, up from $89 million in 2010. Quinn said gas station television is one of the largest and fastest growing segments of that category, based in part on its verifiable audience.

“Those can be considered guaranteed impressions,” Quinn said. “They know that you’re there and they have a receipt.”

The cost of running a 30-second national spot is about $800,000 per month on either network. A four week, Chicago-only schedule would cost about $112,600 on Outcast and about $50,000 on GSTV, according to the companies.

Studies show gas buyers skew toward men 18 to 49 — an attractive and sometimes elusive demographic for advertisers. The transactions at the pump also provide valuable information about the buying habits of the on-the-go viewers, helping to target potential clients.

“We’re able to extract a lot of information about our consumers and their spending habits by our credit card partners,” Gill said. “That gives us even more detail on what these consumers are doing and especially, where they’re going after they leave the pump, which is very helpful for our advertisers.”