McDonald’s, long a vigorous proponent of marketing its brand through television and the Internet, is hoping its proprietary in-restaurant video-content network will provide the quick-service chain with yet another way to communicate with customers.
Called the McDonald’s Channel, the exact content has yet to be determined. But one of the project’s architects said the network likely would feature a variety of subject matter and “stories” developed by McDonald’s and outside companies that will help enhance the guest experience.
The network, which will be broadcast on high-definition, wide-screen displays in the chain’s restaurants, will be tested in about 650 company-owned and franchisee-operated McDonald’s restaurants in southern and central California beginning this quarter. The extended test stems from an initial trial at 25 locations that began more than two years ago.
The test is being conducted by ChannelPort Communications LLC, a Los Angeles-based company created specifically to develop the digital out-of-home network. Lee Edmondson, ChannelPort’s chief executive, said the channel is intended to be “turnkey” for operators by using in- restaurant computers with network connections to serve up content to multiple high-definition, wide-screen displays.
The network test is the result of a search for ideas of how to effectively leverage the display screens being introduced in new restaurants and added through the ongoing store-remodeling initiative sweeping across the McDonald’s system, Edmondson said.
McDonald’s will play about 90 seconds of promotional programming each hour, and outside companies will have the opportunity to fill an additional eight minutes of paid messaging slots in each 60-minute period, he said.
“When I look at this, I think, ‘This is where real estate meets social media,’” Edmondson said, noting that McDonald’s Channel is projected to reach 18 million to 20 million California consumers per month.
Edmondson recently spoke with NRN about the project.
Why did McDonald’s initiate the McDonald’s Channel project?
The key is that these screens can add to the [guest] experience, and they can add to the brand. McDonald’s and other brands can tell a different story in this environment than they could on traditional television and on the Internet. We found there was a significant interest in all kinds of stories if they were done in a much more subtle way … if we were storytelling as opposed to advertising.
What can you tell us about the content on the McDonald’s Channel?
It is clearly not intended to be something for McDonald’s to chat away at its customer. The minute and a half McDonald’s will use will probably be story lines about what they are doing at Ronald McDonald House Charities, or “How do you make a Big Mac?” It is amazing to watch customers sit in a restaurant with a 90-second piece on how you make a Big Mac, and everyone is watching it. Nobody really knew or knows, I think, all the quality stories about things being done. I think the consumer, particularly one who has an affinity for McDonald’s, is going to enjoy it. So that will be the direction we take that program.
Can you explain the business model?
What we’re moving toward in our business model is to give major brands that have significant relationships with McDonald’s an opportunity to think about this television channel in a different way and think about being in the content business and entertaining the customer and being much more subtle with the specific brand engagement. [It’s] like letting the 30-second commercial be one part of the story, with the two-minute [long-form] story being the main part of the brand story.
It also gives us a tremendous opportunity to work with the [movie] studios in their green band [approved for all audiences] trailers.
How will the McDonald’s Channel and mcdonaldschannel.com website play off each other?
You might only see a minute to two minutes, or maybe even 30 seconds, of a piece of content on the channel, but then can go to mcdonaldschannel.com to have a deeper relationship with that particular piece and get behind the scenes into certain blogs, or whatever the consumer might want to do.
An example of that is to picture that J. Lo might be coming out with her newest music video. The McDonald’s Channel could provide 15 to 30 seconds of an introduction to that music video, and the consumer could go to the website and see the full video, [or perhaps] be among the first consumers to be able to download that particular song.
Do you expect interactivity between the channel and the website while guests are in the restaurant?
That’s the great thing about McDonald’s offering free Wi-Fi; the channel itself will certainly adopt that strategy and invite the consumer to participate there.
Explain the channel’s navigational tools.
It has an interactive nature to it, and it also has a navigation component to it that tells the consumer when they walk in what they’re watching and very quickly gives them a synopsis of what the future content is, because you may be interested in today’s news, I might be interested in today’s sports, and my wife might be interested in what the latest fashion news is. So, if I see that in seven minutes the sports highlights are going to be on, then I’ll sit and watch. Or, if I don’t want to wait, I’ll go to mcdonaldschannel.com if I have my computer, or if I have my mobile [device], I’ll go to mcdonaldschannel.mobi and go into that specific content that I’m interested in.
How will the McDonald’s Channel differ from other out-of-home digital content networks?
I’m not sure the world needs another place to just watch the same content you can see everywhere else. But I do think that the world is open to the aspiration that maybe I can see something different, and maybe I can see something that is of interest to me. [I’m talking about content from] a brand that demonstrates that it cares a little bit about me as a person [and] develops safe content, so if I’m there with my kids, I don’t have to worry about seeing something that I would keep my kids away from everywhere else.
When will consumers start to get a sense for the McDonald’s Channel?
Internally, we look at the first two to three months as a soft launch. But you will see the local news; you’ll see sports; you’ll see weather; you’ll see specialty programming; you’ll see a little bit of “only available at…”; you will start to see some co-brand relationships around content; and you’ll start to see specific co-brand promotions, contests and opportunities. You’ll start to see that by the latter part of the first quarter [of 2012].