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IQ News: Cool Tool - Captivating Audiences

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Elevator ads use wireless technology.
Anyone who has worked in a high-rise office tower knows the blank, forward-facing stares of elevator passengers as they ride to their desired floors. People will occupy their time either by looking at their feet or at the numbers on the panel, and most everybody would agree that the short ride from lobby to office sometimes can feel like an eternity, given the fact that there is often little else to do but wait.
Looking to capture the attention of consumers during their otherwise unused "drive time" riding up and down elevators, Michael DiFranza, president and CEO of Westford, Mass.-based Captivate Network, has devised a way to deliver content and advertising messages via wireless Internet monitors that are mounted in elevator cars.
Using flat panel displays that can be built into new construction or retro-fitted into existing elevators, the Captivate Network system delivers everything from national news and sports to local weather and the menu for the office cafeteria, all culled from either Captivate's regional servers or from servers housed in the office buildings.
The company has inked content deals with The New York Times, Reuters and Boston Herald, among others.
A dozen buildings in the Boston area use the Captivate system, including Boston's Seaport Hotel. Two office towers in New York City also have been fitted with the monitors, and work on the Worldwide Plaza in midtown Manhattan is expected to be complete by mid-December.
The Worldwide Plaza deal is particularly sweet, DiFranza says, because it's the worldwide headquarters of Ogilvy & Mather. "There's nothing like having our product sitting in front of [advertising executives] every day."
Unlike the old-media, closed-circuit cable television model of similar ventures, Captivate Network's wireless Internet system can quickly pull information and news from content providers all over the Web. It also demands significantly lower startup and maintenance costs.
DiFranza says that a large office complex with 20 to 30 elevators would cost around $100,000 to fit with Captivate's system.
Of course, elevators aren't the only place people stand around waiting. Web-based info screens could soon start popping up in front of lines at ATMs and sporting events as well. "We've been approached by a lot of different people for a lot of different applications," says DiFranza. "But we would probably create a different channel to support that, because it's a different set of demographics than we're bringing in the office tower market."
So what do the riders say to this latest information incursion? "The monitors are fun," says Ernest Sanchez, a trader whose firm, Gilford Brokerage, is located in one of Captivate's buildings in New York. "It's cool to get news about sports and weather when I'm getting in or leaving the office."
"I find it strangely interesting," says Amy Garvey, an editor at Kensington Publishing, also located in a Captivate building. Though the same information is available to her on her desktop, she finds herself looking at the Captivate screens during those long minutes in transit.
DiFranza says Captivate's research suggests that well over 90 percent of the people watch the screen regularly.
But, he says, "For the 10 percent of elevator passengers who want to continue to look at their shoes or watch the numbers or disappear into their own world, we need to be respectful," which is why the system does not have an audio component.
Captivate is targeting the top 25 media markets as it looks to grow its reach and carve out a niche among media buyers.
"The key for us is we're trying to build awareness in the ad community," DiFranza says. "They can't get access to business people during the day. We can. And we can deliver information to them in a pretty surefire way."
Unless, of course, people start taking the stairs.