LAS VEGAS — The convergence of more powerful networks, dynamic out-of-home advertising media and coin-op ingenuity was on display and up-and-running at last month’s Amusement and Music Operators Association International Expo here. The nation’s three jukebox-networking companies took center stage at the annual trade show where they unveiled their solutions for the operator’s future.
AMI Entertainment and Merit Entertainment, providers of jukebox music and videogames, respectively, have partnered with Chicago-based TAP.tv to create three content platforms running on one network. The result of the alliance, announced at the AMOA show, pro vides amusement and music operators with the tools to take full control of their locations’ entertainment options by coordinating televisions, computers and cellphones with their jukeboxes and touchscreen videogames.
Through its acquisition of Barfly Interactive Networks (Austin, TX), TouchTunes Music Corp. is leveraging its jukebox network, the largest in North America, as a primer for out-of-home marketing. TouchTunes said its network, at full capacity, could potentially deliver to advertisers 6 billion impressions annually. The company is presently reporting daily activity at 1.6 million paid songs and more than 2.3 million impressions.
For Ecast Inc., the solution to energizing the coin-op market is through fundamental change in the jukebox’s form factor, which captures more location real estate by increasing screen size. The music provider has designed a box with a vertically oriented 1080p high-definition flat panel display, which looks like a giant iPhone when hanging on a location’s wall.
The target audience of these initiatives: 21- to 34-year-old bargoers who are technology affluent. Banking on its early success as a provider of digital music in public venues, the jukebox industry is hoping to connect Madison Avenue with this influential demographic in a new world where television, computers and phones unite in an interactive mix.
Complementing the latest touchscreen jukebox developments are new and enhanced countertop videogame systems. Both JVL Corp. and Merit are offering high-def widescreen versions (see sidebars). TouchTunes’s PlayPorTT, a portable tablet, offers games and another access point to the jukebox. (Merit introduced its own portable tablet device a year ago, called Firefly, but announced in the spring that it would not bring the product to market.)
TAP.tv JOINS AMI FAMILY
Music, videogames and customized television will come together under AMI MegaNet, a newly created umbrella division of sister companies AMI and Merit (see VT, Sept.).
TAP.tv – or Targetable APplications for TV – builds custom television networks for commercial establishments using a hybrid TV and Internet technology. It combines licensed program content and Web-based tools to enable businesses to easily manage their video resources and TV advertisements. This technology will allow operators to customize and personalize narrowcast TV programming for each of their clients, and integrate it with jukebox and videogame content.
TAP.tv currently offers four channels in which a venue can insert its own ads: TAP.Xtreme, high-impact, action sports videos; TAP.News, a bar-friendly presentation, without sound, of current news, sports, entertainment and business headlines and photos; TAP.GameDay, 24/7 sports programming; and TAPmosphere, which allows all bar screens to be coordinated to deliver “mood” graphics.
According to Mike Maas, AMI and Merit chief executive, the ability to customize and personalize TV content for each client will transform TV and coin-op from a competitive stance to a cooperative force. For AMI MegaNet, the challenge is to get more eyeballs on its screens and increase interaction among coin-op patrons.
TAP.tv is running on more than 250 screens now. Maas said that the AMI, Merit and TAP.tv alliance could achieve 15,000 screens by the end of 2009. Combining the TV deployment with jukeboxes and game terminals running on broadband, AMI MegaNet’s total screen penetration can hit 38,000 by the end of next year.
Maas stressed that AMI and Merit are not abandoning their coin-op roots. “TAP.tv promotions are intended to drive increases on jukes and videogames,” he told VT. “Applications for plasma screens supporting interactivity will help operators’ revenues. It will also appeal to new locations. And better value means better commissions.”
According to Mike Nickerson, an on-premise ad pro who is now heading up AMI MegaNet, advertisers are looking to go beyond the traditional out-of-home place-based digital model of forcing ad messages onto captive audiences. “By integrating brand messages into entertainment favorites in bars like videogames, jukeboxes and big screen high-def TVs, AMI MegaNet is creating an ‘advertainment’ experience that marketing-savvy consumers embrace. We know why people go to bars and it isn’t to watch commercials. In addition to running full video ads on all screens, AMI MegaNet integrates brands directly into video gameplay and music selection and has the ability to create custom-content channels for TVs.”
TouchTunes sees strength in numbers, and is seeking to add new applications to its network of 35,000 jukeboxes. By the end of 2008, reports Dan McAllister, the company’s senior vice-president of sales, about 20,000 of those touchscreen boxes are expected to be powered by broadband connections.
PlayPorTT, which was shown in prototype a year ago and officially rolled out in August, is TouchTunes’s first non-music application. Barfly provides video entertainment with sponsored messages to the TV screens in bars and taverns. Both products integrate with TouchTunes’s core digital jukebox technology.
“We are not positioning PlayPorTT to compete with conventional countertop videogames,” McAllister explained. “Rather, we are investing in integrated components.”
Barfly’s advertising platform, he said, is a key piece to the TouchTunes media package, which will allow the company to build an out-of-home advertising product with professional operating companies.
“Since Barfly ad content runs on the jukebox network,” the TouchTunes executive said, “there is no additional investment for the operator.” Barfly already has sponsorship agreements with marketers like Anheuser-Busch, Diageo and Skyy Spirits.
ECAST GOES BIG
According to Ecast, the coin-op industry confronts three serious challenges: declining cashbox revenue; general location apathy toward digital jukeboxes; and a need to make the jukebox cool among young patrons who use social applications like “texting” and MySpace for self expression.
To break through these barriers, Ecast has created a new jukebox outfitted with a super-sized vertical flat-screen display that it is manufacturing for its music and interactive media network. Introduced at the AMOA International Expo, where it was recognized with one of the association’s four Innovator Awards, the wall-mounting jukebox’s most prominent feature is a 40-in. touchscreen monitor that provides more area for the jukebox interface and the accompanying promotions that appear simultaneously.
Called the Ecast EQ (see sidebar), the new box’s novel form factor with shallow profile represents a radical change in jukebox hardware, and will help position Ecast as a “touch media” company.
Prototypes of the new machine began testing on the West Coast in May, and more recently in New York City, under the codename “Ginger.” The design makes it not only possible, but easy for patrons to interact with the jukebox by posting text messages and photos sent by cellphones. As part of the rollout, Ecast has partnered with LocaModa to offer Wiffitti, a social application that allows consumers to send text messages directly to the EQ screen.
“EQ represents the next phase in the evolution of Ecast,” said John Taylor, the firm’s president and chief executive officer. “Over the past few years, we’ve taken the touchscreen digital jukebox beyond a music-only device to one that incorporates advertising with all the targeting of the Internet. With EQ, we’ve taken another radical leap forward, providing a new format for interactive entertainment that meets the increasing demands of our core audiences: advertisers, location operators and consumers. EQ positions Ecast for growth within our existing hospitality vertical and beyond.”
AMI’s Maas concluded that a whole new ecosystem in the coin-op world is about to be built. “We’re introducing a new set of capabilities to the industry’s sales and service organizations,” he said. “We’re offering a brand new product that operators can wrap their services around.”