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The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that CBS is acquiring SignStorey, the digital display company with flat-screen televisions in more than 1,400 US supermarkets, for $71.5 million. The company will be renamed CBS Outernet.

According to the story, “CBS has had an exclusive distribution agreement with SignStorey since 2006, exposing the network's programming to 72 million shoppers a month at SuperValu, Pathmark, ShopRite, Price Chopper and other stores, including those in six of the top 10 markets. The network chops its programming -- both news and entertainment -- into 10- or 20-second chunks that shoppers can catch as they wander around the store.”
KC's View:
Here are the paragraphs I find most interesting in the Journal piece:

The purchase is one more step in the network's bid to thrust its content before as many viewers as possible, whether they want to watch it or not. In recent years, CBS has signed agreements to broadcast whole episodes or carefully edited snippets of its shows, integrated with advertisements, on TV sets strategically placed where people cannot look away.

And:

CBS's push to gain access to in-store TV screens comes as deep-pocketed advertisers are increasingly spending more of their ad dollars on in-store marketing. As marketers deal with the waning power of TV ads because of audience fragmentation, many are eager to make their pitches and tout their brands to consumers when and where they are closer to making the purchase: in the store. Consumer-products companies such as Procter & Gamble are using newfangled aisle displays and aggressively buying ads on in-store TV networks as they seek to capture shoppers' attention right before they decide which product to buy.

This is all well and good.

But I would remind retailers that the customers who walk in the front door ought to be treated as their shoppers, not the manufacturer’s, and certainly not CBS’s.

I know that the revenue from these systems goes right to the bottom line, which is very nice. And I know that an argument can be made that these screens heighten the entertainment value in the store. (Though if they start showing clips from “CSI” in screens hanging near the service meat department, it may end up being a little counter-productive.)

But there also is a danger that they become more noise, more clutter, more of a distraction from whatever brand equity the retailer is attempting to generate through a compelling shopping experience. If I am a retailer, I’m looking for ways to make my store distinctive and to reflect a singular marketing message about who I am and how I view my customers.

In-store television systems can do that. I’m just not sure that they always do.

The Journal reports that CBS is trying to enter into these kinds of agreements with as many entities and potential vehicles as possible, and quotes George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group as saying: "I would love for somebody to be able to say, 'I'm really getting sick of seeing all this CBS stuff. That'd be a compliment."

Maybe to him. But if I’m a retailer, that’s the last guy I want having access to my customers. Because he doesn’t care about them and doesn’t care about me. He just cares about delivering eyeballs to advertisers and getting them to write a check. Which doesn’t strike me as an intelligent long-term play.