Putting a new face on outdoor ads

StarCast brings interactive videos to idle shoppers and commuters

Walk into a shopping mall, commuter rail station or bus depot and you’ll spot scores of busy people doing the same thing — just sitting or standing around. That’s good news for StarCast Corp., a new high-tech video advertising venture developed by a small group of college frat brothers.

StarCast’s business concept is simple: set up large flat-screen video monitors in shopping malls, train stations and other public areas and use the Internet to bring interactive video advertising to pedestrians while they wait or walk to their next destination. This is a slightly different take on the pre-set videos that stores use to appeal to shoppers.

A key advantage of StarCast’s ads is that they can be changed remotely from a central location, says Kevin D. Patrick, CEO of the Madison, Connecticut-based venture. In contrast, small kiosk video-display terminals need to be updated manually and can only be seen by those standing directly in front of them.

Just as important, with StarCast’s videos, if viewers see something they like, they can use a keypad or swipe a plastic card next to the terminal to have company or product information e-mailed or snail-mailed to them.

Patrick says StarCast’s 46- to 60-inch flat-screen monitors provide an interesting and cost-effective way for advertisers to link with lingering pedestrians. Since each StarCast outdoor video cabinet (O.V.C.) can store its own advertising content, ads can be customized according to location and time of day. The O.V.C.’s would be marketed under the StarNet name for commuter locations and the MallNet name for shopping malls. “Our technology is solid. We’re not reinventing IP [Internet protocol],” says Patrick.

A critical component of StarCast’s business model is the patent it has applied for, adds the 39-year-old innovator. The patent would cover not only the actual design of the O.V.C., but also the process of bringing interactive advertising to video screens via the Internet. Once that patent is in hand, StarCast will be better able to raise the $15 million Patrick estimates it needs to build its network.

StarCast plans to launch its network in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area in 2001, and expand north and south to Boston and Washington, D.C.

Patrick says each StarCast O.V.C. would have a heavy-duty, vandal-resistant case and a photochromatic lens that brightens and darkens depending on ambient light. Since the 30- to up to 50-gigabyte hard disk in each O.V.C. can store a few hours’ worth of advertising, the O.V.C. doesn’t need to be linked to StarCast with any kind of special high-speed line; any location within reach of a phone line will do.

“You can do it wherever pedestrians dwell,” says Patrick, who handles mergers and acquisitions as director of corporate planning and development at Citizens Communications in Stamford, Connecticut. Patrick says most people think the Internet is about reaching someone at home or at work and trying to sell him or her on some company information or product. “We [my business partners] said, ‘Let’s change the path and put it here [in the mall].’”

StarCast was incorporated in 1998,

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