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September 4, 2009

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Touch screens offer new ad strategy

MIRIAM Yuan searched for information about exhibitions and shows in Shanghai and even took a quiz about Shanghai Expo when she was recently stuck in a taxi during rush hour traffic.
She had neither a mobile phone nor a laptop to access the Internet. Instead, she was using the touch-screen device mounted on the back of the passenger seat in front of her.
"It is interesting to look at the screen when you're stuck in the middle of the road and have nothing to do," said the quality engineer who works at a Shanghai car parts manufacturer.
The touch screens are part of a new strategic wave aimed at beaming advertising to consumers in the technological age. E-mails and television commercials no longer attract the attention they once did. At the same time, cost-conscious advertisers stung by the economic slowdown are looking for more effective ways to get their messages out.
Touch-screen interactive devices operated by TouchMedia have been installed in more than 100,000 taxis in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Micky Fung, founder and chief executive officer of TouchMedia, recognized the advertising opportunities provided by a taxi's closed space and a passenger's boredom early on. He began signing up taxi operators in 2003 and launched the touch-screen service about two years ago. The system, which allows passengers to interact by touching a screen, was developed by nearly 50 employees of TouchMedia.
The Shanghai-based company completed a third round of financing in early June, raising more than 100 million yuan (US$14.6 million) from investors that included CDIB Capital, TLC Capital and Qiming Ventures.
It is now developing the fourth generation of its device, which may employ 3G, or third generation, networks to upload and download statistics collected from passengers. It may also enable users to synchronize its mobile device to the touch screen through Wi-Fi connections.
"TouchMedia has a strong growth potential in the new media sector with a distinctive technology and business model," said Dong Nianchu, director of the New Media Institute of Development Research Center at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
TouchMedia is also designing new features for its screens ahead of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, which is expected to draw large numbers of overseas visitors. Traffic information as well as tips for daily life in English may also be available.
Official support
"We're hoping to become a gateway to the city," said Neil Ducray, general manager of TouchMedia. City transport officials have been very supportive of the project because it will enhance the experience of visitors to the city, Fung noted.
As a result, he said, he doesn't expect any regulatory hurdles to expand the business.
"We're expecting to double last year's revenue with increased spending from advertisers such as car makers and popular consumer-goods producers," said Fung. The firm earned 100 million yuan in ad revenue in 2008.
Fung's company is not alone in exploring new possibilities in advertising.
Outdoor media giant Focus Media is also accelerating its pace of introducing new formats to connect with potential customers. recently launched on its portal a new section that features outdoor advertisement videos from Focus Media. That's an expansion from the ads Focus has been running on LCD screens in office buildings.
Sina's offer to buy the assets of Focus Media in an all-stock transaction valued at US$1.8 billion is still pending approval from the Ministry of Commerce. The two sides said they see cooperation as a step toward sharing advertising resources and collecting information from viewers.
"Putting our advertising videos on Sina's portal increases the chances for customers to view the advertisements and pick up more detailed information they may have missed," said Jason Jiang, chairman of Focus Media. "We hope to bring a more valuable and more effective service to our customers through the new platform."
Sina is also encouraging viewers to take part in quizzes and post questions about the ads they see. They can take part in lucky draws by filling in some forms on the Website.
"The effectiveness of interactive advertisement can never be overestimated," said Ducray. "Consumers can pick the information that they're interested in and tailor it for their own needs, compared with merely taking in the information passively from ads in the print media."
Yuan said she wouldn't mind giving some personal data if the ad is interesting and attractive.


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