I nvention leads to more invention, at least for Channel M.

The pioneer in the niche of non-traditional media is honing inventive ways to sell the traditional varieties of media such as movies and music.

Non-traditional media refers to in-store advertising, particularly in-store video. Channel M is one of the oldest and largest in-store video producers in the world, having started in 1989. The company has clients such as EB Stores, Payless Shoes and Kampgrounds of America and boasts of reaching 2.8 billion consumers annually.

By 2002, Los Angeles-based Channel M had revolutionized in-store TV by creating custom networks for stores. And like a real broadcast TV network, the company began selling advertising. For video game chain EB Stores, for example, Channel M still produces a monthly two-hour looped tape in an "Entertainment Tonight"-like format that screens in more than 1,350 stores.

When Hollywood Records, a division of Burbank-based Walt Disney Co., approached Channel M about promoting alternative rock back Breaking Benjamin, it spawned a new round of inventiveness.

Instead of just appearing in EBTV commercials, lead singer Ben Burnley reviewed video games and talked about his favorite gaming moments. The in-store channel also copped some exclusive behind-the-scenes footage during the filming of a BB music video.

"If you're a gamer it's relevant, and if you're a Breaking Benjamin fan it's totally relevant," said David Teichner, Channel M's chief executive. "It's a perfect example of taking something that's been done for awhile into new directions."

The project combined an established record label, gaming and in-store video. It didn't hurt that several of BB's songs gained fame due in part to their prominence in the games "Run Like Hell," "WWE Smackdown!" and "Halo 2."

"This kid's whole life is about rock 'n' roll and video games. The tour bus has every platform game box imaginable," said Rob Souriall, vice-president of strategic marketing and promotion at Hollywood Records, referring to Burnley. "It makes for a great relationship between rock 'n' roll and gaming, and you can't beat the demographics."

Souriall times the EBTV coverage to break during a 45-day window around the release of a CD. He works directly with Channel M, not through the label's ad agency. He noted that BB's latest offering "Phobia" sold 124,000 units during its first week of release, which started Aug. 8.

Channel M describes its product as "in your face advertising," and the company works hard to make the sure the video doesn't become just background noise. "We stay ahead of the curve by providing unique customer custom programming. In four years, we've had more than 100 big-name talents on the screen saying, 'You're watching EBTV.' The retailers love it," Teichner said.

The entire in-store video sector has succeeded by following a marketing model set forth by Paco Underhill in his book "Why We Buy," first published in 2000. Underhill predicted that in the future, retailing would become an entertainment experience. McDonald's, for example, added children's playgrounds, and Footlocker became a hangout for mall-browsing sports fans. Neither playgrounds nor big-screen sports games actually move merchandise for these retailers, but Teichner said research proves that in-store video keeps customers in the store longer.

And as marketers scratch their heads over the effectiveness of traditional TV, the in-store medium is receiving more attention.

Captive audience

By selecting the right store chain or independent venues (such as bowling alleys or sports bars), marketers can determine the demographics of the audience. In-store viewers can't change the channel, and the messages catch them in a free-spending frame of mind.

Besides its steady advertisers of movie studios and game publishers, in the last three years Channel M has negotiated deals with packaged goods, financial service and automotive companies. "As we grow, we plan to add more locations, to mature in terms of our program offerings, and to become a line item in a lot more marketers' media plans," said Teichner.

Souriall recommends non-traditional media to other marketers as long as the demographics check out. "If they have a product or service that targets guys in that cell of 16-34, video gaming is more powerful than TV or any other traditional medium," he said.

On the retail side, the future looks brighter than a saturated video signal for the entire in-store industry, given how TV screens now proliferate everywhere from grocery stores to airport lobbies. Teichner credits new technology; he said plasma flat-screen TVs are lighter and cheaper than tube-based TVs, making it more practical for store owners. "Grocery stores are looking at the ad revenue potential. It can be pretty lucrative for a retailer," he added.

Channel M was founded by Teichner's uncle in Chicago. Teichner, who had founded and was running collegiate marketing company Genco Advertising, took over when his uncle died unexpectedly in 1997. He moved to Los Angeles in 1999 and has grown Channel M from a company with its tapes in 100 video arcades into the current firm, which has its productions in more than 36,000 various locations.

"So much of our business, then and now, comes from here, and what we do blends so much between media and entertainment," he said. "At the end of the day, it's either here or New York, and I choose here."

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