This month we welcome Salomón Stroh, Gerente General, Taxi TV, Bogotá, Colombia
- How long have you been with Taxi TV? Tell us a bit about your background and how you became involved? Who are the owners?
I have always been interested in developing ideas and, from there, companies that, based on those ideas, will be profitable, help the country and their employees. I studied electronic engineering and then earned an MBA, so I have the interesting combination of engineering, technical knowledge and a business point of view.
I worked in a company that represented foreign factories to sell their products in our country – specifically in public bids. Then I stayed for five years in a factory that produced and imported upholstery fabrics to sell and export. There, I worked under the General Manager. These two jobs gave me wide experience in almost every area of a company: import, export, sales, finance, production, marketing, human resources, strategy.
While being in a big company, but not one of the largest in advertising buys, I realized that our media options (magazines, newspaper, TV, radio and Internet) were not what we needed. They were too expensive for us to make some noise or were too specific, with not much access to measurement and campaign reports. At the same time, I started noticing an interesting development in DOOH networks outside our country and I decided to do some research.
After awhile, we developed the idea of Taxi TV. It is a family business, 3.5 years old.
- Your screens seem to be suspended from the taxi ceilings as opposed to being in seat backs as in New York and London. Are they all like that? What is the reasoning behind that: government laws? Easier maintenance? Or?
That is right. They are all like the ones on the pictures on our website. The reason came up as the result of our research. It was impossible to put them In the middle of the driver and passenger seats, because of the size of taxis in Colombia, which are VERY small. The other option, as is commonly used in other countries, was the passenger headrest.
The problem in Colombia is that, because of the years when there was a lot of violence, taxis picked up passengers with a passenger that, in some cases, helped with the planned crime. For this reason – and also so that the passengers could see the taxis as ‘empty’ or ‘free’, the drivers started removing the headrests and bending the front passenger seat. This way, potential passengers could be sure there wasn’t anyone seated there and that the taxi was available.
Some other features of the system are also interesting: the sound of the screen blocks the music radio of the car when a passenger is in it; the video is turned on only when the taximeter starts; the system, being manual and not Internet-based, counts the impressions and impacts – and also, if it’s stolen, it won’t work
- Tell us about your company: how long has it been offering in-taxi screens? Does the company have any other media properties? I think I saw that you are in 10,000 taxis. Is Taxi-TV the only company offering in-taxi screens, or if not, who are your competitors?
We founded the company 3.5 years ago with the idea of having different DOOH networks but until now we have only developed the one for taxis. The idea is to offer different kinds of options to clients: taking a different focus from the traditional DOOH networks that are based on number of impacts, we want to be based on added value. Since our launch, we have seen more than half a dozen companies that tried to compete with us in the taxi network. All of them had gone broke.
We have 300 taxis in Bogota today but next year we will be increasing this number to 1.000 for the first stage, getting to 4.000 in less than three years.
These new screens will be totally different. We have learned that we need to give more to all of the different stakeholders involved. In that, I mean: passenger, driver, taxi owner, taxi company, advertiser, media agency and government. For this reason, we have developed a new system that will upgrade content remotely, be interactive, will have two screens: one for the passenger and one for the driver, giving a lot of benefits to the driver and the taxi owner.
Also, they will have a printer; the possibility of payment; GPS; and a complete security solution (cameras, communication, face recognition, car license plates, etc) for police and government.
We are not only creating a DOOH network, we are changing the way taxi transportation is used in our country to be able to really give a good service to everyone, increase our penetration, satisfy passengers and drivers and be able to have a well-designed entertaining and advertising network.
Whose software is used to manage the screens? Are they all managed from one central location? Where?
As I mentioned, today we do it manually for the 300 screens. Next year, we are planning to use BroadSign software for the new 1.000 devices. This will be controlled from a central operating location.
At the same time, we have developed the taximeter, maps, communication, music and other applications for the driver, taxi owner, management company – and at this time we are looking for a partner for the security software that will be offered to the government and police.
- Your screens seem to offer full screen ads but divided screens when showing entertainment, weather, a news ticker. How much of your content is advertising? How long are the ads and the advertising loop? Do you also have public service advertising? Amber alerts?
Advertising is about 30% within a 30-minute loop. Most are regular TV 30-second ads but we are changing this idea based on feedback from clients and agencies. They are realizing the importance of context-related ads and how efficient they could be, keeping in mind the low production costs and the characteristics of our network.
We do have public service advertising. In fact, public service make up an important part of our clients. They see the medium as a great opportunity to explain, give more information and communicate more than the one or two ideas as in a TV or printed ad.
In New York, taxis are now offering two channels, one an entertainment/news/advertising channel and the other, a new one dedicated specifically for the City of New York geared to events, entertainment and other tourism information. Are you offering anything similar or is there any thought to offering something like this?
The New York taxi network is a very good one; we use it as a benchmark for our developments. I think that, in the past, they have focused too much on payments and less on content. With their recent changes, I think they will provide a better solution. Another very interesting thing about them is that a lot of people from the world travel to N.Y. and the network has managed, through the local government, to have its system in almost every taxi in Manhattan. (Stroh is referring to VeriFone which handles the advertising for both major taxi networks in New York. Ed)
Our system uses some of these ideas, but also we have learned from taxi networks that we have seen in other U.S. cities and different part of the world. We try to unify all those concepts and be able to apply them to the culture and reality of our country. For example, Manhattan has approximately 13.000 taxis; Bogotá, our capital city, has more than 55.000. In addition, the taxis in Colombia are very small and we have to deal with some security issues – and the system of how taxi transportation works is different from most parts of the world.
In terms of advertising sales, I would say that Colombia, is underserved: there is one important newspaper, two TV channels and not more than five main radio stations for a country of 45 million people. Because of this, the process of introducing new options in terms of advertising is very difficult and slow.
We do have different types of content: entertainment, music, news, sports, etc. and also show the city’s activities and attractions. These are produced by media partners, but we are on our way to start producing our own branded content.
- What kind of research do you have re dwell time, advertising impressions, ad recall?
We have made huge efforts in research to prove to our clients that our network is a great option for their media mix.
We have had to fight against a bad image that was formed by our competitors because their networks did not work well. They had technical and operational deficiencies that implanted big doubts in agencies and clients.
Today. we deliver proof=of-play reports, but more importantly, we have awareness and attitude research every month. A certified research company finds the taxis and after the passengers get off, they are asked to fill a survey. The main objective is to measure awareness of the brand and products.
With this methodology, the average brand awareness with one impression in our network is 77%, while brands like Coca Cola have even had as high as 95%. With a comparable research, Ipsos measured billboards, getting an awareness of 35%, and TV that after 500 TRP got less than 58%.
We definitely measure our impressions and key numbers. For every taxi there are 1.200 impressions a month with a dwell time of 30 minutes and two persons per ride.
How much of your advertising is national compared to local? What are the differences in selling ads in taxis in Columbia compared to the U.S. or U.K.?
Most of our ads are national.
As mentioned earlier, there are differences between selling ads in Colombia compared to the U.S. or U.K.. In the US, DOOH networks can compete with local newspapers, TV channels and radio. In Colombia, a country with a large population, the media is monopolized by a few big groups. Agencies receive huge commissions from them when fulfilling a budget and almost every big campaign has to use those options to really be massive. Because of this, getting the agency’s attention is very difficult, so we have to go directly to the client.
DOOH is growing and this helps, but in a developing country this takes more time. Our challenge is to develop a network that is a lot more than a screen with content and ad. That is why we are moving to a high-end technology solution, giving a great service to everyone involved. This way, we will make some noise and we will definitely be part of the marketing campaigns.
- Are you planning to branch into any other media, eg. digital ads on the roofs of cabs, or?
We were conceived as a DOOH company; we want to move to other types of networks. Specifically in taxis there is not much more to do because there is a lot of regulation issues regarding outdoor advertising.
However, we can always focus on increasing the number of screens/taxis and their technology. We are planning to focus on developing TAXI TV with the additional applications that we can offer for passengers and drivers (like maps, traffic, payments, etc.) and then start other specific networks where the value offer is more than a screen; interactivity, long dwell time, printing, mobile interaction and others.
On your web site, a video shows people watching TV and then going outside and getting into a waiting cab, and, similarly, watching a computer screen and then getting into a cab? Is there any correlation, such as ordering your cabs online, or is this just for illustrative purposes?
For now there is no correlation. We are developing a solution to order taxis online and via cell phones, which will then allow a specific relationship between the passengers and the ads shown on the screens. If we know who ordered the taxi, we can communicate to him directly, taking into consideration exactly who he is, what he wants and all of his demographics.
The video on out website is for illustrative purposes, trying to show our clients how to achieve a 360 degree media mix using our network.
- Are your screens interactive? If so, please explain. If not, do you plan to make them interactive? Have you linked to mobile screens in any way?
For the new system that we will have initially in 1.000 taxis, screens will be interactive. This will help to give a better service to passengers so they will choose what to watch but also help us measure their response and give more creative options to our clients.
The network will also have a printer to print information and discounts; ads related to the position of the taxi; the weather and time of day; and even some variables that we’ll take from the car itself (eg: speed, curves, breaks, temperature and more).
- Who are your top consistent advertisers? Do you have any long-term advertiser that has been with you from the beginning?
Yes, we have had advertisers like Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, local banks, political candidates, government, telecommunication companies and more. In some cases, we have been able to get into their annual plans; with others, we have had to confirm their campaign on a monthly basis.
- I believe you operate only in Colombia. What are your plans for expansion, and in what time frame?
We operate only in Colombia.
We have received some offers to start franchises in neighbor countries. That’s our idea; we believe that our know-how in such a difficult environment gives us the chance to be able to apply it in South and Central America. Once we are strong enough in Colombia, we will study countries like Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica – always keeping in mind that the cities should be ones were taxi usage is recurrent and where a long dwell time gives us the opportunity to give an added value to clients.
- Do you have a payment system attached to your screens/taxis? Is the payment system operated by Taxi TV as well?
We are planning to do this. We face some interesting challenges because card payment in Colombia is very regulated. Because of money laundering risks and hackers, there are some limits in how to implement this. Hopefully, we will have it next year linked to our network and screens and operated by our company as well.
Are you active in the ACDOOH, the DOOH Colombian Association? In what way? What are the current key issues for the ACDOOH at this time?
In Colombia, we were one of the founders of ACDOOH (Colombian DOOH Association). We are very active and believe it’s important, mainly to educate the advertising community regarding this new media.
Next year. we would like to have a big event with international speakers, among other continuous activities, and slowly be able to introduce DOOH to the advertising community and to become an important part of the marketing budget.