What’s the point of Cabvision?

Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief

Mark Lawson is a UK Guardian columnist and main presenter of BBC Radio 4’s “Front Row“.

Yesterday in the Guardian he wrote an article entitled “What’s the point of Cabvision” which is reproduced below or can be read here.

Cabvision of course is London’s captive audience screen network and describes itself as “an in cab TV system that delivers a captive audience in a mobile environment” – we believe they are in about 1,000 London Black Cabs (Taxis).

The name-dropping attributed by Private Eye to taxi drivers – “I had that Ricky Gervais in the back of my cab” – may now become a general boast because of the spread of Cabvision, a system that, in major cities, provides TV channels on a screen just below the back of the driver’s head.

On the ride I took from London’s Portland Place to Waterloo, six options were offered, including news, comedy and extreme sports. It was gridlock, and what I needed was news. That frequent city-dweller’s paranoia since 9/11 and 7/7 – that something terrible has just happened – seemed a perfect opportunity for Cabvision.

Except that the news bulletin was the kind you get on airport trains and aeroplanes – a pre-recorded package delivered that morning. Presumably the news omits pile-ups and roadworks in the way that the aviation headlines leave out news bulletins.

Disorientatingly, the anchor had a backdrop of London visible through a glass window behind him. So, if something terrible had happened, you’d have seen a gridlocked city with darkened skies outside the window, while the back of the driver’s seat showed a place with different weather and traffic.

I switched to the Comedy channel, which showed the Two Ronnies’ Mastermind sketch (answering the question before the last one), followed by the job appraisal one from The Office. But the show still had 16 minutes to run when we arrived.

What is the viewer supposed to do? Ask the driver to park by the kerb, running up the clock until you reach the punchline? Or go and buy the DVD?

Which, I suspect, is the hidden point of Cabvision. The most important technological TV advances have been ones that watched the programmes when you were out – VCR or Sky Plus – or those that you could watch on the go: portable players. A system that carries on without you when you get out – and tells you what was going on several hours earlier – seems unlikely to catch on.

The article is also up on their blog (just inviting comment – and indeed as I type early Friday morning there are 3 comments up).

See http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/tv/

As you read the article you will see that Mark is not that keen on the system. I have in the past pointed out the folly of allowing a user in a Captive Audience situation to choose / change channel (this applies to Les Taxis Bleus in Paris also) but Mark expands on this with his idea of what he wants (we should listen). He wants up to the minute news (though I would argue that Radio is perfect for that) but I do wonder if screen networks talk to their customers enough to see and hear what they want from the system / environment.

“All publicity is good publicity”

We have been waiting all year for a major newspaper to pick up on a screen network and now 5 days before the end of the year we have one!

Cabvision were involved in the London Chanel campaign earlier in December and I was surprised that they never capitalised on the PR and marketing potential of that event (excuses, excuses as always about embargos etc) but that event was covered by the IHT, Daily Telegraph etc etc and was a wonderful opportunity to get a very positive positioning with the media buyers, planners, brands and advertising agencies. When an article like this hits the new stands a few weeks after that (missed) opportunity it surely makes it all the galling.

One Response to “What’s the point of Cabvision?”

  1. Michael Says:

    I agree with the Guardian here. I have always felt that each single content element should always be much shorter than the anticipated dwell time. If you sepnd on average 10 minutes in a taxi, say, no piece of content should be longer than 2 or 3 minutes. One-minute pieces of content would make much more sense.

    Also, news in cabs makes no sense unless there is constant connectivity to pick up RSS-type feeds (small, affordable). When seeing canned news, all I ask myself is “what has happened since they taped this 8 hours ago”?

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