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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023

Startup Claims Fix for Terminal Boredom

As far as ClearTV Media Ltd. is concerned, waiting at the airport doesn’t need to be boring. The Burbank company for the last three years has programmed a fledgling television network for airports featuring news and entertainment broadcast round-the-clock for weary passengers spending time in the terminals. Think of its ClearVision TV as CNN for the traveling crowd. In fact, the upstart has even managed to win contracts at two airports – Love Field in Dallas and Denver International Airport – that used to carry CNN. “They are looking for something that speaks to passengers better and makes for a better experience, and that is why they are coming our way,” boasted ClearTV Chief Operating Officer David Tetreault. ClearVision TV is currently at five airports across the nation with another three being added this summer. It’s boosted by a big partner – iHeartMedia Inc., the San Antonio media company that used to be known as Clear Channel. With its airport network established, ClearTV is starting a second business with equal potential, if not more: TVChannels4U.com, an ad-supported website where users can create their own personal channel from 5,000 videos. What Pandora and Spotify have been to music, TVChannels4U wants to be for video from categories such as news, entertainment, fashion, sports and travel. “It allows us to grow our business beyond the out-of-home television category in airports,” said Chief Operating Officer David Tetreault. The service is now available through its website, while a mobile app is being developed for smart phone and tablets. Will Wright, head of network operations, said the company is negotiating with content creators contributing to the airport network. It wants them to also contribute to TVChannels4U. Also, ClearTV is making its own content. Videos are filmed either in a studio at the Burbank office or on location at red carpet and other entertainment-related events. There has been video shot at red carpet arrivals for “The Voice,” “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol.” The company, too, has recently shot behind-the-scenes video with retired boxer Oscar de La Hoya. “We are working on some projects with some high-level talent that will be showing stuff that is in their lane on the entertainment side or sports side,” Tetreault said. Meanwhile, the company is trying to raise the visibility of its website by syndicating its original programming to websites operated by large media companies, such as Tribune Media, Digital First Media, CBS Corp. and Cox Media Group. “It is merely an enhancement (for them), as we are not doing anything exclusive with anybody,” Tetreault said. TVChannels4U enters a crowded field of startups and established video sites showing both short-form and long-form video. While Google Inc.’s YouTube is by far the largest of these sites, the closest to what TVChannels4U offers is Pluto.TV, a Los Angeles startup that received $13 million in funding in a round led by U.S. Venture Partners, in Menlo Park. Tetreault acknowledges that YouTube has a great video-search engine but asserts it has become so large that at times it can be tough to find what one is looking for. Additionally, the quality of the videos themselves can leave a lot to be desired. “At TVChannels4U, you are going to get premium online and broadcast-quality video as opposed to the different user-generated stuff that you may acquire on YouTube,” Tetreault said. – Mark R. Madler Still, they are going up against one of the best-known global brands in news and information in an industry category known as out-of-home media, which includes everything from billboards and ads on bus benches to more modern iterations such as video screens at sports stadiums and public areas like Times Square. “It is a large medium that is still young and is getting to a more mature status,” Tetreault said. ClearTV has a workforce of 24 employees based primarily in Burbank where all of the operations, scheduling and filming take place. There are branch offices in Brea and New York. Tetreault handles the day-to-day operations while Chief Executive Henry Mauriss spends most of his time traveling to the different offices and advancing the company’s strategic initiatives. Mauriss was not made available for comment, but he has long been interested in the potential market of airport travelers. Last decade, he was managing partner at Power Station LLC, a now defunct Brea company that set up kiosks at airports with Internet access, charging stations and USB ports. Tetreault would not disclose how much the company brings in but did say ad revenue was increasing. Indeed, out-of-home networks are becoming popular in locations where media was once virtually non-existent, such as the gas pump. And the ad market serving the networks grew 4 percent annually from 2010 to 2013, bringing in nearly $8 billion in 2013, according to Vincent Letang, director of global forecasting at market research firm Magna Global in New York. However, like other media – and even for one as dynamic as out-of-home – competition from online and mobile is eating into ad dollars. Ad growth slowed to 1.5 percent last year, Letang said. Additionally, programmers feel pressured to keep rates competitive to what is offered online. “That makes it more difficult to increase their rates, even when they increase the quality of the product,” he said. Airport origins ClearTV originally was called ConnectiVISION LLC and its plan was to develop kiosks that would show short-form video in hospitals and airports. The company, however, had difficulty, because it was taking too long to secure contracts for kiosk locations, Tetreault said. So it changed its strategy and came up with the idea for an airport network that would be available from flat-screen televisions installed at gates and other locations throughout terminals. In 2012, it formed a partnership with Clear Channel Airports, a division of Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings Inc. that operates billboards and has digital advertising at airports. It is a segment of iHeartMedia Inc. The idea was ClearTV would handle the programming, while Clear Channel Airports, with its sales team and existing relationships with airports, would handle negotiations with airports and sell the network’s ads. Under the agreements, the airports receive a 15 percent take from the gross revenue off the top, with ClearTV receiving 70 percent of the remainder and Clear Channel the other 30 percent. ClearVision network launched in the fall of 2012 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Over the next two years, airports in New Orleans, Dallas, Cleveland and Grand Rapids, Mich. were added. This summer ClearVision will begin airing in Denver, San Jose and Reno, Nev. In December, ClearTV and Clear Channel Airports extended their agreement for 10 years, so they could continue developing the network. “The key learnings over the last few years confirm the value we knew ClearVision would provide to our airport and advertising clients, consumers and the communities in which we operate,” said Clear Channel Airports President Jon Sayer in a prepared statement announcing the 10-year deal. While CNN primarily offers its own news feed, ClearVision presents morning, daytime, prime time and late night content from 200 partners, including the four major TV networks and cable channels, including Travel Channel, Food Network, Reelz, SyFy Network and Golf Channel. ClearTV also produces some original content. A one-hour block will include 45 minutes of news, entertainment, sports and lifestyle programming. There are 12 minutes of ads and three minutes given to the airport itself for promotion. ClearTV works closely with one television news station in each airport market to have local news, weather and sports broadcast in addition to national news from the big networks. “Our premise is to educate, entertain and inform a world on the go. We are creating a custom television station for the airports themselves,” Tetreault said. The company could benefit from a widely expected growth in air travel across the globe. Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration projected 746 million air passengers with an increase to 1.1 billion by 2034. “It is a high-volume environment with a lot of traffic,” said Letang, from Magna Global. The company has received financing from angel and private investors, and last year, its shares became listed on the Bermuda and Frankfurt stock exchanges to raise additional funds for expected growth. The company had originally looked at joining a U.S. exchange but its advisors recommended European markets because there was more potential. While the two exchanges do not require that ClearTV file financial statements, the company plans to do so annually starting in August. One thing that ClearTV does not know is just how much of an audience the airport network is attracting. That could change this summer when it conducts a study in conjunction with Nielsen N.V., in New York, to determine its ratings. “We had to wait until we were in enough airports to justify it and making sure we were getting the right exposure,” Tetreault said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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