Other urban centers are also on the docket, although Intersection is keeping quiet on where for the moment.
Officially, the LinkNYC initiative is being spearheaded by CityBridge, a consortium of companies that includes Qualcomm, out-of-home transit ad company Titan and outdoor digital design company Control Group. In 2015, Titan and Control Group merged to form Intersection. Sidewalk Labs – Alphabet’s urban innovation unit and one of the “other bets” in Google’s growing portfolio of moonshot investments – has a financial stake in Intersection.
Intersection hopes to generate around $500 million in revenue for NYC over the next decade or so.
AdExchanger caught up with Etherington for a peek inside Intersection.
AdExchanger: Why focus on free Wi-Fi?
DAVE ETHERINGTON: Two things: One, New York has thousands of old, anachronistic public pay phones that aren’t being used, and two, there are around 2.5 million people in New York without access to broadband, a fact mirrored in most cities across the US and the world. More people than ever live in urban areas and the need for data is growing exponentially. Broadband Internet access was even recently made a universal human right by the UN.
But the reason free Wi-Fi hasn’t worked in the past is because of the absence of a workable financial model. That’s where advertising comes in.
What sort of data collection can you do?
We’re still trying to understand what the impact of thousands of digital displays across the city will be and what we might be able to do with the data to fuel an interesting advertising experience. That’s still a work in progress since we only started deploying this in January.
What about the targeting piece?
We’re working on that right now. Broadly speaking, the logic here is based on three things: location, time and an understanding of audience, which is enabled by the TAB [Traffic Audit Bureau], the standard industry measurement service for all out-of-home media. They measure the number of audience impressions and translate them into demographic groups for us. Adding time plus location allows us to add an extra layer of granularity.
Are there already advertisers using the platform?
We’ve worked with GM and Chevy to promote their in-vehicle Wi-Fi. We also ran a campaign for MillerCoors along with Shazam. Using beacon technology, we allowed Shazam users to listen to top 10 playlists based on microlocation according to time and neighborhood. In Chelsea, for example, Sade was the top artist. In Turtle Bay, Sonny Rollins was No. 3. And then, after David Bowie died, we watched everything turn to a Bowie playlist.
It was a way to use third-party data to witness something happening in real time, and a brand was able to facilitate that.
What kind of metrics can you provide back to your advertisers?
It used to be that when you saw ads in physical locations, there was no context or value exchange between the brand and the consumer. There was an ad there and you either saw it or you didn’t. Link changes that.
That said, we have the same metrics or absence of metrics that all physical displays have at the moment, although each Link does have a beacon in it, so if we’re doing a beacon-enabled campaign like with Shazam we can monitor the amount of interactions we get. There is also some thought around using beacons to work with retailers around attribution, to see if someone exposed to a message in the physical world changed their behavior geographically.
Are you taking advantage of Google Fiber?
Right now, there’s no plan to connect to Google Fiber. We’re laying all the fiber ourselves.
Considering the Google connection, how do you approach privacy?
We have a shared sensitivity around data and our interactions with Alphabet are all through Sidewalk Labs.
Our three focuses as an organization are citizens, cities and commerce – making sure we build products that citizens will use, that we bring value to municipalities and work within their guidelines and enabling all of this to fund itself. The backbone of all of that is ensuring that we stay on the right side of things like privacy and security. We don’t share any PII.
But brands are excited because this isn’t just about communication. This is the opening gambit toward a fairer, more responsive, smarter city for everyone.