Installing Wi-Fi On Trains Just For The Ads
By Mike Masnick, Wed Dec 22 02:00:00 GMT 2004

A company is putting up a Wi-Fi network for a train system in Toronto. Rather than creating it for passengers or even railroad employees, it's designed to show ads to travelers on the train. Aren't there better ways to use this technology?

There are plenty of efforts underway to put Wi-Fi networks on trains. Mainly, this is because train operators realize there's demand out there for commuters and other travelers to have access to the Internet while they travel. Some also believe it can be helpful for railroad employees as well -- allowing them to do things like collect tickets electronically. However, the reason behind setting up Wi-Fi for trains in Toronto apparently has nothing to do with helping passengers or employees. It's just there to help advertisers.

The plan is to set up a Wi-Fi network, and then place networked displays throughout train stations and the railroad cars themselves, to blast video ads all day long to a "captive audience." That is, instead of using this technology to make users lives' better by giving them the option not to be a captive audience staring at a wall, the plan is to bank on the fact that they have no other options. Of course, as soon as faster cellular access becomes more common travelers will have many other options, and the audience won't be so captive any more -- though, they might be annoyed by the Wi-Fi-enabled ads flickering on the walls around them.

This is yet another effort from marketing types who come from an age where advertising means getting your message in front of people no matter how. People need to understand that, with technology today, the captive audience is going away, and advertising is about giving people content they want, not content they want to avoid.

It would seem to be a lot more effective to set up a similar Wi-Fi network, but to simply have a login screen that offers discounts to people, or asks them if they're looking for information about a particular destination. Then, you have much more targeted advertisements, providing people what they want. At the same time, passengers are encouraged to ride the train, because they can access the Internet and not be bombarded by annoying video ads.