In a small windowless, Rosemont room, a pretty and effusive young woman stands in unnaturally bright light, between a green wall and a video camera.

"Hey, it's Elena, and you're watching 'The Buzz Blender,'" she says, part of a series of bumpers she's recording for that program, which combines music videos, celebrity chatter and chances to win hipster swag.

Her producer warns her against getting too "squinty." While waiting for the TelePrompTer to load, she sings a fragment of a Kristin Chenoweth song. One time, she says "iPod" for the giveaway item, instead of "iPad."

And, in a kind of inadvertent metaphor, the producer, Bill Connell, asks the host, Northwestern University theater major Elena Besser, for "a different inflection on 'AkooTV.'"

"Buzz Blender" is the daily afternoon show of AkooTV, a closed-circuit network that plays in the food courts, mostly, of 166 shopping malls and on 25 college campuses across the country.

Last month Akoo added a new location. As the result of a five-year, $1.5 million deal, the former Rosemont Theatre now bears the name Akoo Theatre at Rosemont and a fresh new sign that says so.

It's part of a coming out party for the company, a "different inflection" for it, if you will. Last year, in July, Akoo moved from Elmwood Park to slickly designed offices atop a Rosemont office building, just up River Road from the theater. That building, too, bears a big Akoo logo.

But what, those who learned of the new theater name might ask, is an Akoo?

It is a Greek word meaning "to listen," founder Niko Drakoulis says, and it is a name he has carried through two iterations of technology company. The first one specialized in online streaming, well before Pandora, and made devices that allowed people to play digital music stored on their PCs through their stereos, similar to today's Sonos and Squeezebox products.

But the TV network has been the focus since 2001 and, after initial tests in 2006, it is finally starting to pay off. This year Akoo expects to be profitable for the first time, no small feat when you consider that most of the almost 200 AkooTV viewing areas includes half a dozen of the company's side-by-side TV screens (and often more), plus a sound system and video cameras to allow the main office to keep tabs on how the screens are working.

Drakoulis, a compact man with thick, dark hair slicked down, is patient and ambitious. "It's going to take a lot of years to become the Twitter, to become the Facebook, to become the Google," he says, emphasizing that he wants to "scale" the AkooTV brand and "make it kind of a family, household name."

To get there, he's relying on a formula that's part MTV: the early days, and part modern multiplatform marketing.

Renaming the theater only happened, he says, because Akoo was looking for extra space to host events or film bands that come in to perform on the network, which the company says 64 million shoppers each month have a chance to see via food court visits.

The naming rights was probably the least valuable component, initially," Drakoulis says. Communications officer Andy Stankiewicz says that at the recent Jerry Seinfeld stand-up show at the Akoo Theatre, the company was able to give VIP treatment to advertisers and potential advertisers.

What's clever about the AkooTV model, from a revenue standpoint, is that it plays to a basically captive audience that's in a shopping mood, and it puts a twist on traditional in-store TV, both by making its own programs and doubling the screen real estate.

Not only does the look of the side-by-side screens arrest the eye, but the screens work in concert to drive home a pitch. While the right-hand screen, most of the time, takes the lead, its counterpart is supplementing the message, like a good backup singer or rhythm guitarist. It tells you where to text to enter a contest, how to get more information about a product or download a coupon.

"The left screen is basically a marketing channel educating consumers," Drakoulis says. "We supercharge any television spot." Meanwhile, the third screen — tied in intimately via an Akoo app — is the viewer's cellphone or tablet, from which people can request videos.

The music mix is comparable to what a contemporary-hits radio station, like a WTMX-FM 101.9, would play: Katy Perry, Adele, Drake, David Guetta. And the scripts written for the veejays emphasize music and other pop culture: the Grammys, new movies or TV shows, Snooki's impending baby.

"It's conversational, like I'm talking to a friend of mine," says Besser, the veejay from Northwestern. "The things we're discussing are things we would typically talk about: technology, celebrity stuff …"

And while Akoo's programmers — led by the Chicago company Super Genius, run by two former Leo Burnett ad men — ponder a new show targeting the young-mother demographic, don't think the company hasn't considered trying to get shows onto more traditional television.


About The Author

Founder of BeMozza

Related Posts