NEW YORK--Is America ready for a fifth television network? The latest contender, Cafe USA, won't be your typical network. It will be broadcast for the exclusive consumption of shoppers at mall food courts. Cafe USA will air entertainment features and news programming supported by advertising time sold to national manufacturers, who can then tag specific stores in the mall. So far, General Nutrition Centers and Levi, Strauss & Co. have signed on. Cafe USA plans to pitch specialty stores such as The Limited and The Gap and, eventually, anchor stores like J.C. Penney. The idea behind Cafe USA is to motivate shoppers to shop some more. And what better place to do that than in a food court, where the captive audience of mall shoppers is reenergizing for the next round. The company hopes to install its TV monitors in 750 malls of 500,000 square feet or larger. The concept, which was tested at Haywood Mall in South Carolina, will be launched at Haywood and two other malls nextyear. According to Stephen Bowen, president and chief executive officer of Cafe USA and a former president of J. Walter Thompson, 30 million people visit malls every week. "They're a valuable audience since they're already shoppers," he said. "Food courts are the highest grossing area per square foot in the mall," said Robert H. Lenz, Cafe USA's chairman, and a founding member of Backer Spielvogel Bates. "They extend people's stay by one hour." Bowen doesn't think shoppers will have a hard time swallowing the concept. Fifty percent of Americans watch TV while eating, he said. "Entertainment is very much what the mall industry is looking at," Bowen said. "Retailers are putting pressure on developers for traffic. "Ten years ago the mall industry wouldn't have talked to us," he added. "Now, they need help." Cafe USA's programming is described as the video equivalent of USA Today--light and fluffy. There will be news updates from ABC News, local weather, and feature segments on fashion, movies, new products and mall news, hosted by Bill Boggs and Kathryn Kinley. Cafe USA will spend $8 million to $12 million a year on programming. The company also plans to install interactive kiosks as a companion to the network. The kiosks will offer store listings and coupons. Each Cafe USA multimedia installation costs about $175,000, according to Harvey S. Wilson, executive vice president of operations. The company hopes to gross $250,000 per year, per mall, in ad revenues. Cafe USA will carry eight minutes of advertising every 30 minutes.
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