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GSTV Pumps Media Into the Mundane

David Leider CEO Gas TV-Birmingham










TV is just about everywhere these days, not only at home but everything from shopping carts to taxi cabs. So why not add televised entertainment to one of everyday life's most mundane activities: pumping gas? 
That's the essential theory behind Birmingham business GSTV, a television network which presents entertainment and advertising via TV screens at the gas pump. "You might only go to the gas station once a week, but we operate it like a 24/7 TV network," says GSTV CEO and founder David Leider. "It's always fresh." 
GSTV screens carry content from partners including CNN, Bloomberg Television, and ESPN in 111 markets nationwide. The company also offers location-specific content in a segment called "Your Neighborhood," as well as advertising from major clients including Ford, Wal-Mart, and Verizon. 
"Thirty-three million people view us every month at the pump, which makes us significantly larger than the ratings on most of the television shows you see," Leider says. "There are a few that beat us, like 'American Idol' or a few reality series or 'Sunday Night Football.' But we deliver to a lot of people."
GSTV got off to a much more modest start in 2006, when Leider launched the business in his kitchen with a staff of three. Leider says the time was right, with the advent of WiFi making a connection between gas stations and content providers feasible for the first time. Although the company started small with a pilot program in five Dallas gas stations, Leider aimed high with the first major content partner he sought out: ESPN. 
"We took a trek up to Bristol, Conn., and we were very fortunate that we didn't get kicked out," he says. "They saw the value of putting their ESPN brand at the pump." 
The company has since grown into its current Birmingham headquarters, with a staff of 79. Leider credits his company's success to the unique combination of high-profile content and a traditionally dull environment. "We had immediate likeability because when you pump gas, you know, it's boring," Leider says. "You want something to do."
Bruce Milen, operator of the Marathon gas station at Woodward and 11 Mile in Royal Oak, has had GSTV at the pumps for three years now. Milen says the feature allows him to promote his station's car wash business, while also enhancing his customers' experience with entertainment at the pump. 
"When you get gas, it's $4 a gallon and it's not necessarily a wonderful experience," Milen says. "It gives them something to look forward to when they're coming in."
While TV screens may be popping up in more and more locations, Leider says that it's still crucial from a business standpoint to consider whether anyone will actually want to watch them. He compares the expansion in out-of-home TV to the dot-com boom (and bust). 
"There's a lot of people that went into it and they were more on the hardware side, and they said, 'We can put screens any place,'" Leider says. "They just have not been successful. There's one television screen in a corner, and people just are not paying attention." 
The concept of media over-saturation doesn't seem to worry Leider so much as the idea of keeping relevant, entertaining content in places where people will actually care to see it. "You've got to create an experience that is not wallpaper, that is actually engaging," Leider says. "And the networks that have that content focus are going to be successful."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and contributor to Metromode and Concentrate.

All Photos by David Lewinski Photography
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