Big Media on Campus: a4 Services Target the College Crowd

By a4 Advertising InSites Archives
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About 20 million Americans in the 18-24 age bracket are heading back to college and university campuses to begin the fall semester. And about half of them have access to one of the few sources for college-focused reach: a4 on Campus.

Cable system owner Altice USA manages the venture through its a4 advanced advertising sales division and Cheddar, a channel owned by Altice that specializes in business, finance, technology and culture. There are two separate services on offer: the site Rate My Professors and the Cheddar U network.

Cheddar U is available at approximately 400 colleges and universities on around 1,400 wide-screen TV sets or monitors placed inside student union buildings, food courts, gyms and other public venues. Students can watch the ad-supported network live from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. local time, or round-the-clock in their dorm rooms if Cheddar U is part of their schools' closed-circuit cable hookup.

According to a4, around five million students view the service in some fashion every month. With more students expected to attend classes in person this fall as the coronavirus pandemic becomes endemic, monthly attendance could increase. Matt Kaplan, Altice USA's Senior Vice President of National Sales, noted that Cheddar U engages Gen Z viewers in a highly effective manner and represents a unique opportunity for advertisers. "You're looking at a one-to-many experience," he explained. "One screen is reaching dozens of students at any given time."


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Distribution challenges make it difficult for most other multichannel operators and national TV services to reach so many young people on campuses, he added, noting that a4 is intent on "super serving" the college cohort. "We see it as a great business for us, one that we feel has a continued opportunity for growth," he said.

Altice USA entered the college/university scene through the remnants of MTVU, a campus-distributed network that its former owner, Viacom, established in 2002. Cheddar gained control of MTVU in 2018, replaced it with its own network, then turned the entire operation over to Altice USA two-and-a-half years ago.

Rate My Professors attracts students in a different way. It profiles tens of thousands of college/university professors and invites users to write and post reviews of classroom experiences. The site draws about five million unique visitors per month, with increased traffic at the start of each semester, according to a4.

Advertisers have the option to buy space or messages on either Cheddar U or Rate My Professors separately or in a combination deal.

Recent sponsors of the two services include Chevrolet, 7-Eleven, Invesco, Morgan Stanley, HBO, Bayer, Ernst & Young and Wendy's. Quick-service restaurants (QSRs), entertainment and job recruiting companies are the top product categories, according to Kaplan. QSRs often highlight special offers or discounts at their near-campus sites.

"We're using custom creative to engage students in a way that's most appropriate for each platform," Kaplan said.

Some advertisers, using addressable or digital technology, insert one- or two-minute vignettes or commercials into Cheddar U's feed to reach students at a specific campus or group of institutions. Currently, Chevrolet has an ad campaign playing on Cheddar U within historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Of the more than 100 HBCUs across the country, about 40% offer Cheddar U.

Various third-party research entities also provide a4 on Campus with updated data on foot traffic in spaces where the large-screen TVs are located, as well as brand recall and impact on local sales among students. "We're looking to add as much data and attribution to our partners' campaigns as possible," Kaplan concluded.

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