Great-tasting food isn't the reason McDonald's dominates the fast-food market—the company is brilliant when it comes to marketing. And now the chain has come up with a new plan to keep people in their cheerful plastic booths: television.
As fast-food restaurants have become locations for family recreation—an indicator of a nation that has lost its nutritional way—McDonald’s has attracted customers with its Playscapes playgrounds and free WiFi. The price of admission? A meal or two (plus a snack?) of cheap, processed, fatty, high-calorie “food” and sugary drinks.
But last week the fast-food chain announced an even new way to maintain Big Mac buyers’ attention with its launch of Channel M, a TV network that offers exclusive news, entertainment, and sports shows to diners. The concept is debuting in 700 California franchises.
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Channel M is the latest building block in the construction of a media empire that seeks to keep burgers and fries in front of American consumers 24-7. In addition to a $2.3 billion global advertising budget that puts the brand almost everywhere, McDonald’s has its own radio app, a website featuring games for children, and even a burgeoning music business. It was just a matter of time before the chain added TV to its empire.
Grub Street Los Angeles called the chain’s foray into television, the “latest concept in McBrainwashing.” The article’s author also points to the major ad revenue the company will rake in as a result of the looping TV programming.
Writes Grub Street: “The M Channel will also allow the fast-food colossus to earn money on the side of its burger business by creating promotional content for any company that wants to grab the attention of McDonald's captive audience of more than 15 million customers per month.”
The M Channel’s original content will loop on big-screen TVs and will include programs produced by Mark Burnett of Survivor fame. According to Lee Edmonson, who spent eight years developing the concept for McDonald’s, the vision for Channel M goes far beyond the “passive relationship” viewers have with gas station or supermarket TV feeds. McDonald’s wants to build rapport with customers through relevant news and entertainment, eventually driving them to the Internet for even more marketing.
And in doing so McDonald’s can carefully control what their customers watch. The previous programming on TVs set up in their stores did not always fit the location, according to some franchise owners.
“The content was not necessarily appropriate,” said Philip Palumbo, who owns 11 franchises in San Diego, in the AP report. “The big things were politics. Others were violence, usually on the news, or medical stuff like showing surgery.”
McDonald’s may have had another reason to program what its customers watch while they eat: an increase in unflattering news reports about the industrial food system.
“You can imagine a news story about ‘pink slime’ is not going to make a McDonald’s customer eager to eat that Big Mac,” said Valerie Folkes, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.
Will TV at McDonald’s make you any more likely to eat there?
Related articles on TakePart:
• McDonald’s Calories Menu Shows Americans Exactly What We’re Eating
• America, Do You Know Foreign Teens Think All You Eat Is Junk?
• No Surprise: McDonald’s Still Reigns Supreme In Fast-Food Brands
Steve’s story about healthy fast food was anthologized in Best Food Writing 2011. His food and general interest stories regularly appear in Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other places. Email Steve | @thebostonwriter