Flashcast’s hybrid play seeks to create both an ad medium to reach the new middle classes and a mass-based Twitter

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Flashcast’s founder Jeremy Gordon wanted to solve a simple problem. There were very few low-cast advertising channels for small businesses in Kenya. He decided to create a geo-locational, wireless-run bus service in Nairobi. Russell Southwood talked to him about the potential for its new service.

Sixty per cent of those who commute to work in Nairobi walk and 5% drive cars. The remaining 35% either make their commute in the rather lethal micro-buses known locally as matatus or travel in the larger coaches know by the their licensing status, as PSVs (Public Service Vehicles). The people who get on PSVs are the coming middle class. They can afford a bus fare and at the end of the month they often contain car drivers who don’t have the cash left for petrol.

Gordon’s idea has been to put an LED based unit at the front of selected PSVs that that has geo-location functionality and offers scrolling text. The bus drives past a beauty salon that is advertising and its advert comes up. Currently it’s available on between 33-55 buses on 3 routes but there are 2-3,000 PSVs and Gordon would like to be on all of them.” The owners are all private and Flashcast has worked through owners’ associations to get them installed: 15% of these collective organisations cover about 80% of the market.

”The technology is the exciting part. It’s both innovative and affordable.” Within the next few months, he will be upgrading the LED based units to ones that will do both graphics and text with a 22 inch LCD screen.

Current small advertisers are hardware stores, beauty salons and schools. It also recently got Safaricom as an advertiser through its agency Scanad. It has been sending sales reps along its bus routes with an Android phone and an app that allows them to sign up and insert the advert on the spot.

There will also be another Android app that will allow users to know where the buses they are waiting for are and an end to end route time.

It is working with IBM Research on a project that would create information hubs where people could walk in and using an agent input content to the Flashcast fleet:”It would be like posting something to a community board,” a bit like classified ads.

Gordon is interested in seeing where this new hybrid medium might go so is looking
looking at what people want to share. Passengers will be asked to send in their thoughts on a particular research topic.  For example, if you had one wish, what would it be? Flashcast also wants to get a short code so that users might be able to post to the bus-based screens creating something like “a mass-based Twitter.”

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