Forget Elevator Music, Here Comes Elevator Internet

Social scientists say that being squashed together with other people in an elevator with all pretenses of personal space demolished is one of life’s most awkward moments.

Boston-area start-up Captivate Network is betting that when you find yourself in this position (or when you’re alone and done fiddling with your hair, tie, panty-hose, whatever), you’ll prefer to focus on a Net-linked flat panel screen telling you where to go for cappuccino or a cool new movie rather than on the evasive glances of your fellow passengers or the graffiti with Bambi’s phone number (“for a good time”) etched into the wall.

The captivate part is pretty clear here: according to the company, about 3,000 people take an average of four trips a day in the average 30-story office building — 12,000 opportunities. That could add up to 36,000 impressions per day if the average person rides long to see three messages.

Based on a five-day workweek, that’s 9.36 million impressions per year. Without the opportunity for click-throughs, these impressions will probably sell for a lower than average cost per thousand, but even at a rock-bottom $10/M (comparable to direct mail) you’re talking almost $94,000 per year for just one office building. Multiply that by tens of thousands of office buildings, hotels and high-rise apartment buildings in the U.S. and pretty soon the numbers get very real.

Real enough for Olympic Venture Partners and Advent International to seed the company with about $1.5 million back in May 1998, then to participate last month in a second, $7 million round with newcomers ABS Capital Partners and Primus Venture Partners. In addition, Captivate announced in June that they had obtained a $3 million line of credit from Imperial bank of California.

The idea behind Captivate was an Internet “IPphany” that hit founder Michael DiFranzia in an elevator in the fall of 1997. After a red-eye flight the night before and no desire to play eye-tag with his fellow elevator passengers he was wishing for a logical place to rest his bleary eyeballs. Then it hit him.

Two days later, DiFranzia quit his job as director of Mentor Graphics’ eastern U.S., Canadian and Latin American business units to start the quest for all those captive, yet ever so evasive, eyeballs.

So far Captivate says it has signed deals with Reuters, Boston Sidewalk, Accu-Weather, The Boston Herald and others to provide news headlines, weather forecasts, traffic conditions, stock market reports, airport and train delays and other content which will display on the upper three-quarters of a flat panel display. Advertisements will run on the remainer of the screen.

The company said that the recently closed round of financing will allow it to roll the system out first in the Boston area and then expand nationally. By the end of this year, Captivate says it will be delivering more than a million ad impressions per day, something sure to give revenues a. . .lift.

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