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McDonald’s customers will soon be able to have local school sports, movie previews and heartwarming human interest stories to go with their fries — McTV is here and in high definition.

In one of the most unusual twists in niche programming, the global fast-food chain is launching the McDonald’s Channel, a digital network of exclusive original content targeted at dine-in customers. The programming will be customized to specific communities around the individual restaurants, and will include local news and entertainment features, such as spotlights on upcoming films, albums and TV shows.

McDonald’s move is part of a broader digital-age strategy by corporate America to create its own platforms to speak directly to customers in an environment uncluttered by other media. Just as individuals have flocked to social media to tell their own stories, McDonald’s is the latest in a growing number of image-conscious corporations and institutions that will reach out to consumers by acting as their own studio and network.

“While they’re in line getting their hamburger there is no escape,” said Allen Adamson, a managing partner of Landor Associates, a firm that specializes in brand building. So-called in-store networks are “one of the last bastions where you have a captive audience,” he added.

Indeed, in the era before cable and the Internet, the three broadcast networks — CBS, NBC, and ABC — had a 90% share of the prime-time television audience. Now it is a free-for-all among the broadcast networks, hundreds of cable channels and new competitors for eyeballs such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Facebook.

“The podiums where companies can tell their stories have eroded … after the Super Bowl the list gets very short very fast,” Adamson noted.

The McDonald’s channel, being rolled out slowly during the next few months and will soon be up in 800 McDonald’s restaurants in Southern and Central California, is being spearheaded by ChannelPort Communications LLC, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in entertainment content, technology and brand management. Programming will be anything but low-key and grass-roots: Reality TV mogul Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “”The Apprentice,” “The Sing-Off”), BBC America and KABC-TV Eyewitness News are on board to provide content for the new network.

The venture, which has already been tested in L.A., San Diego and Las Vegas, is expected to reach 18 million to 20 million people a month, which ChannelPort executives said would be one of the largest daytime audiences in the region. If successful, the project, which will also include interactive elements on Web and mobile platforms, may expand nationwide.

“The intention is to catch and engage the customer, and then enhance their experience,” said Leland Edmondson, founder of ChannelPort. “The McDonald’s customer is everyone, and we want not to be passive viewers but to be active and participatory with this network.”

SOURCE: Chicago Tribune and Greg Braxton and Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times

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