If you read the Los Angeles Times story “McDonald’s to launch in-store channel” with an uncritical eye, you might be tempted to believe that by outfitting restaurants with big TVs broadcasting corporate content, McD’s really intends to make franchises “more than just a place to grab a quick bite,” giving diners “another reason to spend more time visiting with families and friends.”
Why in the world would McDonald’s want to encourage diners to stick around? Ordering food, eating it, and getting the hell out to make room for new paying customers is a restaurateur’s dream. Besides, as the Times notes, 70 percent of McDonald’s business is drive-through.
The new McTV is being rolled out first in Southern California franchises, with 42- to 46-inch TVs and programming such as “local school sports, movie previews and heartwarming human interest stories” aired in segments repeating hourly. The Times notes there will be quiet areas where diners need not gaze at televisions. (Sound leakage being what it is, you have to wonder if the quiet section will be as noise-free as nonsmoking sections used to be free of smoke back when people still smoked in restaurants.)
The point is, no one on Earth wants to be assaulted with heartwarming human interest stories while choking down fries—I suspect McDonald’s knows that. The company managed to swipe a good portion of Starbucks’s business with cheaper coffee drinks and Wi-Fi. But having no doubt observed coffeehouse after coffeehouse clogged with laptop loafers, lingering for hours over small cups of medium roast, McDonald’s is, I suspect, proactively ensuring via looped TV programming that customers won’t hang out any longer than it takes to down an Extra Value Meal, and getting friendly press in the bargain.
Pretty smart, McDonald’s. I loathe your hamburgers, but I have all kinds of grudging admiration for your Machiavellian instincts.