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CONTENT IS KING
DTN CONTINUES TO ROLL OUT NEW PRODUCTS TO ENHANCE ELECTRONIC EDITORIAL PACKAGE
To cut corners last year, Michael Butler -a grower from Osceola, Ark. -canceled his subscription to DTNís satellite information service. Yet he still needed the commodities marketing, weather and agricultural news he was accustomed to retrieving on the system. So Butler spent a lot of time on agriculture-related Web sites. But he missed the features of DTN, to which he had subscribed for 10 years.

"All of the ag Web sites were full of information, but I got tired of going in and out of them to find what I wanted," Butler explains. "I preferred DTN for its convenience, speed, quality and reliability. So I came back."

Nowadays, Butler uses DTN twice as much as in the past because he moved his office and DTN terminal to his home. To save money, he subscribes to the basic DTN service, but he says he anticipates upgrading this winter to have more opportunities "to browse around." For instance, he may go from getting delayed market reports to receiving real-time quotes.

This example illustrates that even as DTN continues to enhance its data delivery technology, what retains customers - farmers, ranchers, ag retailers and elevators - is the quality of the agricultural information.

"Our biggest asset is content," says Darren Siekman, president of DTNís Agricultural Division. "We continue to roll out new products that focus on content. We want to make sure we provide profit-enhancing information and deliver it the most realistic, reliable and economical way to farmers."

ELECTRONIC LEADER

Data Transmission Network Corp. (DTN), based in Omaha, Neb., began operations in 1984. The company used FM radio side-band technology to deliver weather, market and agricultural news. The satellite system was introduced in 1989 and the FM services were later discontinued.

Prior to 1992, DTN utilized a "page-based" receiver and monochrome display system capable of receiving and displaying up to 120 pages of information for its agricultural customers. Todayís DTN receivers contain multiple processors for capturing, manipulating and displaying high-resolution color video pictures, graphics and text. These processors provide the ability to play audio clips and to utilize a phone modem. Receivers also are equipped with an internal hard drive allowing customers to store and display information using the built-in control panel, a keyboard or a mouse. Information has expanded from the original 120 pages to todayís more than 180,000 pages updated every week.

Because the terminals are dedicated receivers, subscribers donít have to worry about upgrading equipment as they would for their personal computers. DTN does all of the programming and software updates via satellite. "Then our subscribers always have the latest updates automatically with no effort by them," Siekman notes.

The agricultural division boasts 100,000 subscribers - the majority of whom utilize the satellite service. Siekman reports that 15,000 of those customers subscribe to AgDayta.com (the subscription-based Internet site) or a combination of satellite and Internet. "From a convenience standpoint, people still like to use the satellite service because of its speed and convenience during the day and typically use the Internet at night when they have more time to do research or business analysis and planning," Siekman says.

He notes that the satellite terminals arenít just located in a farmerís home, machine shed or milk parlor. Theyíre also situated in the lobbies of local elevators, banks and even some cafes. "We definitely experience pass-along readership just as print does," Siekman points out.

In addition to the satellite and Internet services, the company also offers other means for farmers and agribusinesses to receive information. For instance, using a Palm Pilot and cell phone, subscribers to DTN Rover can access time-sensitive daily ag news, market quotes and animated weather wherever they go. And DTNSpeed.Net is a wireless service that delivers rural high-speed Internet access 25 times faster than conventional dial-up service.

Siekman says that in response to the continuing tough farm economy, the company introduced a basic level DTN subscription for $19.95 a month for either satellite or Internet access. Then customers can select from a variety of add-ons such as more sophisticated or regionalized weather and news to enhance the basic information.

ENHANCED EDITORIAL

During the past year, DTN has made tremendous strides to provide new and original content to subscribers, according to Bob Quinn, DTNís director of editorial. "We want to make DTN synonymous with Ďinformation,í" he notes.

"In every survey, farmers say the most important information for them is weather," Quinn points out.

As such, this past spring DTN introduced its Crop Weather Segment, featuring animated forecasts and color maps designed to show the impact of weather events on markets and production. "We took an already great weather product and enhanced it so subscribers could tell if a weather event is significant to agriculture in the United States or the world," Quinn explains.

For instance, a regionalized map will follow a drought situation in Texas and keep subscribers updated on predicted weather and the impact on the cotton crop. "We imbed the editorial right on the map so customers donít have to look in two or three different spots," Quinn notes.

Another segment recently added is DTN Market Makerô, which monitors events around the world that can affect the markets. It provides a link to agricultural traders so subscribers can gain insight into what is moving the market.

Adapting information to individual subscribers is the backbone of DTNís satellite and Internet services. "We can tailor information by geography, interests or products," Siekman says.

While DTN users can now customize their satellite services, Siekman notes that AgDayta.com subscribers have even more opportunities to personalize the information they receive to mirror their interests.

MARKETING MECHANISMS

DTN offers a variety of vehicles for agri-marketers to deliver their communications messages to farmers. Technology allows marketers to reach farmers in a timely manner and to be geographically selective with ads -down to the county level.

Beyond banner ads, the company offers sponsorships for U.S. crop weather or a specific map, for instance.

Another segment is called "Seminars and Slide Shows." Osborn & Barr Communications Inc., Clayton, Mo., recently used this mechanism for its client Monsanto to talk to producers about biotechnology. The presentation was delivered only to DTN satellite subscribers with color systems.

"It was an effective way to display a simple message with powerful images," says Jean Dugan, senior public relations manager for Osborn & Barr. "Nothing else compares to it."

Monsanto also has utilized banner ads on DTNís AgDayta.com that links to a Web site for Roundup UltraMAX herbicide. "Itís great to find new technologies and new ways to convey messages for familiar products," Dugan says.

While a proponent of new mediums, Dugan says she wishes DTN could provide more solid information about how many subscribers see an ad. "Itís difficult to assess the impact of a particular message if you donít know how many people it reached." She adds that she does appreciate weekly reports of clicks and impressions generated by each Internet banner ad.

In addition to advertising and sponsorship opportunities, marketers also can tap DTN for editorial content for their own Web sites. "An individual ag company can have a Web site that is updated with DTN content," Siekman says. "We can provide complete turnkey services, ranging from content to a fully hosted and custom-designed Web site, depending on a clientís needs."

Siekman says the company provides Web-based editorial content for clients including an agricultural dot-com company, a state corn growers association, seed company and the National Association of Farm Broadcasters.

"DTN is providing more and better content of direct value to our partners and subscribers than ever before," Quinn concludes. "Weíre going to continue to look for fresh opportunities to provide vital agricultural information that canít be found anywhere else." AM

Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.



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