Sick of high gas prices? TV might help you forget

In the midst of a cruel summer for America's drivers, there's a diversion: TV at the gas station.

The number of televisions atop gas pumps has skyrocketed since their introduction at a handful of stations in 2006. Now, three privately held companies have placed more than 20,000 screens at thousands of stations from the Massachusetts Turnpike to Southern California.

“We try to bring some fun to the pump,” says Roy Reeves, vice president of sales and marketing for PumpTop TV, an Irvine, Calif., company that provides screens and content at nearly 600 U.S. stations.

Fun at the pump. When was the last time you heard someone say that?

The TVs are also bringing in added revenue for gas retailers, who have recently seen their margins shrink because of an increase in fuel load costs and credit card fees. When the owners advertise anything from candy bars to car washes on the TVs, they say, in-store sales rise compared to other stations without the screens.

Gas Station TV says that in tracking its retailers' sales, stores with screens installed on pumps report selling 75 percent more car washes and 69 percent more snacks if those items are advertised. The other two pump TV companies report similar sales increases.

“I actually have several customers a day saying, ‘Hey, I saw your ad on TV as I was pumping gas,'” said David Yegenian, who has eight screens at his Tustin, Calif., service station.

TV programming at the pumps varies by location and provider. All offer heavy rotations of 15-second ads – oil companies are staple advertisers – and all pump “networks” say they will roll out more screens in new markets later this summer. None have released revenue figures, but all say they are growing.

These companies pay gas station owners “rent” in exchange for placing the flat screens above the pumps. The retailers also can advertise specials or products inside the convenience store.

Once a customer starts the pump, the TV comes on – and stays on. There's no way to change the channel or mute the volume. So people usually tune in.

“It's a natural pause point in people's day,” said David Leider of Gas Station TV, which is based in Detroit. “The customer is tied to the screen with an eight-foot rubber hose for five minutes.”