As shoppers waited at the checkout lines at East Baltimore's Foster Avenue SuperFresh, they browsed through magazines or tabloids, daydreamed -- or watched TV.
On overhead monitors, they saw a fall fashion preview, a profile on country singer Clint Black and campaign stories on Gov. Bill Clinton running hard and President Bush running scared.
Television, long a fixture of American life, will become a fixture in checkout lines as well -- if Ted Turner and SuperFresh/A&P have their way. Turner Broadcasting System and the supermarket chain have entered into a joint agreement to put TBS' Checkout Channel in 300 SuperFresh/A&P stores in four states.
Thirteen of those stores are in the Baltimore area, and eight of them have installed the systems.
Situated right above the traditional checkout line time-killer -- tabloids -- Checkout Channel is an amalgamation of Cable News
Network and advertising.
The small color screens try to grab shoppers with sharp, flashy images, packaged in 10-minute segments that run 24 hours TC day. The segments, which include sports, news, weather, fashion, entertainment, business and lifestyle features, are updated throughout the day by Atlanta-based CNN.
"With the growing amount of time spent out of the home, Checkout Channel will provide shoppers with the opportunity to turn waiting time into an informative and entertaining experience," said Paul Beckham, president of Turner Private Networks, Inc., the TBS subsidiary responsible for the channel.
At the Foster Avenue SuperFresh one recent afternoon, most shoppers were oblivious to the
screens. But some liked the diversion. "I think it keeps you busy while you're waiting in line . . . You see a lot of nice people on there. I was just watching Clint Black on there," said Cynthia Parrish of Canton as she waited in line.
Store manager Al Murter said he expects the screens to provide "peace of mind for the consumer."
But the channel's heavy reliance on commercials is a turn-off to others. "I don't pay attention to [it] because I don't like commercials anyway . . . I avoid them when I'm at home [by] going out of the room," said Patty Everett of Canton.
Checkout Channel is still the only channel on the dial. And TBS hopes to win over customers with improvements.
By early 1993, for example, plans call for video information such as store hours and department specials, community-service information, and news about nutrition and environmentally safe packaging to be added.
Along with SuperFresh/A&P, Checkout Channel is seen in 17 other grocery chains, including Food Lion, Cub Foods and Kroger.