here's an interesting story I heard today -- from a former co-worker I haven't spoken to in around 10 years....
context: Before going to Microsoft in 1999, Susan and I worked at 'Next Generation Network' or NGN. NGN was about "digital billboards" in public places like 7/11 stores. We (a team of four led by me, including Susan) and a couple of contractors created a system for buying and distributing targeted ads in a way that was impossible for, say, TV: Ads could be targeted to specific locations based on age, income, ethnicity etc. by zipcode or DMA (market area). By 1998 or so we had our network in ~8000 7-11 stores, had raised over $100 million in venture capital and were well on our way. (Yes, I know that there is a special place in Hell for people who introduce more advertising into the world, but it was fun to build!). We were well-capitalized and our technology was well-regarded: we even entered our application in the 1999 "Windows World Open" competition at Comdex and won first place.
Because of the telecom costs involved in running a huge "push media" network in locations where there is no internet access (we had to send ads over dedicated phone lines to each location), NGN burned through cash faster than they could earn it. Financially the company was in a difficult spot, in spite of all the capital raised.
*anyway* -- after we left in 1999, NGN had a pilot program with McDonald's in 2001 where they placed our displays in 50 or so McDonald's locations as a pilot. A computer in the back room @ each McDonald's had four video cards, each of which drove a display up by the register. It showed the menu as well as ads etc. like always. The pilot program was promising, and McDonald's agreed to go forward with a roll out of displays in more locations. An agreement to roll out NGN displays to thousands of McDonald's locations could have saved the company.
The day the executives were to fly out and sign the agreement with McDonald's was 9/11/01.
Of course, all flights were grounded on that day. After 9//11, McDonald's grew skittish about the future economy and tabled all non-essential projects, including digital ad displays in restaurants. They paid for the cost of the pilot but shelved the initiative.
A few months later, NGN was bought by Regal Cinema for pennies on the dollar of value, and most of the 120 or so employees were laid off... a victim of 9/11, albeit an indirect one.
Interestingly, the story has a somewhat happy ending: The technology was repurposed for pushing digital ads and previews to cinemas, and the company became National Cinemedia. Today, it is in virtually every theater in the US, and some of the NGN employees who worked with us back in the day are now running the show for National Cinemedia. A lot of the technology we created over 10 years ago is still being used.
Of course, every time you see some stupid advert before a film, you can curse us for it. I know I would, if I were you.