"If you see a piece of content that connects with you immediately, we've provided you a value," he said. "If we can do it consistently, we become a trusted source of information ... and a great way for content providers to engage with consumers."
Major music companies are intrigued.
"Interscope values a new way of communicating to customers where our content is positioned front and center to a massive audience," said Jennifer Frommer, the company's head of brand partnerships. "The channel provides a platform to market music in ways that have never been done before."
The pilot project, which began testing in scattered Western outlets two years ago, recently completed expansion to all McDonald's California outlets from San Diego north to Bakersfield. All told, the eateries get nearly 15 million monthly visits from adult customers alone.
M Channel could expand to the roughly 14,000 McDonald's nationwide within 18 months of getting the "go" from the company and franchisees, Edmondson said. He declined to predict when the green light could come for the project that has advanced with caution, the giant chain's approach to making changes.
The end game Edmonson foresees: Versions of the channel in McDonald's worldwide, and perhaps the birth of a template for other industries. So far, the investor-funded Channel M has consumed tens of millions of dollars and it "will be that again to pull it off," he said, declining to give an exact figure.
The M channel is "a smart thing to do," said Valerie Folkes, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.
TV sets, which originally sprouted in auto service shops and elsewhere to keep customers distracted while cooling their heels, have new potential in a splintered media market.
"Advertisers face difficulties not only in reaching the right people but also in capturing their attention," Folkes said. "Here they have people who they know are customers and who are more inclined to listen to their message."
How will McDonald's Corp. judge M Channel's value?
"Ad revenues are important, but the channel must be positively received by our customers in order to be viewed as a success," said Brad Hunter, senior marketing director for McDonald's USA.
Philip Palumbo, who owns 11 McDonald's in San Diego County and is the marketing co-op head for the county's outlets, has seen an immediate benefit from the pilot project: No more complaints to workers about the network fare his customers saw via satellite.
"The content was not necessarily appropriate," Palumbo said. "The big things were politics. Others were violence, usually on the news, or medical stuff like showing surgery."
As Folkes of USC put it, "You can imagine a news story about 'pink slime' is not going to make a McDonald's customer eager to eat that Big Mac."