Digital out-of-home advertising (DOOH) is predicted to hit 50% of all outdoor revenue by the end of 2017, while the number of digital screens in the UK has increased from 2,056 in 2009 to over 17,000 in 2017 thanks to investment of around £100m.

With this investment comes greater impact (e.g. increasing use of video), flexibility and of course income for the vendors. Alongside this burgeoning focus on digital creative delivery, there is attention on how the medium could be sold more efficiently – more like other digital channels and less like traditional out of home. 

Moving from a cost-per-panel approach and with access to more detailed, real time audience information on the horizon (rather than periodic panel data) the ability to trade on an audience model isn’t far off. For example, in Canada Outfront Media has launched its own real-time analytics platform, having agreed a partnership with mobile network Cellint.

By tapping into available data, the platform will allow tracking of hourly impression numbers, including the proportion of those that are unique views. In the UK Transport for London has a considerable amount of data garnered from 5.6m mobile phones connected to Wi-Fi on the Tube. This mobile data can be used to track interchanges, and even walking routes and platform use within a station.

Whilst these developments provide considerable opportunities for advertisers and OOH vendors alike, a recent piece in Campaign highlights how out of home’s convergence with the digital world could have its downsides. 

OOH vendor JCDecaux has launched a brand charter which is seeking to avoid problems that have been plaguing the mainstream digital sector. These include accountability, viewability, measurability, transparency and brand safety. JCDecaux commented at launch, 'we must ensure outdoor doesn't fall into the pitfalls of digital media'.

This charter aims to set a gold standard of best practice across the digital out-of-home industry and in this brave new world JCDecaux will ensure its metrics and measurements are independently verified by Price Waterhouse Coopers; who will provide a quarterly compliance report to ensure transparency.

This is an interesting development as out of home has a history of being one of the more opaque advertising channels in terms of the buying process, audience measurement and invoicing.

OOH automation 

In the UK, digital buying practices are moving into the OOH sector in the shape of increased automation. 

From the Campaign piece – ‘Also mirroring the wider digital market, JCDecaux has launched a new external smartsuite platform, SmartBRICS, which allows advertisers and agencies to place their own DOOH campaigns for the first time. The platform has been used internally for the past two years but (now).. will be available to external users through an API. Users will now be able to plan, budget and create their own campaigns based on the platforms in-depth rules and filters on its dashboard.’ 

So, what are the challenges and opportunities for digital practitioners? We are already seeing digital experts’ influence spreading across traditional channels such as TV, which is increasingly being bought in an automated fashion (see Sky AdSmart), and this is beginning to happen with OOH as well, as observed above.

Clever recent activational examples in DOOH were featured in this Econsultancy piece. I particularly liked the FT’s use of digital billboards at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 to target passengers travelling to six pre-selected US cities. It was achieved by tapping into Heathrow's flight data via an API.

Guinness devised a dynamic campaign in London that allowed posters to direct RBS 6 Nations fans to nearby pubs to watch the games. 

Is DOOH digital?

So, just how digital is digital out of home? For DOOH to become fully digital in terms of trading (as well as delivery of creative), the key area will be around improved audience assessment. It is achieving this, which will allow a mainstream programmatic digital approach including real-time bidding, behavioural and contextual targeting.

Because of the size of the OOH medium, the variety of locations and the challenge and cost of quantifying and assessing audience behaviour, the measurement of OOH has traditionally been restricted to periodic panel research – OSCAR, then POSTAR, and now ROUTE.

The resultant audience information is therefore nowhere as detailed and current as that available across other digital channels. JCDecaux’s charter is well timed, especially in terms of brand safety, but from an audience perspective the PWC verification is only happening on a quarterly basis.  

For DOOH to really align with digital media, it will need to achieve accurate, real time, detailed consumption data that can fuel truly digital trading methodologies.

For more on this topic, see:

Nick Hammond

Published 17 October, 2017 by Nick Hammond

Nick is founder of The Digital Filter and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with him via LinkedIn.

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