DailyDOOH Talks To Phil Austin

Chris Sheldrake

We talk to new OVAB Europe member Phil Austin CEO CAN Media, one of the only truly profitable UK digital screen networks about his company…

What do you do and in what markets do you operate?

Can Media, owners of The Life Channel and Community Communications Network brands, are the largest Community Out of Home Channel in Europe. Our company focus is in ‘Uniting Communities’ through the medium of DOOH TV. Our audiences are predominantly Health, Community, Justice and Education with our most recent focus being on a significant expansion into retail during 2010.

Who are your customers?

From a revenue perspective our clients are predominantly government and quasi government agencies. In the last two years our channels have broadcast over 1500 different government campaigns, that is NOT local media adverts but actual multi site campaigns.

We do also have an increasing focus on conventional ‘Agency’ business as our network is now of such scale, however an absolute pre requisite is that the product has to fit with The Life Channel brand and satisfy our stringent editorial policy.

In terms of hosts for our actual screens we have almost 5,000 locations, that is locations NOT screens, currently playing our various Life Channel formats which include over 2,500 UK doctors surgeries the bulk of which are grouped by Primary Care Trust area.

Our education network currently sits at just over 1,500 schools and growing by the day.

Can you give us a specific example of something you’ve done for a customer that really reflects what you do?

Pretty difficult to pick one example here. There are not many mediums that enable a government agency to reach >75% of their target audience, TLC achieves that in most of its’ PCT areas. This enables an agency to communicate its message effectively as supported by the hundreds of pieces of research that our clients carry out during and post campaign.

The highly effective Change4Life campaign epitomizes the effects of our channel. In January 2009 TLC totally rebranded as Change4Life the researched results of which were quite amazing.

Who are your competitors?

I would always acknowledge any company in our ‘space’ as potentially being a competitor. The Health Channel has been around for almost 20 years and provides a great service to their clients as do Baby TV.

There are dozens of companies who focus purely on local media and to be frank there is a place for their services (apologies but no names come to mind).

Of course in our industry the largest attention is usually focused on the companies who make the greatest fuss, as such we cannot ignore Amscreen who appear to have around three or four hundred surgeries installed.

The Life Channel offer however is completely different than all of the companies I am aware of in our space in that we produce and broadcast quality video programming that reflects the needs of our viewers and wider community. We do not believe that simple digital signage is the way to go in a surgery where patients will sit for 20 minutes with little else other to do than read a two year old copy of Readers Digest.

What differentiates you from your competitors?

Our total focus on reflecting the needs of our community through appropriate content. Aside from ensuring that our screens are watched it also ensures that a significant cross section of sponsors use our channel.

Technology is available by the yard these days and to be frank there is so much great technology available that I see no differentiator these days. Of course you can spin ‘great technology’ how you like but the fact remains that most of it simply does what it says on the can.

We still use Scala after all of these years because it is robust and does what it is supposed to do. Our desire to use our network and reach to increase awareness of ‘Sustainability’ has driven us towards Toshiba. That does not give us an edge as you can buy their screen in Dixons, it does however reflect what our company is about in that we choose to purchase slightly more expensive screens because of the ‘sustainable stance’ of the manufacturer.

How do you measure success?

Increased revenue confirms that we are doing our job right. Our partners will not use our channel if we do not perform consistently.

How do you select partners to work with?

Our channel has to work for them otherwise they will appear for a few months and then drift away. That reflects another form of sustainability. Most of our clients have worked with us for several years.

How do you select new locations in which to deploy?

The area has to be strategic and fit our current audience. Our Health and Education network has a very high value in terms of audience demographic and dwell. We are currently expanding our reach into these same communities but with high footfall more transient audiences to service our current clients.

This could be in retail or even petroleum or perhaps a significant expansion of our successful CCN network. This will result in a hybrid of channels some using high value video content and some using Digital Signage.

How do you secure a new location?

The host must want TLC

How do you win new business?

The unique nature of our network and audience drives winning new business. TLC is the third largest healthcare network in the world and unique in the UK due to its size and consolidated network distribution.

If a client wishes to reach this audience either regionally or nationally then where else would they look other than TLC.

Our current healthcare audience in the UK is > 6.5m people per month of a clearly defined demographic audience. There are not too many of those around today.

What sorts of barriers have you encountered in getting into locations like hospitals and Doctor’s surgeries?

Obviously we fund our health expansion as such we have to be sure about the viability of new installations in terms of generating revenue long term.

TLC is seen as a very high value product by our clients as such most clients would choose to have TLC installed. We will only install our network if our new clients confirm they will use the channel though. We are not simply looking for market share to sell national media.

What are the next few milestones for the company?

Continue as we are and stay focused.

Are there opportunities for consolidation in the industry, and would you be looking to consolidate?

I do not see too many successful companies in our space and the management of failed companies in the UK has left something to be desired. We will however keep our eyes open.

How are you funded?

Privately through an eclectic mix of very high net worth individuals who have stayed loyal to the cause since the company was founded. That said we always deliver what we say we will, good or bad.

If you had to summarize 2009 in a few words, what would they be?

Hard but we prevailed. >40% increase in sales and profit across the board.

If you had to summarize 2010 in a few words, what would they be?

Harder but we will again prevail.

What does it take to survive and thrive in this economic climate?

Focus, a great team ( I am blessed in that regard) and lots of hard work.

AKA.TV was so called because (back then) it was the industry with many names but with one common theme – digital networks outside the home. What term would you use to describe the industry?


What is your definition of digital signage?

Short form content for a very transient audience. You cannot entertain or maintain focus from your audience for more than a minute or two with DS. Equally you cannot deliver a message with video to someone walking through a shopping mall or hurrying through a BP store.

What was your business highlight for 2009?

Final Accounts.

What’s the company vision?

Unite Communities and deliver relevant messaging through our network. Educate our children about ‘real life’ through improving Community Cohesion in our schools.

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