This month we welcome Gerry Thorley, CEO, EYE Corp Pty Limited , Pyrmont, Australia
- Your company seems incredibly advanced, with all your measurement systems, your new Amplify and associated publications. I know that you are owned by The Ten Network . What roles have the parent company and television network played in the development, influence and growth of Eyecorp?
TEN has played a role of supporting EYE’s interest to pursue a path of greater accountability and advocacy for Out-of-Home generally and EYE in particular.
Several of my senior team have come from electronic media backgrounds (TV & Radio) or related fields where measurement and advocacy are always important in the sales development process as well as underpinning sector confidence. As for my background before EYE, I spent a long time in broadcast TV.
In 2000, when EYE was born, the Australian OOH sector was not very contemporary and we took a lead to assist accelerating the process. What was good for the sector was good for EYE. TEN supported that from the outset.
As an operator that wants the sector to grow, it is important that we act and behave at least as professionally as other media forms that we want to take money away from. It’s not good enough to say we expect OOH to attract more clients and more often, without challenging ourselves as to how we stack up, and ideally be leaders rather than followers.
The early introduction of displays in 2004 and more recently Amplify have come from a desire to be an evolving OOH operator, not rooted to the past.
- You have four specialties: airports, shopping malls, outdoor and educational institutions, with 85% of your screens larger than 42 square meters. How many out-of-home locations do have in total, and, of these, how many are digital? Are you planning to increase the digital screens, convert existing OOH locations or?
We have 2,672 digital faces, 1,240 of which are in Australia. The others are divided up as: New Zealand 249; USA 385; U.K. 798; In total, we have a global presence with almost 20,000 ad faces across Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, the USA and the UK.
In terms of going forward, there is an interest to continuously review our precincts, consider how tech developments may assist EYE – and importantly also our clients – and to make adjustments that suit.
To date, this has been more about adopting larger displays as new tech capability and affordability have improved as well as property partners giving up better sites that can make this level of investment more possible.
It is not our view that every site display will migrate to be electronic in the foreseeable future but that may change over the longer term, depending on what display technologies might emerge. In the near term, it is more about larger and bolder with super high resolution (this last item is mandatory for investment).
- In North America, city governments are always weighing in whether they should allow digital billboards. What is the situation in Australia?
The situation in Australia is way behind the US. Roads and traffic bodies are holding the potential back with reviews still in play as to possible roadside distraction and, hence, issues are still to be resolved about dwell time limits. The regulator’s proposed minimum dwell time between each ad face is way too long in duration. This works against any interest to attract serious investment in roadside digital at this time. We expect this will change but likely not in the near term. I hope I am wrong!
You have just launched Amplify . It seems to involve an all-in-one chip for QR Codes, NFC and AR. Can you please explain it in detail for our readers? It seems that it could be a world first.
Amplify is a tech agnostic approach to allow advertiser supported mobile applications to be delivered to the largest consumer sample each time.
In essence, mobile delivery is currently hampered by self-interest from NFC and QR code suppliers trying to convince OOH operators to adopt only their solution. Handset suppliers have chosen as yet not to deliver units with a QR app already deployed and NFC inclusion is only just starting to emerge. SMS is actually the killer model but certainly not as sexy for many.
EYE has taken the path of adopting a combination approach so the limiting issue as to the possible wide use of a client offer is not the technology, but instead the strength of the clients offer to the target consumer.
To do this each of 8,000 plus sites are being enabled. This requires a unique NFC chip, unique QR code and unique SMS reference to be affixed for each site. This also has side benefits for how we can manage our inventory – maintenance, audit, re-locations, etc..
If you are a consumer and a campaign is running that includes a mobile offer, you simply walk up to the site and choose which of NFC, QR or SMS your phone is capable of or perhaps your personal operating preference i.e. one size for all. These three options are specific to the EYE operations in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
The EYE US operations have been already active in the mobile space for more than a year now with a proximity offer utilizing WiFi and Bluetooth push technology, at around 70 of our best malls. This has been a positive start and allows EYE US to add to their service offering now with NFC, QR and SMS.
Over time this may evolve to less options as handset penetration of NFC occurs. However, that is a long way off. As the OOH operator, we feel it is best not to bet on one technology over another and, where uncertainty prevails, to offer as many as possible – hence Amplify by EYE.
EYE also offers a simple back-end platform management arrangement, for those clients who may not be sufficiently capable at this time.
We have not seen any other similar approach taken to trying to solve the mobile challenge of multiple connection options and hence, we feel we have developed a true unique world first. No doubt it will adopted by others quickly.
- You have also become immersed in neuroscience. What are you doing in that regard, and how do your plan to use it?
We started using neuro in Australia about two years ago for our Shop product. With OOH not a content media in the traditional sense, we wanted to see if we could provide marketers and their buyers more insight as to what consumers think, see and do around retail precincts.
It is complicated and has been well received, but needs to be interpreted by agency staff that are appropriately prepared and educated in this field.
More recently, a second study was conducted in the UK at an airport. Again, the insights have been very well received. This also provides us and the property partner with greater insight that can assist with best site location consideration.
- Eye Corp was founded almost 12 years ago. Since that time you have expanded from Australia to New Zealand, Indonesia, the UK and the US. Have you grown at the pace you hoped, or has that growth been slower or faster than you expected? What has either hampered your progress or spurred it on? (Or both?)
When EYE was formed in late 2000, it already had coverage in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and a couple of other Asian markets we have since moved out of. That was a lot to integrate overnight, and it took a couple of years to sort out – especially with the negative impact of the tech crash in 2001, plus the Australian market experienced a broader media decline post the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
In 2006, EYE expanded into the UK, USA and Singapore. In hindsight, that was probably more markets simultaneously than we should have, especially with the Global Financial Crisis that heavily impacted the UK and USA post 2008.
We did not stay in Singapore at the end of our first term at Changi Airport  as the commercials were not attractive enough to continue.
- With all the countries you are in, where do you see the strongest DOOH?
Australia has without doubt been a leader, but more recently, the UK is moving quickly with a good variety of external as well as internal locations. The US has been strong with roadside, but internal locations have a long way to go in that market, and it should be a solid opportunity for some operators if they get it right.
- You offer the four aforementioned sectors: outdoor, airports, malls, educational institutions, but you don’t offer all in each country where you have expanded. In fact, you only have one sector in each of the US and UK. Why? And do you plan to introduce others?
The US has Shop and the UK has Fly and there are no current plans to expand further at this time. In each situation, there is still more work to be done with each of the offers and the plan all along was ‘… go in with one product we know and do it very well; after that we could always consider other options…’.
- What is your growth strategy for the future both in the countries where you now operate and elsewhere? What role does the fact that you are a public company play?
The strategy is very straightforward: keep doing what we are doing, just better and better every day.
There has been a lot of investment over the last year or so in new plant, mostly DOOH, and more taking place at present in Australia in particular.
Add our recent brand refresh, upgraded website with planning tools coming and the introduction of Amplify and this all adds up to being well armed to grow. We all need a better external market but these initiatives provide EYE the best opportunity, rain or shine.
- You obviously also think print has a role in eyecorp growth. You are producing a new annual publication for VIP media and advertising heavyweights and industry influencers. Has one been published yet? You already produce a quarterly and a more frequent newsletter. What is the reasoning behind each?
The recently released EYE Annual is the latest version of an annual publication program we have had for almost a decade.
Previously known as EYE Reporter, this new magazine has been refreshed to reflect our brand and values makeover earlier this year. An electronic version will shortly be on our new website.
The genesis of these publications has been to advocate for EYE and OOH and to land on the desks of the client CEO and CMO, in addition to their agencies. I think it has been good for EYE, albeit a big task each year.
We do not take advertiser support, although we have been approached to do so over the years, which has been a nice compliment for the standard of the product.
- You offer Eye Proof for proof of posting as well as other analytics. Please describe them? Have you developed them all in-house?
EYE Proof is a product we source from Ayuda Media Systems . It is not rocket science, but very useful and expected by sophisticated agencies to be assured that what was purchased was delivered and posted on time. The supply of posting pics to support that a campaign has been deployed is not new. Ayuda have provided us a net-based system that allows agencies to access their campaign rollout progress directly and confirm what has been posted and when from info our installers provide.
You offer both OOH and DOOH products. In your opinion, can they be measured by the same tools?
Yes and they are in MOVE, the first Australian national measurement system for OOH media.
In terms of the basics of footfall, audience specifics location quality, propensity to see, etc the same measures are valid.
We do not do content that is quasi TV, hence we are not looking to measure consumer satisfaction ratings.
EYE’s DOOH is an extension of OOH, not a replacement, so the same measures stack up. EYE builds on that measure with side studies such as EYE Tracking and Neuro.
- You do Eye Tracking studies. Can you explain? Are they done on a regular basis, or just for special campaigns?
They are not done on a regular basis. A study has now been conducted in each of Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and USA.
We have tested all of Shop, Fly and Study.
Each study has assisted build on the previous, and we believe we now have a deep understanding of what consumers do and see. It also assists us to validate our site selections and plan for future deployments from those learnings. It also helps us educate our property partners as to what is a good location vs a bad location.
- You are in airports but not in planes. Do you have any plans to expand into that area? Why or why not?
We have been approached to operate inside planes as well. However, to date, the ideas we have are perhaps ahead of the market capability, and our airport business has been busy enough to be too distracted with other options at this time.
- Tell us about the DOOH market in Australia? Are there a lot of players? Are you seeing any consolidation in that market?
There is only a handful of DOOH operators at present. The roadside restrictions have limited the development. There has been some new interest recently, and I think the recent change of ownership at APNO  and oOH!Media  will assist with funding to support more DOOH. Hopefully, that is money well spent to expand the revenue base rather than simply an alternative to paper scrolling.
- You are a member of MOVE, the first Australian national measurement system for OOH media developed two years ago. Who was behind its development? Is it working?
We are one of the shareholders of MOVE, and EYE was a strong and active proponent for the sector to develop MOVE or something similar from the outset. This goes back to my comments in Question1. It is now two years in the field. Continuous improvements are being made to improve MOVE and also to educate the buyer community.
The sector has benefited from the transparency a measurement service states about the confidence the OOH operators have about their inventory. Prior to MOVE being established in Australia, there was a sense that the lack of measurement was a reflection that operators in the sector may have something to hide. Certainly since MOVE was developed, including wide consultation with the buyer community in the process, OOH operators involved have benefited from the recognition that we were confident enough about our inventory to be open to full scrutiny.
A missing piece is a desktop planning tool inside agencies but that is coming.
The fact the OOH sector recovered fairly quickly out of the GFC and has continued to grow in absolute dollar terms, I think can be sheeted back to having MOVE in place.
- Is your company involved in social media in a major way? Please explain.
Yes, through our communications team and our new website , we are social media friendly for the first time. I and many of my senior team are active on Twitter as well as LinkedIn and various Groups. This escalated dramatically over the last 12 months.
- Does EYE work with partners in any sectors of your operations: Sales? Content? Software? Hardware? Etc.?
Primarily software, the recent announcement about EYE and Ayuda would be the current best example where a lot of time has been spent by both sides in building for the future.
In terms of displays we do use a variety of vendors depending on needs and current technology being offered. That said, our LED deployments have been Daktronics  all round so far, and we have a very good working relationship with the company to understand our needs and challenges.
- How do you envision DOOH in Australia in the next two-to-five years?
A very good question and very difficult to answer with accuracy!
Certainly, EYE will continue to be the DOOH leader simply because of the depth of inventory already in place and existing commitment to upgrade and extend the network, especially within our airport portfolio. Fly is a place well-suited for DOOH, considering the high value travelers available.
I think the roadside issue will be resolved within 12-to-18 months and that will bring with it some investment. Certainly, EYE has some high value locations that could benefit, but we will not invest if regulatory constraints are too tough.
It’s also worth reflecting that EYE’s high value internal products of Fly, Shop and Study provide great audiences and are not constrained by regulation. As such, the determinants will be about client interest and support. That remains an area that we cannot control but we try to influence at every turn.
EYE has been reinvesting in DOOH at major city airport terminals as well as roadside billboards on airport land over the last 18 months. The reality and power of this will all come together by the end of 2012 with the completion of a full refit of the Qantas  terminals in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. A lot of large format DOOH is going in. The change will be dramatic compared to present and it will allow national campaigns with standardized formats for the first time.
Mated with the other terminal upgrades completed already that will sync with the standardization, and I believe new to OOH and DOOH clients will see a new audience opportunity they had not considered important enough before.
I also think the next two years will see the ‘light bulb’ moment finally arrive for many decision makers that, beyond a nice flashy screen, the underlying flexibility of DOOH is there for the taking – day part, week parts, multiple creative options, etc.. That has not fired as yet in Australia, despite a lot of advocacy, but I am sure it will be coming soon.
Add now the mobile piece and I think the flexibility of DOOH plus the convergence of consumer connection could provide the perfect storm for focus on this space. EYE will certainly be doing all it can to message that potential.
Gerry Thorley was interviewed for this Spotlight shortly before last week’s announcement that EYE has been purchased by oOH!media.  For the moment and until the sale is concluded, it is ‘business as usual’ for EYE, although the sale agreement notes that EYE’s U.S. and U.K. operations will be for sale to appropriate third parties, Ed