Taking Digital Into The Digital Age

Guest Contributor, Nick Mawditt

The Digital Out of Home market – now more than a fifth of revenue in the GBP 1 billion Outdoor sector – is still driving growth and is potentially at a crossroads in terms of really defining its value, positioning and dominance in OOH. As investment continues to flourish and expand – outpacing a number of media channels – what we still call digital OOH is now able to deliver scale, flexibility, innovation, interactivity, investment, regionality, content, activation and social media amplification as part of a fully integrated and flexible communications landscape.

To address where the industry really stands and to investigate the future direction now likely, The Screen’s Digital OOH perspective event on December 4th invited three heavy-weight players representing the key interests in the market, to air their views to a cross-industry and creative agency audience. Talon’s own Eric Newnham from the specialist Out of Home side, Tim Bleakley from media owner Ocean Outdoor and Steve Parker from media agency Mediavest within SMG Group, each gave their insight into how their own sector was changing in relation to digital OOH and set an agenda for how changes – to take the whole sector forward – would need to be implemented.

The Owner, Planner, Trading and Advertiser Perspective

Tim Bleakley, CEO Ocean Outdoor, addressed the media owner challenge to drive investment into the best formats, strongly emphasising that investment is driven by inherent advertiser demand. Referencing the building of a Tate Gallery in the inappropriate location of West Bromwich (his words!) that subsequently closed, Tim observed that “just because we keep building panels does not automatically mean the clients will come! You don’t put a television on the high street” he added, “think about your medium in the context of how it will be consumed. That is the essence of digital Out of Home.”

Creating the right advertiser demand was the key theme of developing digital OOH in the UK market. But Tim also warned that the technology was moving ahead of the creative agency’s contribution to the industry, something that would need addressing quickly.

Talon’s CEO and Chairman, Eric Newnham – in addressing how planning and trading need to adapt to the capabilities of digital OOH and in the context of the industry’s new Route data – cited the value of location to the Out of Home industry and how this has become more relevant than ever in today’s multi-faceted communications world. As planners, “we are like kids in a sweetshop, with choice and flexibility more apparent than ever.”

He also highlighted the developments in some of the leading media owner platforms (including JCDecaux, Amscreen, Ocean Outdoor, Storm and MediaCo, amongst others) in driving change, with the rise of more face-time impacts’ solutions that incorporate audience, time of day and even an audience-data platform into the transaction. Eric claimed that this “signalled the onset of a movement where engagement could genuinely replace time as a currency within Outdoor media…by putting audience, mindset, location and message at the heart of campaigns.”

Newnham also referenced the recent Google Outside campaign, where messages were served via Outdoor digital networks according to audience, location and time of day. “The campaign”, he observed, “was seen by consumers as content not advertising”, representing a “real step change” for the whole industry.

Like Bleakley, Eric Newnham referenced the challenge – and the readiness – for the industry to open opportunities to the long tail of advertisers not currently using the medium. Movements in audience accountability, smart location planning and the similarities to the wider digital, online and mobile landscape are creating the right environment for organic growth. “Both mobile and Out of Home” concluded Newnham “are about location and real-time and the media industry is adapting to that central role in communications.”

Mediavest CEO Steve Parker then addressed how advertisers and media agencies view this “world of transformation”, where digital has come to represent a full range of opportunity. Parker referenced the new opportunities and measurement criteria that signalled growth and a redefinition of digital OOH. “Delivery of dynamic consumer experiences through data-driven insights and content” he rallied “is our only goal”.

Steve also charted how the rise of content and social in the digital OOH space is driving real ROI to clients.

Panel, Questions and Campaign Examples

With inherent advertiser demand, face-time location targeting and transformation the important themes of the debate, the panellists then answered questions on the real changes needed to drive sustained growth in the sector; including content, the marriage of mobile and OOH, premium packaging, trading and attracting new clients.

Tim Bleakley set a strong agenda for the discussion by referencing the incredible levels of investment in West London alone, which create a strong canvas for brands reaching people coming into the capital; in strong contrast to the journey from New York’s JFK Airport to Manhattan. He claimed “traditional Outdoor will be reborn with digital OOH” to which Steve Parker added, there were strong revenue opportunities through “a definition of digital through data, hardware, visualisation, creativity, location and the consumer-screen relationship.”

The panel also reiterated that digital OOH would become more accountable by “protecting integrity through share of voice” (Bleakley), “advertisers achieving exactly what they set out to do through location and hourly targeting … and by being able to ask How much face-time did we get?” (Newnham) and that “we’re looking at effectiveness through a slightly different lens” (Parker), with online, mobile and social providing new definitions of ROI. Indeed, according to Ocean’s Bleakley, some media owners are now “100% accountable” through delivering live platforms and audience-led impacts (some measured contacts via eye-tracking).

Tim Bleakley also pointed out that Route can help identify where digital should be developed, which can also help define pricing. The industry should, however, expect advertisers to pay more to reach the right audiences in the right mindset and location for the message, he concluded. Google, Camelot, Heineken, The Sun and other recent digital OOH campaigns were referenced in driving smarter communication to people in context. As was Jimmy Choo, a new advertiser to OOH, putting digital and a broad brand message at the heart of its campaign.

It was agreed that content would play a crucial role in defining the appeal of digital OOH, with some strong initiatives out there already, with CBS Outdoor and JCDecaux to the fore. Content is a key component of MediaCo’s new CityLive offering in Manchester and Eric noted that successful campaigns can appear as content those who see it. “The site itself becomes an important content provider” an example of which is “PR companies using digital OOH to break news to the consumer in places like the City.”

Eric Newnham reiterated that this would be an important development now, capitalising on current initiatives. “Because people can screen out what is not important, digital OOH allows us to be clever in our thinking, and for creative and media to be more aligned.” More creative movement in campaigns is one natural outcome of this, and attracting the creative agencies to be more aligned to digital OOH, a point raised by Now Advertising from the audience, is paramount.

Steve Parker reiterated the natural link to social media now provided by “content and conversations within Out of Home” again linking to the transformation and rise of mobile, which “is not a threat to digital OOH, rather the rock in the middle.”

Eric Newnham talked about his role within mobile location targeting platform BlisMedia. “The 80,000 bids per second going through Blis becomes extremely valuable to the Outdoor business” from the perspective of location and flexibility, ”but we are still only scratching the surface.” The retail environment, for example, provides an opportunity to engage shoppers through digital screens, creating “a whole new ball game for Out of Home”.

Where all these developments leave OOH trading was the final discussion point, with Newnham declaring from Talon’s stand-point, “we don’t want to be in a silo; we want to be part of the programmatic decision process.” He added, “once we move away from the convention of planning around weeks, to smaller pieces of time, the debate becomes about audience delivery and the right engagement.”

This does not mean an automatic transition to cost per engagement, a position endorsed by Steve Parker. But delivering measurable audience impact in the proper context will lead debates around digital OOH in 2014, as will how advertisers pay for what they are getting.

Tim Bleakley concluded by pointing out that not all advertisers want such granular targeting and will pay – on traditional Outdoor and on digital OOH – for 24/7 branding in high quality, traditional locations. The industry now needs to adapt to be able to offer full flexibility to both broad canvas advertisers and those driving location and time-specific messages.

This was a strong end to a crucial debate around the issues shaping and defining digital OOH at a time of great change in Outdoor. Challenges around investment, planning, trading, mobile and creativity will inform the future shape of the whole medium and how OOH attracts the long tail of advertisers that can hugely benefit from the communications offering that is digital OOH.

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