Dirk Huelsermann, Head of VUKUNET EMEA

Guest Contributor, James Thornton

NEC Display Solutions is one of the largest manufacturers of screen technology in the world. Not confined to the DOOH market of course, NEC Display Solutions produce solutions for a whole host of other sectors – in the corporate world you’re probably never more than a few metres away from some form of NEC offering!

Dirk Huelsermann

Dirk Huelsermann

So, it is probably worth taking note of Dirk Huelsermann and his team at NEC Display Solutions. They look after VUKUNET – a digital planning and buying platform, whose ambition is to revolutionize the DOOH market.

Huelsermann first entered a (then) fledgling DOOH market in 2006 whilst in charge of mobile and New Media investments for Mitsui. Charged with identifying investment opportunities in the mobile and DOOH sectors, Huelsermann set about intensively studying the DOOH market in detail.

At that time, the DOOH market was still in its infancy, and lacked the sort of large-scale investment opportunities that Mitsui were looking for, and so for Mitsui, it was time to move on – though a certain Herr Huelsermann had caught the DOOH bug!

“I was completely thrilled by the DOOH market”, explains Huelsermann. The time spent assessing investment opportunities and studying the DOOH market for Mitsui meant that Huelsermann had become an expert in a brand new industry.

For Huelsermann it was a unique chance to “shape the industry”, and after a spell in a global role at Neo Advertising, NEC Display Solutions got in touch with a new position that would allow Huelsermann to do just that, namely VUKUNET.

VUKUNET was created with the aim of “making the buying and planning of DOOH much easier”, says Huelsermann. Whilst developing the VUKUNET concept, Huelsermann identified a fundamental issue that would serve as a major barrier to growth for the DOOH market.

“For media owners the turnover [on DOOH formats] wasn’t as expected”, states Huelsermann, and for agencies DOOH was simply “too difficult to plan and buy”.

The market was too fragmented and many of the planning tools and booking processes were old-fashioned and cumbersome.

For Huelsermann the solution was to create a “universal ad serving and booking platform”, to simplify the whole market for advertisers and agencies – the key to growth for the DOOH market.

At this point, let me explain VUKUNET in a bit more detail for the uninitiated or non-DOOH industry folk among us.

VUKUNET is a booking platform that can connect with any internet-enabled digital screen and can be used to plan and buy DOOH media campaigns in a very similar way to how online advertising is bought. Not only will the platform allow you to plan and buy by audience type, environment, CPM etc. it will also automatically deliver artwork to each screen and produce post-campaign play-out reports.

The task of making this a reality has been a real challenge. On a technical level, the practice of integrating a range of different media players, CMS and booking systems into one unified and standardized system is not an easy task. Ultimately, every DOOH screen is digital and internet-enabled, so there’s always a solution to be found … somehow!

VUKUNET offers a complete hard-and software agnostic approach, which makes it easy to technically integrate without any hassle or further investment into the infrastructure for the media owner.

But for VUKUNET to be widely adopted by the media community, it needs to offer real scale, and that means the big OOH media owners need to join the party. This has been Huelsermann’s core focus in recent months. Huelsermann has engaged with pretty much every European Outdoor company about VUKUNET.

As you might expect with a product that could radically change the market, the response from the media owners has varied.

“Some have been very innovative and want to start using it immediately, whilst others have been more concerned about cannibalizing revenue or lowering their CPM”, says Huelsermann.

Some OOH companies are worried that certain VUKUNET capabilities borrowed from online media, such as RTB (real time bidding), will simply move existing OOH spend from one format to another, or will lower CPMs, but Huelsermann believes the real scope of VUKUNET is not to simply offer RTB, but to bring new money to the OOH market.

The OOH industry has always targeted revenue from other media; the long-term growth of the OOH market is dependent upon it. Newspapers have long been a target, but more recently the focus has shifted – how can OOH get a part of those big online budgets? It’s Huelsermann’s belief that VUKUNET can make this a reality.

For Huelsermann, VUKUNET can be an extension of an online ad serving platform; DOOH campaigns could be part of (and booked at the same time as) an online campaign. “Our aim is to not only make it easier for agencies to book, but to connect our platform to the online ad serving platforms”.

What Huelsermann is suggesting would be a radical shift for the DOOH market BUT one that could propel the industry into the stratosphere. The lines are blurring between different media disciplines, with permanently connected consumers and media consumption patterns changing all the time. Why couldn’t DOOH be booked as part of an online campaign?

It seems feasible that a consumer who is ‘Out-Of-Home’ could legitimately be referred to as a member of an ‘online’ audience – the only difference being that web page could be a street and the display ad could be a digital 6 sheet, if you will. Indeed, you could argue that Mobile could more accurately be described as small format ‘Out-Of-Home’.

Add DOOH screens to the mix of TV, tablets, smart phones etc. and advertisers can truly complete the consumer journey, reaching permanently connected audiences. There seems to be some validity in that.

If VUKUNET can demonstrate some real-world examples of online budgets being used for DOOH, then you can be pretty sure that every OOH media owner will be knocking at VUKUNET’s door to join the party.

Huelsermann is passionate that VUKUNET can help facilitate the arrival of ad budgets from online, but he firmly believes that the industry needs to change too. Huelsermann is a long-standing advocate of ‘standardization’ across the DOOH industry.

For a ‘new’ industry, Huelsermann believes we have an identity crisis that is making it hard for media folk to understand what DOOH offers, “are we DOOH, Digital Signage, Video advertising?..many advertisers don’t even know what DOOH is”. Huelsermann believes the DOOH industry has a fundamental marketing job to do if it wants to grow and be part of the online family, “we need to speak the same language and use the same terminology if we want everyone to understand our industry”.

Huelsermann argues that a dedicated DOOH industry body is the solution and cites the success of industry bodies, such as the IAB, as living proof of what can be achieved when an industry pulls together, “[the IAB] have clear guidelines, clear standards, standard formats…if you want scale, you need to standardize things”.

Standardization is at the core of it. And OOH is capable of that. It is an industry built on 48 sheets and 6 sheets. Reports suggest that digital 6 sheets will be the dominant DOOH format of the future. Standardization, in terms of media formats at least, looks like it could be a reality for DOOH.

But the industry needs to deal with the conflict between traditional OOH and DOOH. For Huelsermann, traditional paper OOH and DOOH “must eventually be separated, they are completely different businesses”. That may take some time…!

So, keep a close eye on VUKUNET over the next few months. Their ambitions are big, very big, but they might just pull it off and change the DOOH industry forever. Watch this space.

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