We’ve heard it all before – traditional media is in decline. Print, for example, is seeing a drop in readers and ad revenue is expected to fall 10% in 2017. The story for Outdoor, meanwhile, is quite different – the medium is on the up – and weekly reach remains the highest of all channels (99.5%).

This is because Out-of-Home (OOH) retains a captive audience – we can’t avoid London Underground panels, bus ads, or roadside formats. For outdoor media owners, the development of digital technology therefore isn’t needed to fill a leaky revenue bucket, it’s an opportunity to take the medium into the future. In fact, DOOH is predicted (by JCDecaux) to hit 50% of all outdoor revenue by the end of 2017.

In recent years the outdoor ad industry has heavily upgraded – and digitised – its inventory. The number of digital screens has increased from 2,056 in 2009 to over 17,000 in 2017 at a cost of circa £100m investment. Simultaneously, outdoor media owners are ripping out poorer quality paper-and-paste sites, resulting in improved infrastructure and increased value for the market. Even the UK’s most iconic digital screens have been affected by this upgrade. For the refurb of Piccadilly Circus the lights were switched off completely – something that was only previously observed for the funerals of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana. The newly-rebranded Piccadilly Lights now features one huge screen.
While there is now more talk around brand safety than ever, OOH remains a relatively brand-safe channel, where you can be sure of the environment, even with digital inventory. The switch to digital also means that advertisers have more flexibility with their campaigns. There is no need to stick to the traditional two week in-charge periods, with uncertain posting times. Advertisers can turn on their campaign over key moments to maximise efficiencies in this more expensive digital world. An estimated two-thirds of outdoor advertisers are already taking advantage of this capability.

The real benefit of digital outdoor is in the dynamic creative opportunities it allows. A number of studies prove the impact on both soft and hard brand metrics when using relevant and real-time creative messages. And yet only 1% of campaigns take advantage of this functionality, restricted in large part by creative costs. But this increase in quality, and the introduction of dynamic campaigns, comes at a price for brands, as media owners are using digitalisation to drive higher margins. In a paper-and-paste world, a premium six-sheet might have cost £300 for a two-week period. Upgrade the same site to a digital screen, and market rate is over double this for 10 seconds in a 60-second loop.

This could also, eventually, result in a different buying model altogether. For now, DOOH and OOH is bought on a cost-per-panel basis, but, with greater access to audience data, the ability to trade on an audience model isn’t far off. In Canada, Outfront Media has launched its own real-time analytics platform, having agreed a partnership with mobile network Cellint. By tapping into their reams of data, the platform will allow tracking of hourly impression numbers, including the proportion of those that are unique views. The next step will, inevitably, be the introduction of trading efficiencies.

In London, TfL still hasn’t opened its data up to third parties but they have been using it for their own devices. A four-week trial last year – the results of which were released this month – looked at data collected from 5.6m mobile phones connected to Wi-Fi on the London Underground in an attempt to understand how travellers navigate the network. Previously, ticketing data has been used to look at those entering and exiting, but mobile data is far more sophisticated in its ability to track interchanges, and even walking routes and platform use within a station.

By understanding the routes customers are taking, even down to the platforms they’re standing on, it’s looking likely that, in coming years, panels will be costed according to the real-time impressions they’re racking up. OOH is in a transition period, but the future looks set to be exciting – and very much digital.