It has been no secret that the biggest out-of-home advertising contract in the world has been up for grabs recently – and in March it was announced that Exterion have retained Transport for London’s (TfL) rail advertising contract.

As well as granting the rights to sell ad space on the London Underground, the contract includes Docklands Railway, London Overground, Tramlink and Victoria Coach Station, plus the long-awaited and newly-named Elizabeth line.

Exterion beat its competitor, and the outdoor market leader, JCDecaux, in a head-to-head pitch, after Clear Channel dropped out of the race earlier this year. If JCDecaux had been successful, the outdoor market would have been dominated by a single goliath, owning over half of outdoor contracts in the UK. Experts speculated that this would have led to further consolidation, with pressure on a weakened Exterion to be sold to a rival.

The new rail contract forms part of TfL’s push to maximise non-fare revenue through commercial ventures: ambitious targets aim to increase the current £1.1 billion of commercial income to £3.4 billion by 2023. This has led to a real step change in TfL’s outlook, and a subsequent change in its relationship with its advertising contractor.

Unlike the previous agreements, where Exterion (then CBS Outdoor) was lumbered with onerous guarantees that led to an open disagreement after the 2008 crash, the new contract has been dubbed a “partnership” by both sides.

For TfL, this means it will now pay for improving the infrastructure of its sites, with £100 million to be invested. This will lead to new formats and technology for advertisers to take advantage of: there are rumours that digital escalator panels will be replaced with “digital ribbons”, and that the upgrades will see the launch of “digital tube car panels”.

The new infrastructure will also benefit passengers, giving them Wi-Fi access in more stations, and even, eventually, in tunnels.

Exterion is also keen for change. It’s hinted heavily that it wants to lead developments in the out-of-home market trading model, pushing the industry into an audience led sell. This will be shaped by its partnership with O2 owner, Telefonica, which will give it a deeper insight into Londoners’ travel behaviour.

Advertisers however will have to wait for change: the latest two London Underground updates are both still stalling. Both DX3 (the new projector digital format) and the highly anticipated night tube have been delayed. It seems there are severe delays on other lines.

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