The industry cull is underway

May 16, 2008 by Dave Haynes

I have been hearing lots of stories lately about networks in Canada and the US huffing and wheezing away as they try to generate the sort of ad revenues needed to move forward.

UK and European blogs have also been reporting lately of the business failures of Big Media Group in England, Digital Poster in Norway and a couple of long-running networks in France.

It’s hard to say if these struggles reflect the current business climate, or just the inevitability of the business plans these companies were working off.

The ad dollars shifting to this industry are real, but the people making decisions on where to spend that money have a LOT of choices. This is not like a birthday party where the media planner mom makes sure everyone gets a thin little slice of the cake. More likely, a couple of the kids will each get half and everyone else fights over the crumbs.

It’s nowhere near enough to simply BE in an environment with a screen or screens, though that seems to be the primary business objective of some networks. There’s a whole formula to getting that right that starts with a really well-considered strategy and never, really, ends. The screens have to steadily be supported with fresh content, and both the advertisers and venue partners with great service.

I spend much of my time talking to people who are just getting into this space, listening politely to the bravado and the hyper-ambitious plans. In presentations I’ve been doing lately, I talk about 1,000 still being the number most people trot out. But instead of planning in terms of 1,000 total screens or venues, it’s 1,000 a quarter in a rollout, or 1,000 a year for the next three years.

Some of these companies have the horsepower and brainpower to make that actually happen.  But a lot don’t, and the target numbers are just thrown out there. One of my favorite companies to work with right now has plans to do, I think, something like 600 sites.

NOBODY throws out 600 as a number unless they’ve actually stopped and thought it all through, and landed on that number as being realistic.

To borrow a phrase from an industry friend, who borrowed it from M. Night Shyamalan, “I see dead people.”

There’s a lot of networks out there right now that aren’t going to make it, and others just ready to roll that have a sort of living dead whiff to them.

Many, many good things are happening in this industry, and there are, increasingly, efforts that can be referenced and celebrated, but there’s also a lot of stuff that just doesn’t work well enough to be sustained. The industry is starting to go through a cull, and while those carcasses laying about here and there (or more accurately hanging blank from ceilings in stores and public spaces) will be problematic for a while, it’s needed.

People like me, who spend too much time thinking about and looking at this space, should not have to stop and think when someone asks them about networks or installations that were truly impressive and effective. But that’s kinda where we’re at right now.

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