Guest Post: Digital Out-Of-Home No More

March 22, 2012 by guest author, Jason Kates

An Open Letter to the Digital Out-Of-Home Industry

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e are in the midst of a revolution. Not the violent, noisy, two-sides-fighting-against-each-other type but the quiet, almost unnoticed variety that is whispered among colleagues but no one really wants to discuss publicly. That’s not to say there haven’t been casualties. There have been plenty and more occurring each day. SeeSaw Networks and others, including networks, have fallen. Still more are on the brink of extinction.

We are witnessing a new era in our industry. One that is exciting and full of possibilities. However, the model of simply advocating and representing this medium to advertisers and agencies isn’t enough.

Collectively, we have the fundamentals that attract advertisers: scale, mass audience appeal, dwell time, standards, etc. What then are we missing? Where is our opportunity to stand out as a medium, or better yet, an ignition point for the greatest societal change of our lifetime? It lies in making this industry a natural part of the way that people want to engage with media and with each other. It lies in becoming integrated with Social TV.

Understanding how three key themes combine to influence our industry leads to that inescapable conclusion.

1)         Creative Content
2)         Technological Enablers
3)         Consumer Behavior

Creative Content

Content remains the single biggest challenge for our industry in terms of gaining further traction with advertisers and agencies. Many networks have solid production values and compelling content. Unfortunately, too many networks don’t have the capital to produce or buy premium content that will effectively engage the viewer and spur them to action.

Why is a network’s own content so relevant and important to the advertiser’s decision to buy a schedule?

Our advertising and agency partners in media are, for the most part, sold on the value our medium brings to the marketing mix. However, great media strategies have always factored the content surrounding a brand’s ad. Most advertisers have objectionable content lists, or “hit lists” as insiders refer to them. These are programs considered inappropriate for the brand.

The production and engagement value of the content itself is also considered critical to the brand’s decision process. This is why you see cable networks succeeding with original programming. It has extremely high production value and is storytelling at its finest. This content is increasingly on par with feature films.

Overall, advertisers want to be associated with content they perceive to be in line with their brand’s equities, both from a contextual and production value perspective. If the content isn’t considered appropriate or acceptable given these qualitative measures, we lack the ability to generate significant momentum as a serious medium with both media and creative teams. How do we solve this content dilemma? How do networks elevate their content game within an acceptable financial model?

Technological Enablers

The aggregator model appears to be winding down. Defining aggregators has been a struggle for our medium.  At some point, everyone who isn’t a network has been labeled an aggregator by agencies, advertisers and actual aggregators. SeeSaw Networks and Adcentricity were often labeled aggregators. The reality is they were closer to a rep firm model. They work(ed) with certain networks, often in an exclusive capacity. They have planned and bought. This is consistent with rep firm models for other forms of media.

As the space has evolved, we’ve seen technology attempt to bring order to fragmentation, eliminate Request for Proposals (RFPs) and facilitate easier planning and buying of multiple networks. These advances begin to help the medium function more akin to other media and to move toward an online business model. The challenge has been moving agencies from dependency on the previous model of rep firms or aggregators to a demand-side platform model. The DSP model in online is characterized by self-service and real-time inventory bids. Agencies can plan and buy the space on their own. Our industry continues to move toward DSP as reality, but we are currently in a hybrid phase where media adoption is more dependent on the client and agencies’ needs rather than a lack of technology-based solutions.

The current content (programming, ads, etc.) distribution model is also preventing our industry from achieving the level of revenue we’d all like to realize. As mentioned above, we lack consistent, quality content. We also lack a ubiquitous technology to deploy content of all types at a speed that keeps pace with advertiser demand. The ability to daypart inventory isn’t consistent across networks and prevents advertiser adoption and ability to move larger portions of their budgets to our space. Measuring the medium from multiple dimensions is also needed to provide greater advertiser comfort with accountability. Several strides have been made in this arena recently but a standardized approach focusing on the consumer remains a goal.

Consumer Behavior

The business of advertising has moved beyond the fundamentals our industry has adopted. The agency business is experiencing its own revolution, the single greatest change in their industry since the 1960s and the Mad Men era. Whether we like it or not, we are impacted by the changes occurring within both agencies and client organizations.

Titles and functions within these entities are changing to reflect consumer behavior. Media Strategy is giving way to Consumer Engagement and Social Media practitioners. Retail, Merchandising and Promotions has been replaced by Shopper Marketing. Somewhere along the way, our industry labeled itself and decided to seek adoption by the agencies’ Out-Of-Home buying groups. This was most likely viewed as the path of least resistance and proved fruitful for the larger networks with the capital to deploy a sales force of sufficient strength to cover the major agencies and advertisers.

However, we are now experiencing the effects of stagnation and the inability to recognize the behavioral change occurring with consumers and the influence it is having on our industry. This change has impacted all other media and how products are sold and merchandised. This change has also affected our individual lives and how we interact as a society, both personally and professionally. If you’re still reading, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Social Media.

Unfortunately, we, as an industry, have yet to realize the fullest potential of this opportunity.

Yes, there have been successful brand experimentation and business models combining Social Media and our medium. However, the majority of these are a somewhat one-way, one-dimensional dialogue limited by the dwell time and the consumers present within the defined environment. We have the capability to create a seamless dynamic experience that transcends the immediate venue and audience present.

Consider that our industry and Television have always been intertwined. In 1947, the World Series was broadcast on TV from New York to Washington D.C. The series was viewed mainly in bars in a social setting … sound familiar?

We are social

Our industry, by its very nature, is social.

The consumer no longer just watches TV even when they are in the comfort and solitude of their own home. Their companion devices surround them on the couch. Think of your own viewing habits and how they have changed in the past three years.  Constant contact with your friends, colleagues and social sphere of influence permeates every facet of daily life. Our companion devices are portals allowing us to comment, share, rant, and express joy to anyone and everyone simultaneously. What do most people comment about or share, second to family and pets? Entertainment. We are a society passionate about entertainment in all forms. TV, Movies, Music, Gaming, Live Theater, Events, Sports, the Arts – the list goes on.

We are Social TV.

Our Vision

Our industry stands on the brink. For some, that brink can be interpreted as potentially disastrous. Our interpretation is enlightenment, clarity and ultimately, sustained success.

Television budgets continue to make up the largest portion of the media mix. Digital is gaining share of spending rapidly due to the measurability of the medium. As Social TV, our industry will have a seat at the television and digital tables. These tables, and those seated around them, command the most attention and money from advertisers. Strategic decisions on how to integrate various digital media, and how to move consumers to engage, post, share and spend, are their focus. We have a right to not only participate but to lead these conversations into previously uncharted territory.

How do we capitalize on the opportunity before us in content, in Social Media?

The world of media is constantly evolving and often goes through revolution. The outcome of our industry’s revolution is ours to control. The time is now to readdress our positioning within the media world.

We are Social TV.  Join us.

  1. Interesting article, but in my opinion your premise that digital out-of-home is a “social platform” is flawed. There are technical and consumer behavior barriers that are preventing social media from be used successfully by advertisers.

    Digital out-of-home is not a social media platform because it lacks the same immediacy that established social media already provides. While there have been some successful examples of social media using calls-to-action in advertising campaigns, the problem is behavioral. Part of the problem has to do with the lack of a direct interface that prevents consumers from reacting in a spontaneous way when they see something on a DOOH network. Advertising calls-to-action require consumers to take extra steps to engage with the media. That’s a big barrier for marketers to overcome and explains why participation in these types of campaigns remains low. This doesn’t mean that advertisers shouldn’t try to incorporate social media into their campaigns, however, they need to be realistic about the barriers, and sellers need to be honest about the potential returns.

    Digital out-of-home’s strength is in its ability to reach on-the-go consumers in locations and venues by “extending” the reach of a traditional television buy.

    The biggest issue for DOOH networks (in my opinion) is the continued flat economy which has forced advertisers to focus their spending on the biggest growth segments such as digital (Internet and Mobile) along with a traditional television buys. Unfortunately DOOH remains an afterthought or a “nice to have” media buy, assuming there’s any money left over.

    In my opinion, the only real path for digital out-of-home networks to see significant growth is with integration with location-based mobile marketing. If I were running a DOOH network of any significance I would be looking for partners in the location-based space who can provide mobile offers to consumers tied to specific DOOH locations. A good example is JiWire. Location-based mobile can provide advertisers with a real reason to engage with the DOOH networks because it extends across two platforms and can show a measurable and immediate sales lift at a specific location. I also would recommend that DOOH networks look for partner in the NFC space. NFC will become a prime driver of location-based mobile offers and having the ability to interact directly at venues will be vital for DOOH network growth.

    Every industry and business needs a social media strategy and digital out-of-home networks and advertisers should use it, but the key enabling technologies such as location-based marketing and NFC need to be in place first to take full advantage of social media.

  2. Ken Goldberg says:


    Your premise that digital out of home is not a social media platform because it lacks the immediacy of established social media ignores the entire reality and emergence of the “second screen”, a/k/a Social TV. The number of people who engage via a second screen while watching TV is staggering and growing. Jason’s assertion that digital out of home must become part of that ecosystem to prosper has merit. I believe it is a matter of becoming relevant to the three constituencies that matter: the networks, the brands/advertisers, and the consumers. That is exactly how DOOH can “extend the reach of a traditional television buy”, and also extend the reach of a traditional television network! Yes, there is work to be done, but it is worth doing.

    Do mobile technologies like LBS and NFC have a role? You bet they do. But they are merely mechanisms for extending the manner in which people want to engage with both content and brands.

  3. It is easy to discount the inevitable connective technologies of mobile and social as Lionel did.

    A majority of social media engagement on otherwise passive screens (e.g. TV, DOOH), happens via webstes (Facebook, Twitter etc) and is then filtered and curated to be contextually interesting on place-based screens.

    Social TV – call it what you will – is just another name for multi-channel marketing.

    Think about the Oscars, or the Grammies or, closer to home, the recent DSE conference, and it’s easy to see the power of messages that can be sent by people at, around or outside an event to enhance user engagement and brand interest.

    This isn’t the future, it’s already happening.

  4. Hi Ken,

    Regarding your last paragraph ” Do mobile technologies like LBS and NFC have a role? You bet they do. But they are merely mechanisms for extending the manner in which people want to engage with both content and brands.”

    That’s exactly my point, digital out-of-home currently lacks the mechanism to make social media effective and therefore truly relevant to advertisers. That’s not a small thing. I believe this will be solved over time, but it could still be a few years away.

    While consumers have begun to change their behavior — learning to muti-task on multiple screens, a/k/a “Social television” this behavior does not directly translate to digital out-of-ume media. I think it’s a real stretch to say that it does. If you have proof, I’d like to see it.

    Stephen, I respect your point of view, but it should be noted that you’re selling a product that “pulls” social media data on to screens. What we’re really talking about here is whether digital out-of-home media can also provide the “push”. I’m not saying that it can’t, only that we’re in the very early stages of the platform and it needs the right “mechanisms” in place to make it really work.

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  6. Steve Gurley says:

    Curious. Doesn’t it come down to one thing: What is the problem and how is DOOH a/the solution?

  7. Steve,

    I think you are asking the right question – the problem is very simple in my opinion. The information displayed on the DOOH screens is not relevant. I believe social is part of the answer – but there needs to be a content product specifically built for the industry. The solution needs to use all the advantages that DOOH has: constant internet connection, location, and user frame of mind.

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