The DOOH Business is Jargon-Filled And Confusing, Which Is Why Industry Vet Jeff Gunderman Launched DOOH Academy

February 28, 2024 by Dave Haynes

I’m not really joking when I write about needing to find my decoder ring if I am going to write something about an announcement from a digital out of home ad tech company. There are exceptions, of course, but more often than not, I read this stuff and I just go cross-eyed.

So I was pleased to learn of a new education-focused initiative called DOOH Academy, which exists to raise the level of understanding of how things work for operators, end-users and the people who make ad-buying and planning decisions. I was also pleased to learn – though I pretty much knew – that I’m not the only one confused as hell by how technology like programmatic is marketed.

The Academy is the smiling, weeks-old baby of ad industry veteran Jeff Gunderman, who saw a need to get quality, vendor-neutral educational material out there that helps people get up a steep and slippery learning curve. He has an interesting model – in that the academy is subsidized by companies in this business who also understand everyone benefits from better awareness and deeper knowledge.

We had a really good chat about the roots of the online academy, how it works, and also how the industry has responded.

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Jeff, thank you for joining me. Can you give me a rundown on what DOOH Academy is all about? 

Jeff Gunderman: Yes, the DOOH Academy is the Digital Out of Home Academy, and it is an education initiative I started that is designed to help people understand all of the advances going on in digital and programmatic media for the out-of-home media industry. 

I had been a media operator for about 15 years running a company called Eye Corp Media, which was an Australian-based media company, we did both static and digital signage around the country and places like shopping malls, bars, restaurants, and cinema lobbies, and when I sold that business, I essentially was talking with a number of individuals in the industry and recognized that there was a real gap in education and understanding around digital and place-based media, and at the same time, when I sold my company, I started to have some requests from media companies and ad tech firms for consulting work and that clarified for me, really the gap that existed in our industry as we are moving to more of a digital and programmatic world, people are very confused, and so after talking with a number of people in the industry, I felt that we really needed a single point of education to help people understand digital place-based media.

I get asked quite a bit if I’m doing any consulting, I don’t really do much these days, but when I get asked specifically about doing consulting around digital out-of-home networks, I just say, I really can’t help you because I don’t fully understand what’s going on, I don’t understand the nomenclature, everybody seems to market themselves a little bit differently, even if they’re doing the same damn thing.

It’s just overwhelmingly complicated to me, so I do one of these things with my hands up beside me going, I don’t even want to touch that. 

Jeff Gunderman: You know what? It’s much simpler than it seems, but because it’s such a massive change from the way we used to plan media with spreadsheets we used to sell a location, or a billboard on the side of a street corner, 

You used to sell location and audience.

Jeff Gunderman: Location and audience, and now, really what we’re selling is I’ll use the term audience again, but audience and impressions. So it used to be more boards and ad loops and you’d sell a flip on a board, and nowadays people, especially advertisers, and marketers are really looking to maximize their reach of a very particular audience and the beautiful part about it is that data companies have come in and enabled out-of-home media operators to sell their media based on the audience that’s in front of that media, they’ve enabled the ability to understand the measurement of the audience that actually goes by their boards, and so with all this data and measurement that has come into the space, out-of-home media operators can now, especially digital ones, can now sell their media the same way that social, mobile, online media is sold today, and by the programmatic partners that have come in, have enabled the transactional component of that to happen the same way that digital, social, mobile is being transacted today.

S we really are in an amazing position as an industry now to gain a share of the marketing spend. But to do that, we’ve got to better understand programmatic, especially digital out of home and all the data that sits behind it, and that’s what the DOOH Academy is really designed to do to elevate the knowledge level of both media operators and agencies or buyers of place-based, digital and programmatic media.

Now, if it’s increasingly similar to the way that you plan and buy online and the way you plan and buy mobile, why then are media planners confused by digital out-of-home if it’s the same sort of process and everything else? Are they using different naming conventions and things?  

Jeff Gunderman: There are a few reasons behind that. The first one is that, especially in the United States, a lot of the people buying this media are out-of-home media specialists. Out-of-home media used to be so complicated to buy, and in some cases, it’s still not as smooth as you would like, but it used to be so complicated to buy because there were so many different media operators and so many different options that putting together a plan was a massive undertaking. 

Now with digital and especially with the programmatic infrastructure that’s out there, you can actually go into a tool and a planning tool or a demand-side platform and you can actually program in the audience you want to reach, the locations you want to be in, all kinds of criteria, and it will connect and pull down the inventory that’s available that meets those demand criteria and with the push of a button, essentially you can book a campaign across many different media operators, many different locations, many different boards, and many different media types. And it’s so much simpler than it used to be, and it’s so much more accurate in your ability to reach an audience. So what we’re finding is that out-of-home media, which used to be mainly for branding, can be much more part of the full funnel of audience conversion. 

Which gives access to more, better budget, right? Before, it was just gross impressions, like I know that a hundred thousand cars go down this highway every week, and therefore we can estimate that many people are going to see it. Now you can get into much richer data that will tell you, you know, give you a much better sense of how many people actually did look as opposed to that gross number.

Jeff Gunderman: That’s exactly right. So not only you’re tapping into bigger budgets because now, all of a sudden, those digital budgets were designed for activities other than branding, such as store visits, web traffic, or driving conversions. All of that is now trackable within the digital out-of-home space and so we’re seeing people who may be used to spending with social, mobile, and online, take a much more serious look at digital out-of-home, not only for that reason, but also because digital out-of-home has such a lower density for fraud and it’s a safer place to advertise, and now you can measure it, which is really driving an opportunity for space.

I have a theory, and you can tell me it’s stupid or spot on. God knows I have no pride of ownership of it. But I get a ton of press releases every week from different digital out-of-home ad tech companies, and they’ll say, we’ve just done this, or we’ve partnered with these people, and so on, and I will try to read the things and decode what on earth they’re going on about, and I’ve sent notes back to him saying, I’ve read this five times, I still don’t know what the hell this is about, and you’re saying it’s a lot simpler than maybe I think it is, or the world thinks it is. But my theory is that the marketers are having to change their descriptions, their naming, and everything else about their product versus the other ones just to make it sound distinct.

Jeff Gunderman: There are nuances within digital and place-based, specifically within programmatic that are really the catalyst for why the DOOH Academy is in such high demand right now, and it’s because if you look at my model, I am funded primarily through sponsorship of companies, unbiased, and nobody can have any kind of exclusivity and when they talk in an educational format that has to be generic and not self-promoting. But what I’ve found is these competing ad tech agencies, trade associations, media operators, and companies have all come together to support foundational learning that enables people to get to a level of understanding of how the entire ecosystem works together.

And then what it has allowed is the same, let’s say ad tech companies that are sponsoring, to not have to focus on getting people up to a basic level of education, but then they can focus on really educating on the nuances of their specific platform and the benefits that they drive. And so I think that email communication that you’re getting or the other communications you’re getting are today confusing. If you went through a digital out-of-home academy course, you learned the full infrastructure of how everything works together from A to Z. Now, all of a sudden, it’s going to make sense what that specific company’s particular value proposition is and many of these ad tech companies have very specific value propositions that make sense, but they make sense in the context of greater knowledge of what’s going on across the industry, and that’s where we’re really designed to do is to bring the entire industry up to a specific level of education and knowledge base.

Is this aimed primarily at newbies to the industry or is it something that everybody could benefit from?

Jeff Gunderman: It’s interesting you say that. We’re now working on advanced courses, but the first course we released is called Digital and Programmatic Fundamentals.

It is fantastic for an entry-level person who knows nothing about it because we use vocabulary and acronyms, and we really worked you through the basics of digital and programmatic media in the out-of-focus space. But then it’s also very good for people with, I’ll say, intermediate knowledge that want to just get to the next level because it’s pretty in-depth. It’s a five-hour streaming video course with 12 different, we call modules, but we could refer to that as a chapter, and it has 20 different video segments with 12 different industry experts, so it’s a very thorough course, but it also starts out very basic so it doesn’t leave someone behind.

Let’s go down to the wood on this. How does it work? You go to the website, and you basically register to become a student?

Jeff Gunderman: Exactly. So you go to, and that is the portal for everything. It’s the portal for our learning classes. It’s the portal for our thought leadership. It’s the portal for company spotlights and other content, and it will continue to build. So all of the content, with the exception of the learning courses, is free. You can go in and see company spotlights on very specific companies. They were just launched recently so you’ll see more and more of those start to be released.

You can see thought leadership that will continue to release on a fairly regular basis to get ideas of, you know, hot topics that are happening in the industry and people’s perspectives, and then there’s also the certification courses, and you would go into the course section, and you can register. There’s a small fee for the certification courses, and usually, a discount that’s out there in the industry can reduce that fee further because all of the courses are underwritten from a cost perspective by the sponsors, and you go on, and you register, and then it is all built on a university grade LMS or learning management system or platform, and so, and it’s all streaming videos. So you can start and stop as your schedule permits.

So some students will come in, and they’ll take the whole course in a weekend, and others will come in, and they’ll be on a coffee break, they’ll take one video segment at a time, and those are somewhere between 8 and 20 minutes in length, and then they’ll turn it off, and they’ll come back another day when they have a chance around their next coffee break, and will take the next segment. So, it’s fairly easy to navigate at your own pace. 

And from what I saw, it’s a kind of a combination of interviews/discussions with a second person or, in the case of, I went through the acronym one, or at least kind of quickly bombed my way through it. It was you talking, but also, you had a deck that you were referencing and talking to. So are those the two formats that you’re using? 

Jeff Gunderman: They are. The real design of the course. I don’t call myself the experts, so to speak, I call myself the host because, you know, I have a level of knowledge about all of it, but I really host most of them, mostly through interviews with very specific industry experts.

And then on the basic things, I’ll teach myself vocabulary and acronyms and a couple of other areas, you’ll see me instructing, but for the most part, the design of it is to bring in the foremost experts in a specific topic. So when we talk about an SSP or the sell-side platform, we work with two different ad tech companies and their specific head of supply, we interview on that topic. And so you’re hearing really from experts in the industry that are about as knowledgeable as it can be. 

But they’re not setting the curriculum. They’re not saying, okay, this is what I want to talk about for the next 25 minutes with you?

Jeff Gunderman: No. They certainly can give me some feedback that they don’t like a question or what have you. But, all the questions are formulated by me. 

Let’s take a step back on this, actually. I think this is important. We have an advisor team and an expert team, and the advisor team helps me guide the actual curriculum. And the experts are experts from multiple competing companies. So I make absolutely sure that I’m not swayed by a certain way of thinking or doing things, and I’m ignoring maybe another option. So we try to be as neutral as possible and bring it, this is fully an educational course.

I’ll use measurement as an example. So on the measurement side, we have one company, Geopath, that has a measurement methodology, and their measurement methodology is different from Place Exchange, the PerView product that Place Exchange has, and so I was very confident or very certain to make sure that I used interviews with someone for each of those companies so that we weren’t, giving a single way of doing things, and in fact, we also brought in, because it’s North America, from a measurement perspective, also Combe Canada, who has yet a third methodology for measurement. In the first course, I think it’s probably important to point out that measurement is one of those tricky pieces that, as we expand into new markets and new areas of the world, measurement is sometimes defined by the capabilities within that market to measure an audience. So it would be very hard to have a worldwide single measurement methodology because it’s, you know, what you can do in the United States is potentially a little different than what you can do in other regions.

So if I’m going to be interviewed as an expert in one of these modules, do I need to be a financial supporter of the Academy, or would you pull in somebody who is absolutely the best person to talk about this?

Jeff Gunderman: No, we would pull in the people who is the best people to talk to about this. We’ve done that on a couple of occasions, and those individuals have decided to sponsor. But if we feel that a topic needs to get covered, regardless of whether you pay money for sponsorship, we want to cover that topic, and we will cover that topic.

Now, there are two sides to the platform. There’s the educational piece, which starts with Digital and programmatic fundamentals as a course, and later this year, you’ll see advanced courses come out on the sell side and the buy side. So you’ll see more and more content and more courses come out. But on the other side are actual spotlights on very specific companies, and those are sponsored companies, and it is thought leadership with very specific people. Many of them sponsor, but not all are open sponsors, so we have an unbiased education piece. Then, we actually have another area where we show how real people and real companies are applying that education or that knowledge in the real world.

So if I’m an ad tech company, being a sponsor, a supporter of this initiative also gives me the opportunity and the outlet, so to speak, of, kind of a central repository of good content about, you know, the industry that I’m active in, and if I want to produce thought leadership pieces, this is a great home for it, as opposed to maybe just my corporate blog that nobody’s going to read?

Jeff Gunderman: Exactly, and I like to think of it as a centralized area where the industry can come for content, thought leadership, company spotlights, all of this content that is not specific to an individual organization, that gives a really well-rounded view of what’s happening in the latest news and education around digital and programmatic for the out of home space.

You said, in passing, that it’s going quite well, that there’s a lot of demand for it. What was your initial reaction when you went to some of these organizations, and how do you kind of quantify that things are hopping? 

Jeff Gunderman: A few answers to that question.

The first one would be the fact that we have multiple competing companies across ad tech, agency associations, trade associations, and media operators. This tells you that it is supported by the industry, and I gauge success, not by ultimately who sponsors it, but really by the reaction of the people that are taking the course.

So we’ve been live for just six weeks now. We’ve already had over 200 individuals register for the course. We’ve had almost 40 complete the course, and a large chunk of those 40 have provided feedback to us, their reaction to the course, and we’ve had nothing but very positive feedback from the industry, which alone helps. We’ve solicited a lot of the people that have gone through the course, just to make sure that if there’s any, you know, your first few weeks, it’s obviously the time when you test the integrity of the course and the platform that you’re on and things like that.

There have been a couple of little things that we’ve been able to fix. There was somebody who pointed out an audio issue with one of the videos that we were able to fix immediately. You know, one person pointed out a typo that we had. But now that all that is corrected, we’re starting to get group registrations. So we’re seeing companies come to us and say, we want to register our entire team, and so we actually have a new product now where you can register your team in what we call a group training, and we will register them all at one time for you and send invites out that they can log in with so they’ll be auto-registered into the tool. They just have to set a password, and then we can send to the organization a report every week or two that shows the progress of each of their team members against completing the course, and we’re finding that’s been popular. We have two agencies and three media companies so far that have signed up their teams, and we’re seeing increased interest in that.

I’ve heard a number of times over the last several years from companies who’ve said, I appreciate what you do with Sixteen:Nine, You should know that when we onboard new employees, we tell them where the cafeteria is and all the nuts and bolts and we also tell them you need to be reading Sixteen:Nine every day. You need to subscribe to this and so on so you can get up to speed on the industry. 

Do you see the time when this will just be kind of part of the normal routine of you’ve joined this ad tech company, there’s your desk, there’s this and that, and, here’s your login for the DOOH Academy?

Jeff Gunderman: I mean, I could only hope to have the amount of content that you do after seven years. I can imagine that the archives that you have are probably invaluable for anyone entering the industry. 

But yeah, I’m fairly humble about that. I saw a need, and I created a platform, it took me a little longer to release the first course than I thought it would, but I’m rewarded by the fact that the industry seems to be responding very positively to it, and it would be fantastic to think that this would be part of someone’s onboarding. Certainly, the goal of this is to fill a gap that exists in education, and as long as we produce the right content, I think the people will follow, and that’s proving to be true so far in our first six weeks of being live with the course.

Have you had the, “Oh, thank God, somebody’s done this” responses?

Jeff Gunderman: Quite a few actually, and I’ve had others that have said, I can’t believe you did this because I know what an undertaking it is, certainly a little bit bigger of an undertaking than I had anticipated in the beginning, but, I think as you probably know from Sxiteen:Nine, once you’ve started to create enough content, it gets much easier.

We’re working on an advanced course right now for the sell side, and we’re also working on, which we’ll produce after that, an advanced course on the buy side, but. We are getting smarter at producing some of that content earlier on, and it’s now much easier to pull it all together.

It’s interesting one of the modules that I didn’t see in there that I think would be very helpful. I don’t know where you position it, but is one on business fundamentals and viability. Because every week I still get phone calls or emails or press releases from companies who are putting screens over urinals and washrooms or in corporate aviation lounge, just all these, build it and they will come ideas that I just know from doing this for 25 years ain’t going to work or a really tough go and it would be so beneficial if somebody could save themselves half a million dollars or whatever and take this course and go, you know what? Maybe that’s not such a great idea. 

Jeff Gunderman: I think it’s a great idea for the course. I’m not sure I’m gonna tackle that one, but I get what you mean. 

You log in, and it just says, “Don’t!” 

Jeff Gunderman: It’d be great to have like a little calculator of sorts where you enter these values, and it spits out a good business case or a bad business case.

But I think you touch on a topic that topic, I don’t know that education specifically is going to be able to tackle it, but you touched on a topic that’s interesting, and that is that too many new media companies are saying, I’m going to deploy a bunch of new screens and the business will come. I do think you have to understand the statistics in the industry, where the demand is coming from an advertising perspective, and where you fit into that demand.

I’ll use a couple of resources. DPAA, for instance, has an immense amount of information, and, in fact, one of their recent reports said that there were 1. 25 million digital screens connected, from an advertising perspective, just in the United States, and most of those there’s certainly a chunk that are billboards, but most of those, the 1.25 million is specifically place-based media screens that are sitting inside of that. Whether it’s a gas station or a convenience store or a cinema lobby or what have you if you then go to the agencies and you talk about the demand for advertising, there are venue types that in their mind are a must or like to buy and there are venue types that are not even on their radar screen, and I think one of the challenges that new media companies face is that they don’t take the time to do the research on where the demand is coming from. 

I’ll use one other example: the Out Of Home Advertising Association does a great job every year of producing a document that breaks down the industry. So I think we’re in the United States, for instance, we’re about $8.4 billion spent in out-of-home out of that, about a third is driven from digital out-of-home, whereas two-thirds is still driven from the static or printed side of the space. So you’ve got about $2.67 billion dollars, give or take that is, and then out of that, you have about 15 percent or about 450 million today that is driven programmatically, and one of the things we see is these smaller or upstart companies come out with digital screens, they think they’re going to connect to programmatic, and then, they don’t really have to sell a whole lot and that all this money is going to come, and they don’t realize that in their business plan, they’re saying I’m part of an 8. 4 billion industry, but the reality is there’s only 450 million right now transacted programmatically.

And so they’re trying, and they’re few screens, a hundred or a thousand screens that they’ve deployed to compete with 1.25 million screens, all connected, all competing for $450 million, and so when you start doing the numbers, it doesn’t always add up quite as aggressively as probably their business plan does.

Yeah. And, of that $450 million spent, for most of those media operators who are getting that money, it represents 15- 20% of their inventory at most. Is that pretty accurate?

Jeff Gunderman: Well, programmatic is at most 15 percent of your total sales. You’ve got to have direct sales, and even half of the programmatic is not open exchange. It’s coming in through private marketplace deals that someone has to physically set up with the agency or the trade desk. So, it is arguably closer to about 92-95% percent of your sales of any successful, healthy companies arw coming in through direct sales.

So anybody who sets up a screen network and just thinks I’m going to put these up and I’ll do it all through programmatic, I won’t even need salespeople, and I’ll just watch the money flow in, God bless you!

Jeff Gunderman: It’s not a good business model, no. 

This has been great. We could chat forever, but I try to cap my time on these things. If people want to know more about your academy, where do they find you? 

Jeff Gunderman: I appreciate that. It’s as simple as going to and if you want to take a course, the code DOOH20 will take 20% off the cost of the course. There’s a ton of free content there and a growing amount of free content there as well.

Wow. I think this is my first discount code on this podcast. All right, Jeff, that was terrific. Thank you!

Jeff Gunderman: I appreciate the time.

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