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Contrary to Mary

09 Jun 2015  |  James Whitmore 
Contrary to Mary

Mary Meeker's annual report into time spent with media discards out-of-home on the grounds it is impossible to calculate. So what happened when Route - the UK OOH survey that equips 30,000 people with GPS trackers - had a crack?

Last month we published a British version of the Mary Meeker analysis of the time spent with various media. We added out-of-home to the chart. It has ruffled a few feathers.

It is important to set out why and how we have done this as well as to respond to some of the early comments that we have received.

The "why" is easy enough. Mary Meeker's study looks at the time spent with the various media and equates it to the amount of advertising revenue that they each attract. It is a staple of conferences and sales pitches. Martin Sorrell was again referring to it on Radio 4's "Media Show".

Yet the work is based on the USA and it excludes the most venerable and least avoidable medium: posters. Few seem to find this problematic. A typical response when the question came up at a recent Deloittes and Enders Analysis TMT conference, "As it states, it is just media time that people choose and excludes OOH & DM revenue. Impossible to do OOH time credibly."

It was a valid observation at the time. We set out to fill the void for OOH. Whilst we were at it, we thought we might as well recast the analysis for the UK.

chart 1

The Route survey holds information from 30,000 people, each who carry a GPS meter for a nine-day period. We collect data every second, to an accuracy of two metres. We know who has each device and precisely where they are, how they are moving and how fast, for each moment of the day. We have twenty billion data points to work with.

What the figures tell us is that the average Briton, on an average day, spends three hours and ten minutes in a public space. Not at home, not at work, not indoors, but in a car or walking, in a train station or shopping centre, on a tube or waiting for a bus and so on. It's not just time spent on trips but includes window shopping, aimless wandering, loitering and waiting.

As the Route data are collected passively, we can be as confident as we may ever be that the research effect is kept to a minimum. We are not relying on the memory or interpretation of the participant, just the accuracy of the GPS device. And as we have recruited the sample we know how to properly weight the respondents to reflect the population as a whole.

Looking at the time data as reported by other commercial media and overlaying the share of display revenue as recorded by the AA, we are able to create a chart that properly reflects the amount of time that is spent out-of-home.

There are of course many ways to represent the statistics and this is only one of them. But hopefully from now on, such comparisons will include the outdoor medium because the numbers certainly exist and we have placed them in the public domain. Three hours and ten minutes.

Is the "time spent" metric a valid one? You decide. Our point is that it is being used and therefore it ought to incorporate all the available information.

Is the time spent out of home the same as time spent with an advertising medium? Is OOH a media channel? Again, you decide. Our data are for the time spent in public places. The outdoor media companies would argue that they operate in the most active space of all media, offering a close link between the message and the point of action - shopping, the use of mobile devices and so on.

To look at it another way, I walk to work through the streets of Marylebone. There are no ads. I enjoy the architecture; I people watch, I look in shop windows, I avoid hazards, (if I were younger, I might look at my smartphone too).

When I get to Baker Street, I see buses, taxis, bus shelters and so on. I watch Channel 4 News. I discount the politicians and despair at humanitarian crises. At the ad break, I see some commercials. OOH may not be "editorial" in the narrow sense of the word. On the other hand, you could argue that it is a most varied and engaging experience. You choose.

We have excluded the BBC from the TV and radio figures. Yes, they are not commercial media. Put them in if you like.

On the other hand our internet figure includes non commercial sites. We don't believe they dominate online time to the same extent the BBC dominates TV time so we left them in - but feel free to pick them out.

We used AA expenditure figures for display media. Not classified and not search. Mary Meeker chooses not to include classified either. We have also ignored the time spent in places that Route does not measure. For example, the interiors of shops and supermarkets are not included, nor are pubs and clubs and other places that have their own forms of advertising and signage.

How people create this type of chart is entirely up to them. It is also up to others to judge its importance. What we are saying is that there is a number for OOH. It is three hours and ten minutes. Now you know it, you can use it.

Mediatel operate two essential services for the OOH industry. SPACE is a collaboration between IPAO and Outsmart and is the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of inventory in the UK. The RouteAPI is a SaaS solution that enables easy integration of Route audience data into client's systems. See for more information.

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Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director, Thinkbox on 10 Jun 2015
“Hello James,

This is so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a fox, as Blackadder might say. You try to point out that you have got a figure for time spent with OOH. But then - whoops! - you overlay ad investment and do the equivalent of walking away innocently whistling. It is blindingly obvious you want to connect the two.

Although I salute your cunning, this is a flawed and unhelpful analysis. Time spent with outdoor advertising does not equate to time spent with an ad medium. Outdoor is not a medium people choose to spend time with; it's an ambient brand communication like packaging, point of sale etc. It is a very different quality of time and you can’t compare it with radio or newspapers or TV.

But the Route data isn't even time within proximity of OOH advertising and exploits our London-centric perception that all time travelling or shopping must bring people within striking distance of an outdoor ad. Even for commuters into London, try driving down the M1 or taking the train from Brighton. You won't see many ads - other than on your personal devices.

As you acknowledge but don’t justify - other than to say Mary Meeker does it too - your analysis also only includes display advertising for some reason so excludes significant amounts of adspend (like search, print classified etc...). It also, as you state, excludes BBC TV and radio broadcast. Fair enough. But non-commercial time online is significant: Government sites, Wikipedia, BBC sites, Netflix and other SVOD, not to mention the half of online video time that is spent on 'adult' content.

But, most of all, why go to so much trouble on an exercise that totally misses the point? Ad investments should be based only on effectiveness. Maybe that's why the OOH industry wants to divert us with this fruitless and faulty analysis”
Bob Wootton, Director, ISBA on 10 Jun 2015
“Nice piece, James, and good job.

If anybody is going to pitch their medium on what I consider the archaic and misguided basis of being owed a commensurate share of money simply on the basis of time spent, they might as well at least base that pitch on the best information.

Route certainly gives us that, but it also gives much, much more to base much better pitches upon. Onwards!”


08 Jul 2020 

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