Life outside our screens: TfL opens the door to an outdoor media revolution

26 Oct 2016  |  James Brown 
Life outside our screens: TfL opens the door to an outdoor media revolution

Transport for London is promising new ad formats, more digital out-of-home opportunities and a programmatic offering. It's a revolution, writes Rubicon Project's James Brown.

One of the world's most recognisable transport systems may soon also become a potential media owner to rival the likes of ITV and Facebook.

Although this may seem unlikely, under the local government body's new programmatic mobile strategy - and plans to raise commercial revenues to £3.4bn by 2023 - that's exactly what some are saying London's beloved transport system could become.

Heralded by the growing sophistication of converging digital, programmatic and location-based technologies, the out-of-home (OOH) revolution has the potential to reshape transport media and the entire outdoor sector. As outdoor media partners are looking to harness this power, the OOH revolution will begin.

Automating the outdoors

Streamlining processes and creating efficiencies is one of the core pillars of automating online advertising, but it's also one of the greatest barriers to entry for the outdoor sector.

OOH is still traded the same way as broadcast TV - with dedicated buying and selling teams, and a large number of phone calls and emails back and forth. The automation of this workflow process is the first step in breaking down the friction between each side.

Take cinema. Select inventory is now available to automated buyers in the U.S. by Screenvision Media after the national cinema advertising network, which reaches 40 million moviegoers each month, struck an alliance with Rubicon Project in July.

Using Rubicon Project's Guaranteed Orders platform, the partnership offers brands access to premium video inventory on its 40-foot screens. Automation allows for greater efficiency in cross-media planning and buying, accelerating cinema advertising's growth trajectory and competitive share in the increasingly automated advertising sector.

Out with the old, in with the new

Thanks to increased investment in and availability of an array of new digital technologies, the outdoor sector is gaining ground fast. The most visible is the replacement of the traditional, static billboards for digital screens - a shift that's accelerating domestically in a big way.

Clear Channel recently announced it was retiring 800 roadside UK billboards in a shifted focus on digital investment, a move justified by an earlier revelation that 2016 will be the first year the company will generate more revenue from digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising than traditional OOH.

Outdoor companies are also working with digital technology to offer advertisers enhanced capabilities than traditional OOH ever could: JCDecaux last year began digitising 1,000 London bus shelters to create The London Digital Network.

The synchronisation of these four visual display clusters on Oxford Street resulted in an eye-catching and engaging canvas on which brands can show the same creative simultaneously and change it instantaneously along one of Europe's busiest shopping streets.

Location, location, location

Growing smartphone use, combined with the ability to harness geo-targeting location-based mobile data, is another important factor. This already allows brands to target key demographics with personalized messages in real-time, leveraging insights to power campaign content that responds to real-time events.

Advances in geo-targeting and geo-fencing allow for precise location-based marketing, resulting in ads that pop up when it's most relevant to the consumer's journey.

xAd's Blueprints technology, for example, draws borders around specific buildings and then matches it to signals from mobile devices, in real-time. The company's recent partnership with Rubicon Project unites unrivalled real-time programmatic insights and multi-channel capabilities, creating greater location scale and precision.

Data will inform OOH

Data mining and analysis is also becoming more sophisticated. Working with Exterion Media, TfL's new commercial strategy will leverage data collected from turnstiles, contactless cards and third parties to enable advertisers and agencies to target one audience across more than 400 stations on the underground and rail networks for the very first time.

Using a tool called Audience Behavioural Insight developed by Exterion in partnership with Telefonica, TfL will draw on Telefonica's O2 customer base to generate actionable demographic and behavioural detail to allow brands to plan campaigns around aggregated groups from three core sources: mobile activity from devices within the network, anonymised CRM data from the O2 network, and behaviour collected via app usage and web browsing.

Where to now?

TfL promises additional new ad formats, more DOOH opportunities, and greater automation with a programmatic offering due to be launched next year. While its new commercial strategy is undoubtedly an indicator of how far OOH has come, the potential for new opportunities extends far beyond just transport media.

For many years, outdoor was seen as an offline mass media. Yet today, the sector is picking the best of digital and applying it to create ads that are more useful, personal and engaging, whilst also making the buying and selling of OOH media simpler and easier than ever.

This is, without doubt, great news. But we're far from the end of the story.

Technology does not stand still. And with the sophistication of mobile, location-based technology and programmatic constantly evolving, even bigger and better opportunities will come.

James Brown is managing director, UK & Nordics, Rubicon Project

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peter king, tv research manager, omd on 26 Oct 2016
“If only tfl could run the tube properly, that would be something to write home about! They and LU have made travel on the Central line a disaster”