Will Big-Screen Digital Investments Jolt Flatlining Outdoor Industry?

Are smart screens going to give outdoor a boost? That's the question on everyone's mind as JCDecaux rolls out a new channel nationwide at the same time as it launches its Tesco network. This coincides with Amscreen, not to be outdone, announcing a partnership to develop six poster digital displays with Sharp. Both players are going large-screen and nationwide with digital technology that can be linked centrally to display adverts that can be tailored according to changing creative and copy as well as the optimum time of day.

Digital display has been around a good few years now, however, and it has yet to have an impact on outdoor's flatlining revenues. It has to be said that over the past few years, just maintaining spend level is an achievement in itself, considering downward adjustments to budgets since the global financial crisis. So outdoor maintaining a spend around the GBP740m per year mark over the past couple of years, and forecast to increase to GBP790m this year, is not a bad performance. That is until you realise the poster boy for digital advertising, if you'll pardon the pun, is Internet advertising -- and it has nearly trebled over the same time to be forecast to top GBP7bn this year.

Those figures mean nearly half of all UK ad budget will be spent online (doubling up from 25% in 2008) while outdoor remains around the 4.5% to 5% mark each year for the past eight years. While at least it isn't in the shoes of national and regional print advertising, which are declining, it is treading water no matter how many times its main players throw digital technology at it.

I remember being shown around where The Muppets was filmed in Camden, London a few years ago to be shown laptop-sized screens that were going to rejuvenate outdoor digital. At the same time, there were projectors for Tube station platforms that similarly were going to be linked to the latest offers so calls to action were always up to the minute. The technology saw a little bit of penetration but generally the Tube is still the same old mashup of small and large posters someone has tried to stick chewing gum to.

So will the latest technology make any difference? I seriously doubt it. It may well help deliver a small amount of growth to stop the market declining -- but that's not the most encouraging news when you consider that 2014 is set to be a record year for UK ad spend anyway.

If the new screen technology is to survive, it has to encourage people to interact with it and get their mobile out of their pocket to scan a code, "blip" an advert or receive some marketing material over Bluetooth. While there are metrics available for outdoor's success, in the absence of online metrics or BARB audience figures, nothing would convince advertisers of outdoor's worth more than figures for meaningful two-way conversations started up with shoppers and passersby.

With so many in-store apps and coupon clubs, this is an area that will be incredibly difficult to make any headway in.

So interesting though the new technology is undoubtedly going to be, the fact that it can't provide data in as sophisticated way as the Internet -- and, less so, television -- means that the large investments will probably lead to small gains or successful treading of water. While this maintaining 5%-ish share of market continues, it's likely to be Internet and television that Fifa's pals throw their money at this year.

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