I always have to bear in mind that I suspected outdoor was going digital sooner when at least a decade ago, I caught a tube to Camden to be shown some incredible screen and projector technology that was going to be commonplace by the end of that year. Ten years on, and it still isn't. But there are two very strong indicators that this time digital outdoor means business. The most pressing is the surprise news in yesterday's Sunday Times that Clear Channel won't be paying rent on 800 billboard locations this month. Reading between the lines, it looks like the sites are being dropped rather than simply temporarily rested.
Then there is Exterion's rollout of HD screen across London Underground escalators, complete with large HD screens at station concourses. After years of talk, in the first month of Exterion owning the TfL contract, it finally looks like the digital screens we have become accustomed to in just a couple of high-profile stops will be distributed far more widely. And good riddance to the static images they will replace, the only people who will miss them or the morons who put chewing gum on every other model's nose.
Drive along a major thoroughfare in a major city now and the screens are suddenly a lot brighter and moving. It's the same for modern shopping centres. Static pictures of models and perfume bottles are now moving, and the shopping experience just seems a little brighter and more classy compared with faded, peeling poster sites.
There is, however, one major caveat. Outdoors is most certainly embracing digital, but it appears that it has not yet been transformed by it. The pictures are now moving, but are they truly digital? Are the offers still not static and mainly brand-led. Where once a picture of a model stood still, now it moves. But what about the offer -- what about the call to action?
When I ascend into the light from a tube trip and the screens forewarn that it's raining so buy an umbrella in the concourse or use the loyalty app to get a rainy Monday discount at Starbucks, then I think it's safe to assume digital has been fully embraced.
After so many false starts, however, it's at least exciting to see the infrastructure being rolled out and the networks launched such as Hello London by Exterion to offer advertisers HD digital screens at prime locations, consigning the billboarder's bucket of paste to history.