TV Goes Walkabout

Out-of-home media is nothing new, but if seems as though in recent times it has begun to take on the status of the new rock ‘n roll of media -- especially as far as the video end of things is concerned.

While billboards have long been a major force within the media mix -- and the advent of digital billboards and improvements in auditing and measurement initiatives from the TAB have continued to build the case for the medium, out-of-home and outdoor video is at a much earlier stage of development.

There are certainly no end of industry bodies that are positioned to weigh in on the whole issue of outdoor and out-of-home media generally. TAB and the OAAA come to mind, but it is the relative new kid on the block, OVAB, that is specifically concerned with outdoor video.

And outdoor video -- you could even call it outdoor TV if you wanted -- covers a multitude of sins.  For a start, most of it seems not to be outdoor, so let's refer to it as out-of-home for the rest of this piece.  Whatever you call it and wherever it is encountered, however, it accounts for a pretty hefty amount of time spent with TV.



When my colleagues and I at Ball State's Center for Media Design published the Middletown Media Studies II in late 2005, we found that almost 30% of participants consumed some sort of TV outside the home in the day they were observed -- and 9.4% of all TV viewing was similarly out-of home (work-based, 4.1%; car, 0.5%; other, 4.8%).  It's a safe bet that as the amount of out-of home TV continues to increase, so will the time spent exposed to it.  In any event, the scale of the economic opportunity is not insignificant.

Already, we have a plethora of network providers, "platform" owners (retailers, mall owners, transit operators and hotel chains) and content of one sort or another -- some familiar, some less so, and some specific to the location.

As the out-of-home video market continues to develop it will -- in keeping with other sectors -- do so on the back of robust measurement and the continued enhancement of our understanding of the consumption and impact of the content, and the related behaviors exhibited by the audiences reached.  Right now we are seeing a significant amount of activity in this area.

Probably the hottest space for measurement within the sector at present is what is commonly referred to as shopper media.  There seem to be no end of initiatives aimed at carving out the measurement territory in the retail space with its massive audience reach and proximity to the point of purchase for so many brands.  There have also been some fairly major investments made in research to better inform our understanding of how people use (or don't use) in-store media and the impact it has (eye-tracking has been helpful in this regard).

While retail stores, shopping malls, and others are increasingly well accepted as advertising venues, all still have some way to go.  And although there will be a place within the out-of-home video hierarchy, this sector is complex and perhaps more subject to behavioral and environmental influences than most others.

For example, when I encounter TV content as a consequence of simply being at a specific location for a purpose other than watching TV, what are my attention levels likely to be?  How many people in a garage forecourt get back into their car while the tank fills (especially in the cold or in stifling humid heat of the type many of us have endured lately)?  How many people kill the sound in order to make a phone call in the back of a taxi (or get the driver to)?  How many people give some attention to the video but not the audio as they continue to listen to their iPod?

Conversely -- and just to show I really don't have a downer on this sector -- how many people find themselves in an elevator and glue their attention to the TV screens in the walls as a relief from having to avoid eye-contact at any cost with the strangers pressed against them?  Likewise on the subway and other mass transit systems?  How many people alight on the TV screens in hospital waiting rooms as an escape from the tedium and nerves associated with a visit to the doctor?

I don't have the answer to any of these questions, and I have no doubt that many of those selling inventory of various of these platforms have survey data in their sales kits.  But I'm prepared to bet that a good deal of that data is based on self-report and it will be looked at with a good deal of skepticism on the part of the advertisers and agencies that are being asked to part with large amounts of money to stake their brand's claim on various parts of the out-of-home video landscape.

After all, video encountered in environments that are visited for other purposes are very different from video consumed on a TV screen at home or on a computer when choice is involved.  On most occasions in the out-of-home space, there is no choice or control over the content and the video will often not be the primary focus of attention (at least it won't be for very long).  This is where our needs come back to the behavioral rather than simply measurement of foot fall.

As the TAB's "Eyes On" initiative recognizes, it isn't about who passes the content, it's about who looks at it and -- hopefully -- takes something away from it.

No doubt OVAB and others will be announcing their plans in the coming months for enhancing our understanding of issues such as the ones outlined above (and no doubt more besides).  When they do, we can expect to see the fight for "TV" dollars warm up as advertisers gain confidence in their ability to reach audiences in locations more relevant to their message than the couch in the family room (assuming that's what the research reveals, of course).

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