Outdoor ads are tipped to be the next medium brands buy in real time as more billboards go digital. But the promise of programmatic remains a work in progress for the sector, despite taking on more of the characteristics inherent in digital advertising.
The growing digitization of billboards and the subsequent shift in how ads are targeted to them has left the gap between an outdoor campaign and an online one smaller than ever. As that gap has shortened, ad buyers are starting to see outdoor media as just another screen they can buy, while media owners look to programmatic as a way to recoup the costs of owning pricey digital screens. Combined with Google’s reported test of ad tech for billboards in Europe, there’s a sense among industry observers that the possibility of trading outdoor ads in the same automated way as online ads is close after several false starts — ad tech firm Vistar launched what it claimed was the first ad exchange for outdoor in 2012.
“Programmatic is the way that digital should be bought and sold and outdoor media is going digital at a rapid rate around the world,” said Dan Larden, partnerships director at media agency Infectious Media. “The great thing about Digital OOH is that there are really no bad placements, so there will also not be a race to the bottom like we had in display.”
Radio broadcaster Global’s swoop for both Primesight and Outdoor Plus earlier this month revealed its plan to win more programmatic budgets in the U.K. By bringing two of the larger media owners tighter under a single entity, the broadcaster not only becomes the country’s third-biggest player in the market with a 15 percent share, it’s also well-placed to become a one-stop shop for audio and outdoor buying if it can replicate the programmatic shake-up of its DAX audio platform in outdoor advertising. Since it launched in 2014, the audio ad exchange has become the world’s largest audio ad exchange giving advertisers access to 160 million listeners of the likes of SoundCloud, TuneIn and audioBoom.
Moreover, Global’s big bet on outdoor advertising is likely to accelerate the sector’s journey toward standardization. The broadcaster declined to comment on future plans, but a source with knowledge of its next steps revealed the new Global Outdoor division would launch in due course to explore “new opportunities to use the strength of both audio and outdoor.” This has already been tested on an ad-hoc basis with ads for the likes of O2 and energy provider E.ON, but the arrival of programmatic buying could become a scalable opportunity for advertisers as early as this year, said Adrian Witter, head of digital at outdoor media agency Kinetic.