How OOH Media Companies Must Reinvent Themselves as Publishers to Survive

For the past five years, industry leaders have been heralding the golden age of out-of-home (OOH) advertising, predicting it will evolve into a medium that could do pretty much anything. The rhetoric around out-of-home today feels reminiscent of mobile, where for years the saying went, “This is going to be the year of mobile.”

Now, thanks to the rapidly increasing digitization of the OOH medium, the ascendance of smart cities, consumer expectations for responsive experiences and an explosion of location data, advertisers, and media agencies are fundamentally changing their perception of OOH advertising.

Many believe this is going to be the year of OOH. 

OOH has always been an indispensable platform for marketers, with two major characteristics that differentiate it from all other media. The first is its big, bold presence in physical space, the defining characteristic of the medium.

With content playing an increasingly central role, it seems OOH media owners can no longer just be real estate companies. They must evolve to become publishers.

The second is that it’s the only major advertising medium that is not content-driven. With TV, radio, magazines, newspapers and the internet, advertising appears adjacent to content that draws the audience. OOH has never been content-driven, but rather real estate-driven. Many traditional OOH media companies are real estate investment trusts (REITs), meaning they’re in the business of buying or leasing property and placing and managing billboards on it that are sometimes made of paper and sometimes made of pixels. Either way, what shows up on that real estate has always just been advertising.

With the deployment of IP-enabled digital screens in public spaces, that state of affairs is changing. Those screens present an opportunity not just to show advertising—to which many consumers are increasingly expressing antipathy and a lack of trust—but to deliver various forms of content.

And some leading OOH companies are starting to do just that: delivering utility content like transit updates, weather and news that informs consumers on their daily journeys; local content like trending places, fun facts and upcoming local events; cultural content like art collections, poetry and local history; seasonal content oriented around heritage months or holidays; and even premium entertainment content.

Not surprisingly, audiences are starting to “tune in” to this content just as they do to other screens. Those experiences, in turn, are creating new breeds of advertising opportunities, giving marketers the chance to appear adjacent to, or even sponsor, that content.

Sound familiar? With content playing an increasingly central role, it seems OOH media owners can no longer just be real estate companies. They must evolve to become publishers.

That means OOH companies need to start thinking about creating and curating content, developing audiences and creating powerful advertising experiences driven off of content. No longer just real estate, their screens are windows into consumer experiences—just like TV, web, mobile and other screens—with similar technical capabilities and comparable or greater reach.

But unlike those screens, OOH delivers larger-than-life engagement that can’t be skipped or blocked and is never viewed by bots. It takes the consumer out of the bubble of a “look down” experience on a small device or one 10 feet away and into the open physical world, intercepting daily journeys between home, work, shopping and entertainment with perfect location accuracy.

For some OOH publishers (has a nice ring, doesn’t it?) this transformation is already underway, as they are offering advertisers unique ways to reach and engage consumers on the urban landscape that look more like mobile, social, web and TV strategies than they do like traditional OOH. Others may struggle, due to limited digital presence or disruption to their economic model from a content-based model (since essentially 100 percent of their “air time” today is advertising), for example. Outside forces may also accelerate this transition, as suggested by the recent news of Netflix looking to acquire a billboard company.

One thing is for sure: Change is coming, and it’s going to be an exciting ride. Whenever the year of out-of-home comes, OOH companies should start thinking like publishers now.

Originally posted in Adweek.