Indrani Sen: Outreaching by Outdoor: From Static to Interactive

30 Nov,2015

By Indrani Sen


Global Industry Analyst, Inc (GIA) in its report on “The Global Outdoor Advertising Market” in January 2015, talked about the growing popularity of digital platforms for out of home advertising. According to that report “Asia Pacific represents the largest market worldwide. The region is also forecast to emerge as the fastest growing market with a CAGR of 8.6% over the analysis period, led by the retail boom in countries such as China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and India.” ( In a press release dated February 10, 2015, GIA spoke about technology development and replacement of traditional static billboards and posters with digital signage as the prime drivers of the growth in outdoor industry and predicted rise in oversized digital billboards/ large screen digital displays.


Compared to the global trend, how has our Outdoor Advertising Industry been faring over the recent years? FICCI-KPMG reports have been predicting healthy CAGRs over the last five years. In the last two reports, a CAGR of 9.2% over 2013-2018 was posted in 2014, followed by a marginally higher CAGR of 9.8% over 2014-2019 in 2015. We have also been talking about digital OOH driving the growth, but our usage of digital OOH have been limited to place-based networks in cafes, restaurants, health clubs, educational institutes, sports arenas, malls, some public spaces like airports. In spite of the predictions of the global industry experts, our use of DOOH (digital out of home) has been limited to small screens, interactive kiosks, jukeboxes and jumbotrons. Large standalone screens/ billboards with digital content which needs larger investment in the infrastructure have still not arrived in India.


Annie Rickard, the Global CEO of Posterscope, spoke about pioneering dynamic real-time content on OOH screens and the challenge of implementing the same due to infrastructural constraints in an interview during her recent visit to India. Speaking about the relevance of outdoor medium in a digital world, she said: “The whole world of OOH has shifted. There was a time when OOH was only about awareness and impact. But now you can have a conversation with consumers.” She also pointed out the need for consolidation on the media owners’ side and the need for all players to work together backed by a valuable insight- “What we have seen everywhere else in the world is that when you have less players, the investment goes up. When you have lots of small players, they actually invest less collectively in the medium. You also get more collaboration when you have a smaller number of players.” (–medium-accountableannie-rickard_62497).


Is our outdoor industry ready for consolidation and collaboration? Apart from a few mergers and acquisitions at the top and networking and trading of sites across the width and breadth of the industry, there has not been any serious attempt at any consolidation. In August, 2015 AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India) and IOAA (Indian Outdoor Advertising Association) signed an agreement to better regulate outdoor advertising in India and there was no reference to consolidation in that agreement. Their focus will be on regulating and disciplining advertiser behaviour in matters concerning outdoor trade, agency remuneration, corporate governance and adherence to payment deadlines (,aaai-and-ioaa-join-hands-to-channel-ooh-advertising-growth.aspx) Ideally it should have been a tri- party agreement between AAAI, IOAA and ISA (Indian Advertisers Association). The absence of ISA has raised some doubts about the long term success of the efforts.


While making announcement about the joint agreement, N D Mehta, President of IOAA, mentioned about outdoor research and a census of billboards/ hoarding across all major cities. IOAA has been involved for a while in an ambitious project of conducting viewership research on OOH, starting with major cities. However, we do not have any indication regarding the timeline or progress of the research project. The first Indian Outdoor Survey (IOS) was spearheaded by MRUC (Market Research Users Council) and conducted by Hansa Research in Mumbai in 2008. The report was released in June 2009 by MRUC with a promise of extending the research to other cities. Due to lack of financial support from the outdoor Industry, MRUC had to abandon its plans. Since then, no syndicated research has been conducted in this space, though various outdoor advertising agencies have carried out their own research. Market research organizations like IMRB have developed outdoor research models which the advertisers can commission. Does IOAA have enough muscle power to bring outdoor industry under one umbrella for supporting syndicated research on outdoor on a regular basis? Can IOAA and AAAI generate the required funds of outdoor research without active support from ISA?


The advertising Industry will welcome the move of conducting a census of 100% of sites and identifying them with unique ID number in major cities. But, the IOAA will have to conduct a health check of the sites first. A search on the IOAA site ( news on facebook) shows various news items related to removal of illegal hoardings. A news item dated October 7, 2015 talks about a survey conducted by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) ascertaining that out of 6,119 hoardings within city limits of Bengaluru, only around 2,000 had legal permissions! Paradoxically, the size of our country, which is the foundation of the structure of the current developments in our media industry, is the biggest roadblock for organised development of our outdoor industry.


Outdoor regulations are mostly governed by the local authorities/ civic bodies and various state governments and there is a lack of uniform structure. Can the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting instruct TRAI to create a template for the outdoor rules and regulations which can be adopted locally in each state? It is probably wishful thinking as there are many political under currents when it comes to the relationship between Central Government and State Governments regarding formulation of rules and regulations related to matters under state control and jurisdiction. Alternatively, is it possible for IOAA to develop such a uniform guideline for outdoor rules and regulations and solicit for the support of all state governments?


Indian advertisers have not yet come to grasp with the concept of interactive outdoor with real time content. Outdoor industry leaders need to resolve many issues before visualising a roadmap for evolving towards the digital future. In the meantime, shall we just sit back and watch the rest of the countries in the Asia Pacific region passing us by in the race towards the digital future? Can we create a model city where all outdoor sites will be legal with unique ID numbers, where a large number of static hoardings will be converted to oversized digital billboards with real-time content having conversations with consumers, where research will be measuring the impact of the new avatar of outdoor on a regular basis? Needless to mention, the model city experiment cannot be conducted in a metro where the scale of operation will be too huge. So, it will have to be a Tier-2 city with strong growth in retail sector. Outdoor Industry will need active support from the local government for conducting the experiment. If all the stakeholders in the industry join hands together to make such a plan successful, that example will automatically propel the growth of our outdoor industry into the digital future. Amen!


Indrani Sen is a veteran media agency and marketing services professional. She is currently an Independent Consultant and Adjunct Faculty, Media Management at Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Pune. This column MediaSENse will appear fortnightly. The views expressed here are her own.


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