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Straddling the extremes of broadcasting & pointcasting: The coming of age of OOH

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It is indeed no more a conjecture that digital is on a growth path and despite it blooming to a large extent in 2015, it has a long way to go! 

Nevertheless, in the process of its bloom, digital media has pushed media-fragmentation to a new limit of ‘singlecasting,’ arguably completing media fragmentation that travelled from broadcasting to narrowcasting to singlecasting. Yes, mobile is almost a personal media device – to each, her own. 

The story however does not end here and the media fragmentation has been pushed a tad more by OOH wherein the ‘singlecasting’ – transmission of marketing messages to one person has further been fragmented into ‘Pointcasting’ that is, transmission of marketing messages to a ‘persona’ rather than a person. 

Persona (Pl. - ‘personae’) is defined as the ‘psychological dimension’ of a person, which in turn is defined as a ‘biological being.’ Because man has emotions and these emotions vary according to time, place and state of mind, which exactly are the elements of the ‘media aperture’, OOH media thin-slices a ‘person’ into personae and creates more adequate situation for message reception and retention.

There is a new awakening on the exact opposite side of the above argument. Whereas OOH media is capable of pushing the fragmentation further than what digital could achieve, it is dawning on all the professionals that OOH has also emerged as ‘the only broadcast media’ capable of delivering undifferentiated audience as all other media have lost their capacity to deliver the undifferentiated audience because of the increasing complexity of their content and distribution. 

OOH has no content and has no inherent ‘editorial or content environment’ to provide context to marketing messages. It derives the context from the emotional state of the audience and from her exact psychographic state. The media is always ‘on’ and the message is disseminated indiscriminately to anyone who pays it a fleeting glance! The distinction however, lies in the way the message is received, interpreted and retained. And this totally depends on the prevailing psychographic stage of the person, the role she is playing – of a parent or of a spouse or of an executive or whatsoever. OOH media derives its context from ‘life’.

It is logical that last year was a great revival year in many senses as we had first begun going beyond 2008 levels. The year didn’t have many remarkable events like the general elections but a lot of things were happening. The industry revenue grew by over 18 per cent in 2015 over that of 2014. The year saw e-commerce blooming to a new high with some very high profile launches like Housing.com. 

The industry also witnessed a reversing trend in terms of the duration of the OOH campaigns. The years before had witnessed the shrinking of campaign periods and most of the campaigns were 10 – 15 days. There were very few three months or six months campaigns, albeit annual sites remaining in fashion. Last year, we saw emergence of Apple, which brought in long term OOH campaigns and showed that OOH media works surely and every week of exposure results into ‘real volume offtake.’ Maruti Suzuki also resorted to long term campaigns and built brand Nexa from concept to a premium destination. Its galloping success with Baleno and its beating the reigning category leader i20 from Hyundai, a part of the advertising and marketing folklore in recent times. The year’s other notable contributors have been mobile phone brands and government. The categories that remained quite subdued are consumer durable, telecom services, ISPs and real estate. 

Whole of India contributed to the growth of OOH media revenues but almost 60 per cent of spends still remains directed towards top six cities namely Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai. When we get into the next level of detailing we see that in terms of media formats that are the recipients of this revenue, billboards still rule the roost. Their share however has declined from 75 per cent three years back to about 60 per cent now. The media formats that have emerged as clear ‘growth formats’ are ambient and transit. The new metro lines, new malls, corporate parks and world-class airports have given a new boost to OOH advertising. It is no surprise that Airport, transit and ambient together account for 26 per cent of revenue share and this segment is posting steady growth. 

The growth story was scripted by advertisers from across categories like e-commerce, retail, automobile, mobile handsets, education, consumer banking and media except cinema advertising. The top ten OOH advertisers last year were Airtel, Cadbury, Honda, Housing.com, Hyundai, LIC, Maruti Suzuki, SBI, Samsung and Quikr, not necessarily in that order. 

I am not a big votary of ‘innovation’ in OOH media segment as OOH advertising is subtle advertising and it must ‘occur’ to the audience. I say this because OOH media is not a ‘conscious and committed consumption.’ It is consumed sub-consciously and almost always in a non-committed mode because the audience consumes this media only when it is ‘out-of-home in order to participate in life’ and as such its principal focus, attention and commitment is elsewhere. OOH media receives ‘fleeting attention’ but in the regime of CPA or ‘Continuous Partial Attention’ where no one is investing complete attention in anything or any medium, this has emerged as a distinctive strength of OOH media. Very loud innovations, demand conscious investment of attention, which is contrary to the inherent strength of this medium. 

The year however saw some offbeat work where people tried to bring in some elements of surprise, which not only generated some interest but also lots of publicity. Maruti Baleno, LED lit innovation on a billboard in Kalkaji, Delhi was extremely innovative. The movement of light created attractiveness for the billboard and the dynamic illumination highlighted the distinct features of the car. Other innovations that generated interest were done by Oreo, Hanuman by Sony Entertainment Television and an innovation for the serial Sumit Sambhal Lega by Star Plus. Aircel executed an Umbrella branding on a bus shelter whereas Godrej Realty used LED in an innovative way to highlight its projects ‘Sky’ and ‘Trees.’ 

The industry has not seen many take-overs and mergers though some new entities came into being. Most of these are media agencies, which is a disturbing trend as the business model does not require much capital investment. The industry, which is bereft of measurements and operates still largely in commodity-mode, mushrooming of agencies shift the pivot of the game to pricing alone. This creates an internecine war between the incumbent and the newbie, ensuing only in value-erosion for the industry. 

The industry has been doing well as we did not see any company in the industry going belly up. Every agency has claimed a growth in billing and people also look much better-off. Despite no institutional investment coming to the industry, there has been quite a bit of expansion and upgradation, which means the internal accruals have been healthy. 

The year ahead looks like a growth year for the advertising industry as a whole. India is conspicuous in still allowing growth to print media. The macroeconomic data have all been in favour of India and now even sectorial green shoots have started showing. With some big events like cricket World Cup T20 and launch of some 70 new automobile models will create a positive growth environment for OOH also. 

OOH is now an integral part of the media plan in almost all categories, hence growth of advertising will mean growth in OOH revenues. The decline in overall percentage share of ad revenue of OOH media is a statistical eyesore but in absolute number terms, the OOH media industry remains healthy and finds itself in a growth arena. We hope sectors like real estate, telecom, BFSI, consumer durable, FMCG and e-commerce will find more traction and will enhance their ad spend to post better performance. 

The OOH media industry is progressing institutionally also with IOAA having been recognised by AAAI. The industry will see new SOP being widely accepted this year and with that a lot of vexatious issues in the regulatory structure will be addressed. Smooth flow of transactions will unlock better values for all concerned. 

The OOH media is finding a new relevance in the fast urbanising world where people are staying out of home much more – either by compulsion or by choice. Since in this fast-paced world, if one has to ‘participate in life,’ chances are that one will mostly have to step out of ‘home.’ It is only after we have taken care of all the ‘businesses’ of life, and nothing remains to be done or having been pushed to tomorrow, we return ‘home.’ It is no wonder that home has emerged as ‘residual destination’ today. This creates its own opportunities and threats for all media formats, which still get consumed mostly ‘at home.’ No wonder OTT is a fast emerging rival to the TV as we know traditionally!! 

Even TV steps ‘out of home’!! 

(These are purely personal views of Laqshya Hyderabad Airport Media CEO Shashi Sinha and Indiantelevision.com does not necessarily subscribe to these views.)

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