In Conversation: Programmatic Out-of-Home

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In December 2017, QMS announced the launch of their new Digital Transaction Platform, a partnership with Rubicon and Digital Commons that will offer advertisers “the opportunity to buy QMS premium digital inventory nationwide.” Soon, advertisers will be able to purchase digital billboards in real-time, use automated bidding strategies to procure inventory, and independently monitor (and optimize) the performance of live campaigns.

Coinciding with a period of exponential growth for out-of-home (OOH), the announcement points to an increasingly hybridised media landscape in which the demarcations of ‘new’ and ‘traditional’ media buying are simultaneously more ambiguous and intertwined. We asked Account Director Ashley Hekkens and Programmatic Account Director Jake Calder for their thoughts on the future of programmatic OOH buying. Taken together, their perspectives shed light on the prospects and shortcomings of this shift for traditional and digital media buyers alike.

JC: At the heart of it, programmatic is a system designed to simplify the buying process by harnessing real-time buying and data-first capabilities.

While OOH vendors are excited about moving into the programmatic space, the announcements and discussions we’ve seen so far indicate that their current focus is primarily on introducing a more simplistic buying process. Instead of going back and forth with vendors, you’ll soon be able to jump into a platform and immediately start planning your own OOH campaign. Unfortunately, there’s currently little to no data being passed back into the buying platform, so there is no real-time visibility over avails—for now, you’ll still have to rely on calling or emailing vendors once you’ve decided how you’re going to divide your budget.

Simply put, the current phase of programmatic OOH offers very little in terms of intelligent, effective and streamlined approaches to buying.

AH:  Exactly. And it’s also important to note that digital OOH still only represents a small portion of the total OOH landscape. Audience buys work best with high inventory levels and standardized formats and placements, but this, coupled with the continued lack of standardised audience data, means that even with these new developments, we’re not able to compare national multi-supplier campaigns.

I don’t believe DOOH will ever become a one-to-one medium—it’s still one-to-many—but even so, it does feel like we’re moving backwards. After a year of trying to be more audience-focused and hyper-targeted (leveraging time, weather and audience behaviours), we’re now moving to run of network ‘impressions’ based on daily traffic visuals (DTVs) which aren’t considered reliable or accurate?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s awesome to see innovation and tech advancements in the industry, and I’m keen to see how this will develop into a vision of frictionless audience trading. It just seems that we’re having to step backwards before we can move forward.

JC:  From a programmatic point of view, there’s a lot to be excited about in this space. Dramatic increases in the number of digital screens nationwide means more opportunities to reach more people—a fact mirrored by the OOH industry’s shift to an audience- rather than site-focused model.

Both of these changes highlight just how important data will be to the future of the industry. OOH vendors are already exploring new and exciting ways to access and harness data to help them understand exactly how many people are actually exposed to their ads. We’ve started seeing companies exploring facial recognition software to count how many people walk past when an ad is displayed. Val Morgan Outdoor has recently taken this a step further, developing software that can not only tell if someone is looking at the screen, but even what kind of mood that person was in when they did so.

The real impact of programmatic OOH buying won’t be fully felt until at least the second half of the year. Soon, we’ll be able to see what sites or packages are available for purchase in real-time, affording new opportunities and increased flexibility for our buying. We’ll also be able to monitor and optimize campaigns with sites that aren’t performing as well as they should be, improving overall campaign effectiveness and performance. That’s the power of programmatic.

AH:  I’d liken the current to market model to the first vending machine: from the outside, it’s a simple push of a button and a promptly delivered drink, but behind the scenes, many layers of manual work went into making that possible.

While we wait for more developments in this space, it’s undeniable that QMS are leading the fray, proving their foresight and innovation and challenging the rest of the industry to do the same.

Date: February 28, 2018