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Form a Joint Industry Committee to develop OOH metrics: Tony Jarvis

By M4G Bureau - May 26, 2014

Most mature OOH markets around the world have adopted their own audience measurement and rating currency with great success. Time is rife for the Indian OOH industry to take similar recourse. Global advertising and research architect Tony Jarvis, Proprietor & Research Architect at Olympic Media Consultancy, asserts that the Indian OOH industry should lose no time in developing and launching an OOH audience measurement and rating currency, while being aware that the metrics will evolve as per industry requirements. Jarvis advocates a step-by-step approach toward building, enhancing and including the currency. In an exclusive interview with Rajiv Raghunath of Outdoor Asia, he says the measurement system will become more refined and multi-layered as it gains wider acceptance. Jarvis cites the adoption of a comprehensive OOH currency system in Australia to underline that once the teething troubles are sorted, the system will catalyse significant industry growth. The following are edited excerpts of the interview:

You were instrumental in the development of'Route' (earlier'New Postar') in the UK and'Eyes-On' in the US. What would it take to develop a similar scale outdoor media monitoring system in India?

To begin with, Indian OOH media owners and advertising agencies should look to create a Joint Industry Committee (JIC) that will drive the development of a comprehensive OOH audience measurement and rating currency. While media owners may be inclined to meet a large part of the costs involved in developing the measurement metrics, the advertising agencies and indeed the advertisers themselves should also make significant financial contributions for the success of the initiative.

Having said that, the real drivers of this initiative should be the advertisers. At the end of the day, it should be the advertisers demanding accountability of the medium against currency measurements. It should be the advertisers -- through their agencies -- looking to compare their media investments. Their demand for accountability from the OOH medium and what they communicate to their own shareholders on media investments are incredibly important from the standpoint of developing a common OOH currency in India.

Were the advertisers deeply involved in the development of OOH audience measurement systems in the US and the UK?

The US and the UK experiences make for an interesting comparison. In the US, it were clearly the media owners who drove the initiative. They knew they needed the data and a comparable currency to be able to compete in the markets.

In the UK, the advertisers and agencies were the major influencers in the development of Postar together with the media owners-- which has led the industry in terms of technology and techniques to measure OOH.

Indian OOH industry could learn from the experiences of the US and the UK industries in developing the currency. Countries like Germany, Australia and Turkey have also launched such initiatives in a big way, and now Pakistan has launched the development of its own OOH currency.

Every OOH market is different, and there is much to learn from each of them. I have been talking to the Indian Outdoor Advertising Association (IOAA) with the regard to the development of a common currency in India. May be, India could consider introducing measurement systems that aligned with the specific needs of its main markets like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and so on.  

From experience, do you see more advertising brands entering the OOH fold when there are uniform measurement metrics in place? Please share your observations in this regard with respect to some of the key markets worldwide?

The OOH industry faces increasing competition from television, print, radio, the Internet and online search. The need for a common currency therefore assumes key importance for the industry.  When Postar was launched in the UK in 2000, OOH share of the advertising pie was 3-4 per cent. Now, it is around 10-11 per cent. The common currency was a big contributing factor. The other big factor was consolidation. I don't know which comes first, currency or consolidation, but there are lessons to be taken from both the developments.

In the US, consolidation came first, and then currency followed. Now, they are looking to add new formats. In Australia too, consolidation was followed by a common currency, albeit with some wobbles. Over the years, Australia has also seen some nice growth in OOH spend.

India has a huge population, very much an outdoor population. It is a fabulous OOH market but is essentially under-achieving.

You have great experience developing and marketing databases and systems that improve consumer, brand and marketing insights to drive ROI. Data capture is rather limited in the Indian OOH space. What steps would you advocate to bridge the OOH data gaps in the Indian market?

I don't see major growth for Indian OOH industry unless they adopt an industry accepted common currency. Perhaps, vendors would individually conduct one-off studies and RoI analysis of what campaigns can do on their selection of billboards, but one-off studies will not create a groundswell for the industry as a whole where advertisers start thinking of increasing their OOH spends. In the absence of a common currency, when there is pressure on the advertisers' budget, it is OOH that gets hit first. One-off studies will not double or treble ad spends on OOH.

In developing a common currency for the industry, who should ideally take the lead - the media owning firms or specialist agencies?

The general trend around the world in forming a JIC is that media owners fund the majority of the work. They are the sellers. Advertisers and agencies should also make major contributions, although it does not happen in every country.

Media owners have to deal with one big question - which they faced in the US, the UK and Australia -- that while they meet the majority of the funding requirement, they should not be controlling the technical committee of the Board. The key question is whether media owners, as the sellers and funders, can assure the industry as a whole that the data is not skewed or biased in favour of any business. It is necessary that that the advertisers and agencies have the majority of votes on the committee to demonstrate the objectivity of the study. In the long run, media owners will profit from such an approach.  

Is there a role for OOH industry associations in promoting audience measurement metrics?

Industry associations do have a major role to play. They can provide the administrative facility for the promotion and marketing of the currency. I can see IOAA providing the logistics and marketing support to the JIC. To illustrate this, the Board of Postar is a collect of major outdoor sellers. Some of the specialists like Posterscope and Kinetic also sit on the Board. The industry association and advertiser association too sit on the Board. Major advertisers might actually prefer the advertiser associations to sit on the Board.
You have addressed the issue of measurement and harmonisation of DOOH metrics while speaking to global audiences. Could you please share your thoughts on this issue, and its relevance to the Indian OOH industry?

It is a technical issue as well as a selling issue. The US DOOH is growing by leaps and bounds but it appears to be a bifurcated market. Digital billboards are measured by the Traffic Audit Bureau as part of Eyes-On currency. So, when I am looking at digital billboards or street furniture I can look at a harmonised, comparable measurement with traditional OOH. That is exactly what advertisers want.

As regards digital screens in malls, bars, subway, etc., that section has gone a different way in terms of measurement. I pleaded for three years for that to be melded with TAB and measured by Eyes-On, but that has not happened. The reason being their sales strategy. Digital Place-based networks, for instance, wants to compete first and foremost with TV although their data is not comparable.

What we have learned in media research is that your technique and approach should be based on your media channel and its interaction with consumers. I would suggest that the Digital Place-based approach is a huge mistake, it needs to be properly harmonised with TV if they are pitching to TV advertisers.

In the UK, they are looking to measure digital billboard and Place-based networks in Postar. It is not easy, but there are competent people to harmonise the metrics with other media.

Robust research is a vital constituent of an industry's growth process. In what way can independent research aid the OOH industry? Globally, are there takers for independent research?

Independent research is like the icing on the cake -- to tell the advertisers and agencies what a specific campaign did. The real value is delivered when there is a common currency.

You have been engaged in coaching international market teams to maximise the effective use of data & tools to drive ad revenues and share. Do you see an opportunity for similar engagements in India?

Indian OOH media has a much more significant role than it has played thus far. It would be a privilege to support a JIC in India for building a common currency for a selection of markets, and to get it launched quickly, with comparable, harmonised metrics with other media.

It's now time for action. We can be the catalyst in a UN-like role in bringing Indian OOH industry together.

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