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‘Global OOH undergoing massive digital transformation’

By Rajiv Raghunath - August 24, 2022

Amanda Dorenberg, President of COMMB (Canadian Out-of-Home Marketing & Measurement Bureau), shares her perspectives on the global OOH ecosystem, ad-tech trends, startups, etc., in an interview with Rajiv Raghunath.

Amanda Dorenberg is a technology & marketing executive with a passion for disrupting traditional industries via new and emerging tech. Her work has been featured in Forbes Tech, Wired Magazine, Technology Headlines among other top national and international media outlets. Amanda is a 2021 nominee of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, and an active contributor to Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Rolling Stone. 

Currently, the President of COMMB (Canadian Out-of-Home Marketing & Measurement Bureau), Amanda is responsible for driving innovative change using new and emerging technologies across the OOH industry. Leveraging her background in deep tech, product development, and growth marketing, she is responsible for the collective marketing & measurement efforts for the OOH industry across Canada.

Amanda shares her perspectives on the global OOH ecosystem, ad-tech trends, startups, etc. in an interview with Rajiv Raghunath:

Amanda Dorenberg, President, COMMBTraditionally, OOH enterprises have not been very successful in raising equity funding for their businesses, with most of them operating at small to medium scale. Do you see scope for significant VC/PE participation in OOH business, especially as this medium becomes more technology-driven?

Absolutely. I have been a part of several start-ups in the OOH space, as well as other industries, and we’re seeing significantly increased attention around OOH, DOOH, pDOOH and AOOH (audio OOH) from VCs and PE firms. An independent Canadian OOH firm recently secured ~$15 million in private equity funding, another smaller OOH firm secured seed funding ~$2.5 million from a combination of angel investors and early-stage venture funding. Therecent investment from venture firmPanoramic Ventures into audio out-of-home companyVibenomics shows tech innovation will be key in soliciting and securing sound investment. However, there are also significant transactions happening within the OOH space. In 2021, Vistarannounced a ~$30 million Series B investment from Lamar Advertising Company. In June,OUTFRONT Canada acquired Leading Outdoor, an independent pure-play DOOH company located in Calgary, AB – Canada’s fourth largest media market, in an all-cash deal. The buzz and activity surrounding OOH globally is massive, particularly as the online space approaches the loss of the cookie. Investors are homing in on other avenues of media growth, and OOH is at the top of their focus.

Ad-tech is globalising the DOOH business, especially with programmatic DOOH gaining traction in different markets. Are these trends likely to spur greater investor interest in this medium?

Investors have already taken notice of the globality that ad-tech has; it is absolutely primed for significant VC/PE and angel investment as well as strategic partnerships between competitive or complementary OOH companies moving forward. The global OOH market is undergoing a massive digital transformation, internally and externally. Internally, systems and processes are being revaluated and revamped to build efficiencies. Externally, media owners are cannibalising underperforming traditional static assets in order to ‘trade up’ for a digital out-of-home permit with cities and municipalities in which this strategy makes sense. 

What’s interesting to me, however, is that ad-tech is so commonly associated with DOOH and pDOOh, and yes – absolutely – those are the most prevalent forms of ad-tech in the OOH industry. However, there is a massive amount of data and ad-tech that powers traditional inventory commanding the bulk of OOH ad-spends, we must not forget this. The same audience data that is used in DOOH or pDOOH is being used to promote the advantages of traditional OOH. It’s just executed differently in a different fashion. From an investor’s perspective, each market will need to be evaluated individually. As urban cores will command a higher DOOH presence, many suburban and rural areas will remain with traditional formats such as posters or superboards. The organisation’s growth marketing and differentiation plans will become more important than ever for strategic investment, in my opinion.

With increasing digitalisation of OOH media and application of ad-tech in this space, a new generation of startup entrepreneurs has come on the scene to develop newer technologies and applications for OOH/DOOH. Are we beginning to see an ecosystem evolving for OOH/DOOH startups?

This is a very interesting question because, many of these new-age OOH companies and executions of ad-tech existed pre-pandemic – before the exacerbation of digital transformation propelled all industries globally, to a new digital era. However, now they are really gaining the adoption and visibility within the OOH industry as we have a heightened sense of awareness on ‘what’s new’.  Let’s consider 3D DOOH, which we’ve seen recent widespread adoption by some of the world’s biggest brands includingNetflix,Nike,Disney, and so many others. This technology has existed for many years, however predominantly applied within cinema, and only recently expanded into the OOH space – a very natural expansion in my opinion. These brands, with a heightened exposure surrounding DOOH and pDOOH are now taking notice of more creative use cases of ad-tech, expanding the definition from the systematic delivery of content via programmatic ad-serving, to include technology in advertising.

There is greater use of creative tech, data-tech, mar-tech and the application of ad-tech to enhance the consumers experience in the OOH space. So, to circle back and directly answer the question, yes I do feel as though we are creating a new ecosystem for emerging OOH startups. However, I think the definition of ad-tech has expanded beyond our initial interpretation, to be hyper-focused on consumer experiences leveraging technology in advertising. With Gen-Zs commanding incredible spending power – over US$360 billion in disposable income – brands and advertisers need to find compelling ways to speak to these digital natives. Creative use cases in advertising will be key, offering opportunity for emerging start-ups in the OOH space to come in and create something epic.

At COMMB, have you launched any initiatives to mentor startups working in the DOOH / ad-tech space?

Great question, COMMB does work with several start-ups and, what we would classify as scale-ups – independent companies that have surpassed the start-up phase but are not yet considered fully established. While it is not a COMMB mandate to provide mentorship programmes currently, we do offer marketing advice, marketplace insights and other guidance to help them achieve their measurement and marketing goals.

I have a very personal interest in start-ups as I’ve had the pleasure to be involved in a number of successful acquisitions. There’s something very special about the start-up culture and that’s something I bring to the COMMB team daily.  There is a hustle, a tenacity to achieve incredible goals with a limited budget and often a small team – I’m very proud of what the COMMB team has accomplished in such a short period of time as we embrace the start-up culture.

Some of the most successful OOH ad-tech firms have emerged from Toronto. What factors are contributing to this trend?

Toronto is known as one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities – if notthe world’s most – providing an international testing ground for new and emerging technology and products. It is also known for itsmassive tech-boom.  Toronto is the third largest tech-hub in North America; it is home to more tech employees than Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington D.C, trailing only New York and Silicon Valley. The global tech conglomerates such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon have invested in impressive tall-tower offices in the downtown core, drawing excitement and attention around the technology industry, including ad-tech. 

World renowned universities that focus on technology – such as the University of Waterloo, which resides about an hour west of Toronto on the Toronto-Waterloo corridor – foster young talent focused on innovation, start-up culture and driving change with deep tech. It’s the perfect combination of new talent, existing big tech infrastructure and innovation. We also have substantial funding opportunities.  A plethora of early-stage venture capital and private equity firms are willing to take risk on top talent in start-ups – and we have no shortage of that! 

On a larger plan, do you see a global DOOH ecosystem evolving where companies are able to forge cross-border partnerships across the entire OOH value chain? And what steps would you advocate to reinforce such an ecosystem, such that the benefits devolve to the OOH/DOOH businesses across geographies? 

In pure-play DOOH, specifically pDOOH, this already exists. Vistar, Hivestack and Broadsign -- all have cross-border deals and the ability to serve up multi-national campaigns. They’re announcing new strategic partnerships globally on what seems like a weekly basis – illustrating the keen desire on the buy-side to have a global ecosystem. Kinetic Worldwide is likely the largest purchaser of global OOH campaigns via programmatic digital out-of-home platforms. However, just because the capacity is available, doesn’t mean that there is a standard by which these campaigns can be executed, or measured. I think this is where the challenge lies for the OOH industry.

The online world has a global standard for ad formats, what is classified as an impression, etc., via the IAB. However, the offline space is more challenging as we are not a one-to-one environment that has access to IP addresses and cookies – soon to demise.

In my opinion, the offline space of OOH needs to form a global standard for visibility factors, what are the maximum ‘distance visibility zones’ based on format, size and flagging of an outdoor asset.  What are the ‘realistic opportunity to see’ criteria that provide a representative understanding of a qualified impression and form a baseline from there – globally. We need to set ‘output’ standards, so that an international buyer understands the nomenclature being used in our reporting and terms such as an ‘impression’ can no longer be misinterpreted by qualifying ‘likelihood to see’ vs. ‘opportunity to see’ vs. ‘realistic opportunity to see’.  The World Out-of-Home Organization recently published aGlobal Guidelines for OOH measurement, which does give a great overview of the measurement techniques at play in many countries. However, I feel we have a long way to go in global standardisation.

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