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Media Owner or Agency?

By Vasant Jante - May 19, 2023

The constant blurring of lines between media owning business and specialist agency functions is seemingly redefining the roles of the key constituents of OOH business. Vasant Jante, Founder & MD, VJ Media Works shares his perspective on this changing business landscape.

A few years ago when some of India’s leading OOH media owning firms decided to extend their business boundaries by foraying into the domain of specialist agencies, several segments of Indian OOH industry called out such actions as “unfair”, “unethical”, and so on. The moot question was, would a media owning firm be able to undertake media buying on behalf of an advertising client with objectivity and transparency, and not push its own media sites into the plans drawn for the clients.

Vasant Jante

Today, the subject of media owners getting into agency business is seemingly not a matter of interest to the OOH industry as an increasingly number of media owning firms have found it profitable to undertake media buying and campaign executions for advertising clients. In fact, the trend of media owning firms taking up direct business from clients is not confined to the larger markets. Rather, the trend is far more in the non-metro markets where the specialist agencies have by design or oversight not created strong business presence.

So, what happened to the hot debate on media owners transgressing into the agency line of business? Well, the media owning firms are not going to be complaining as they have carved out an additional revenue source that can also be explained away as lateral business diversification or creating more footprints in the OOH advertising value chain. 

Where does that leave the specialist agencies? Going by current trends, the specialist agencies don’t seem to be much perturbed by media owners engaging in direct business with clients. They are content with doing business with the larger clients who still repose faith in routing their media buying through agencies. However, these patterns are bringing to the fore one big question. Are the specialist agencies somewhere along losing the ‘specialist’ tag? Are they just functioning as aggregators and not delivering additional value to the advertising clients?

While these questions get raised and discussed in public forums, the jury is still out on whether the specialist agencies are able to see a reimagined role in the OOH advertising ecosystem that is in the making. In the absence of a clear-cut picture on this role, clients have more or less viewed the role of agencies as that of commoditised media buying, which is merely a function of price negotiations. So, why all this brouhaha when procurement teams on the client side are now calling the shots on media buys?

Top agencies get to work on global mandates and that business stays with them. But in the domestic segment, barely a few agencies are able become the AOR to clients.

In these highly fluidic business situations, what does the future look like for the OOH media owning firms and specialist agencies? Does this augur well for the industry as a whole? Are clients seeing greater merit in stepping up their spends on OOH? Questions are aplenty. 

Any answers?

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