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MOVE over, the Outdoor Media Industry is flexing its muscles 
By Alison Stieven-Taylor

The outdoor media industry is about to receive a major boost to its credibility as a viable, measurable advertising medium. Alison Stieven-Taylor reports.

With the February 2010 launch of MOVE, the Measurement of Outdoor Visibility and Exposure system, the outdoor media industry is hoping to increase its standing through accountability, putting it on an even footing with other advertising mediums.

For years TV, radio and editorial have come under scrutiny with audience ratings and measurement programmes well entrenched in the media landscape. Indeed advertisers expect their agencies to be able to provide data on the demographics, hit rates and responses of their target audiences. 
 

Driven by the Outdoor Media Association (OMA) and supported by industry and government to the tune of $5 million in research and development, MOVE will enable agencies to quantify and qualify exposure opportunities for specific sites and locations in much the same way that magazines can tout circulation numbers and TV and radio shows, ratings.

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 Alison Stieven-Taylor is an author, journalist, and magazine editor based in Melbourne.  She is also the creative director of Reality & Illusion Productions, a leading media communications company specialising in B2B communication.

This rigour has been missing in the outdoor media segment, but all that will change when MOVE is kicked into action.

In interview Helen Willoughby, Chief Executive Officer OMA said MOVE was designed to answer the need for “a national, whole-of-industry audience measurement system that would provide accountability and transparency to the industry, and enable outdoor media to compete more effectively with other media.”

In 2005, the then Board of the OMA called for international tenders to develop a world’s best practice system capable of covering all the major formats and audience environments. 

The MOVE System will be similar to the successful POSTAR model operating in the UK. The introduction of POSTAR had a marked impact on revenue growth, believed to be worth about 3-4 percent of the 7 percent growth experienced by the industry over a 10-year period.  While Australian outdoor media companies are being more conservative in their growth estimates due to MOVE, Willoughby said “they do believe there will be a similar positive response from media buyers and clients to MOVE, particularly as they have never before had direct access to audience measurement results for outdoor media”.
 
The OMA has worked extensively with industry to develop MOVE.  It was anticipated the system would be launched by now, but early trials revealed glitches in the system.  The OMA called in POSTAR’s big gun, Simon Cooper, who according to Willoughby is “arguably the world’s leading expert in visibility research for the outdoor media sector”.

Cooper was brought in to “enable the conversion of the total audiences” to Likelihood To See (LTS) contacts. LTS is the currency on which the MOVE system is based.  “(LTS) effectively means only counting those people within the demographic audience who in all probability will see the advertising face,” explained Willoughby.

This is achieved by applying values to relevant characteristics of each individual face (sign) e.g.; size, illumination period etc., and the audience e.g.; speed at which they pass the sign, so as to produce Visibility Index scores (VIs).  These VIs are then applied to the total audience to produce the LTS result.

Keith Ferrel, General Manager Strategic Business Development, Cactus Imaging welcomes the launch of MOVE. “It has been a long time coming and quite honestly will revolutionise the industry”. 

Ferrel anticipates MOVE will drive sales as advertisers look more favourably toward outdoor media. “If it (MOVE) has the same effect here as what happened in the UK with POSTAR then you could well expect spend to increase”.

In 2008 the Australian outdoor media industry delivered a net media revenue of $453.8 million, accounting for more than 4 percent of the total display advertising market. And in the third quarter of this year billboards represented 32 percent of total revenue and retail 12 percent.

Praising the consultative process led by the OMA, Ferrel commented, “They have been very thorough hence the delay (in launching) while they ironed out the bugs. It has been with the agencies to pick holes in it and will be very user friendly”.

The development of MOVE hasn’t been the only headline grabber for the industry. In recent years there have been increasing reports of outdoor signage being banned in large cities including Los Angeles (LA).  Research indicates there is a correlation between these bans and the trade in illegal billboards.

In LA alone there are more than 4000 illegal billboards, some super structures erected at night above LA’s freeways. The regulators are under-funded and under-staffed and virtually powerless to remove these billboards frustrating Councils who can’t claim revenue from the illegal structures.

The Australian landscape is quite different and neither Willoughby nor Ferrel appear concerned this trend may impact the industry here.

“We don’t have problems with illegal billboards,” said Ferrel adding that the consultative practices of the OMA ensures communication with Councils and State regulators is transparent and constant.

Willoughby said the issue lay with illegal bill posters rather than billboards. “Councils have enormous problems policing this activity particularly the lack of clean-up undertaken by the companies promoting events via this means of advertising”. 

In terms of potential future bans on outdoor advertising Willoughby stated, “the key issue seems to be around the extent and inconsistency of the controls across different jurisdictions, and the large number of government bodies involved in regulating outdoor advertising”.  The rules differ across states and in regional and rural communities and are often inconsistent.

“It was only in the last 12 months, for example, that an electronic static display billboard was approved in Australia by Melbourne City Council,” she stated adding that other states are now looking at how they will regulate new technologies on roadside advertising.

Outdoor advertising revenue not only benefits signage producers and agencies, but also the billboard site owners which include local Councils and government agencies such as the Roads and Traffic Authority.

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