A sense of shock pervades outdoor advertising at present. As an industry, we have become used to the notion that new technology routinely improves the offer we can make to advertisers.
Everything has been going our way, and we thought TiVo – and the new generation of personal video recorders (PVRs) – was another example of a rule without exception. It seemed like this Christmas’s new adult toy was going to be another pleasant surprise under outdoor’s tree. But is our joy premature?
The roots of the outdoor industry’s complacency are easy to trace. The steady increase in road traffic and rail commuters has increased poster audiences dramatically.
Our industry’s investment in movement and illumination has capitalised on those audiences, and we have invented the hi-tech audience measurement tool POSTAR to measure them accurately.
Then, the fragmentation of TV and radio audiences – made possible by improved technology – has positioned outdoor as “the last broadcast medium”.
So, imagine our delight when PVRs were invented and initial US trials showed that 88 per cent of users edited out the advertising. Surely, the steady flow of major advertisers using outdoor in recent years will be transformed into a flood, we thought. It seems this is not to be.
TV executives comfort themselves with the thought that over 95 per cent of TV viewing in the UK is live.
Creative agencies are taking the view that the US figures are not surprising when you consider the dreadful standard of TV commercials across the Atlantic.
They think that if UK agencies redouble their efforts to make even classier and wittier commercials – to disguise the fact that they are selling products – British audiences will not even think of using fast forward.
That may be right, but I wonder if there is a burning fuse here. PVR is a technology with the capacity to subtly change habits in a fundamental way.
It may well be that UK audiences continue to watch most TV live, but the beauty of a PVR is that it allows you to watch “nearly live” with a slight time shift: you can begin viewing before you have finished recording. What better way to catch up on a programme you started late than to fast forward through some amusing advertising?
But the real interest for outdoor companies is what happens to ABC1 and young adult viewing behaviour. Intuitively, it seems likely the squeezed-for-time affluent targets of so many advertisers will be the group that uses PVR the most ruthlessly. These are the groups that are most confident in their use of new technology. So perhaps “poster Christmas” has come early after all!
David Pugh is managing director, sales and marketing, for Maiden