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How OOH industry is reinventing itself to stay afloat amid the pandemic

While traditional media formats have taken a beating due to the lockdown, OOH is innovating with new digital-led solutions, offering packages, altering its revenue streams. As the industry thinks consolidation is not a viable mode of sustenance due to improper skill sets, it expects new brand categories emerging out of this crisis as potential ad spenders in the near future

There are no signs of relief to the OOH industry that has been severely affected by the lockdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. As nation starts unlocking markets and a few public places, it remains to be seen if it will, if at all, revive the industry.

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However, unlike other mediums, including print and radio, which too have gone to the depth of despair with lost business, OOH is learning to pull through by innovating its revenue streams., in an interaction with multiple OOH companies, found out how the industry is trying to get brands back and what benefits digital OOH media is reaping. They discuss what kind of relief they expect from the unlocking of a few markets, upcoming political campaigns or the festive season. They expect categories such as OTT, entertainment, online education, high-speed home networking solutions and hygiene products to increase spends soon.

Anjum Tanwar

The OOH industry has hit a pause but not discontinued, said Anjum Tanwar, Vice-President, Brandscope.

He said, “With Unlock 1.0 in place, we do foresee industries gearing up with fresh or minimal advertising plans and OOH will play an even bigger role in reaching their audiences. We see OOH media owners formalising special packages, which can attract clients to consider it in their marketing plans.”

Having identified Green and Orange zones where OOH advertising has opened up, he said the clients have shifted their focus from their original priority markets to these zones, which helps in controlled costs to suit the budgets of clients in these tough times.

Last year had seen a downswing in OOH spends across categories and the top five categories were retail, consumer service, real estate and construction, and telecom, followed by the rest.

Dipankar Sanyal

“Around the first week of March, we started seeing an upswing of OOH spends but the lockdown saw the industry come to a grinding halt. Now that the lockdown is slowly lifting, it is heartening to see some sectors that traditionally believe in the power of outdoor making a comeback,” said Dipankar Sanyal, CEO, Platinum OOH.

“Large retail chains, OTT platforms are coming back and so are the automobiles and e-commerce brands. Automobile and e-commerce were ranked sixth and seventh in 2019 in spending. Brands are looking at tier two and three cities as they are less hit by the virus while metros still reel under the effect of Covid-19. Places where traditional outdoor media is not garnering the optimal traffic, brands are looking at engaging with the consumers at residential and office areas,” he said.

Platinum OOH is now offering more tech-based solutions, mobile integration and distribution-led solutions to clients.

In such testing times, it’s very important for organisations to introspect and revamp their approach.

Vishal Gaikwad

Vishal Gaikwad, Business Head, dRSTi, said how in its existence of 10 years of business operations, this was the first instance where it saw loss of momentum, and thus its priority was to bring the teams together and put the thinking caps on.

“While continuity of work was important, maintaining our cash flow was also very important. We invested additional resources and time to conceptualise a more strategic approach to our product pitching, planning and execution. Data-backed understanding of the media habitat and community behaviour coupled with our years of learning enabled us to position and provide our services more effectively,” he said.

The OOH Industry comprises media owners, agencies, fabricators, printers of various sizes. Nearly all of them are innovating and trying to provide customised solutions to clients keeping in mind the actual ground scenario in these difficult times.

Parag Pandya

“The approach has changed from what we have to offer to what is it that we can do to help tackle the situation,” said Parag Pandya, Sr. Vice-President, OOH, West and East, The Social Street.

While the company has always had a 360-degree offering to all its clients, in spite of this, it is actively looking at extensions in its current offerings and a few initiatives that offer opportunities.

On the other hand, Times OOH is utilising this period to re-innovate itself and develop new products and ideas that are relevant for brands, travellers as well as asset owners such as airports and metro. 

Aman Nanda

Aman Nanda, Chief Strategy Officer, Times OOH, believes that in the near future, like OTT, entertainment, online education, high-speed home networking solutions and hygiene products will emerge as high-demand categories and will increase their spends soon.

As OOH media is all about targeting audiences out of home, it is undoubtedly facing the heat amid the Covid crisis with majority of the spaces that host audiences are shut or have limited movement as a step to control the outbreak.

Airports are operational now and gradually flights have restarted with necessary precautions.

Nanda believes there is already lot of demand with airline seats filling fast. Also, in given scenario, more time is needed at the airport – for example entry time into the airport will now double with health checks being planned. These offer new opportunities to create great branding and engagement experiences. 

He said, “The positive mindset of people out for their first big shopping trip, and the gradual reintroduction to ‘normal’ behaviours, presents an opportunity for brands to be part of this important moment.  China is proof of this. These are positive signs for OOH advertising and it will also return to normal sooner than anticipated.”

During such unseen times, it becomes even more important to collaborate, cut down on costs, monetise one’s goodwill and explore new revenue channels and opportunities. And, consolidation was always the key in the advertising media industry.

So will consolidation of media houses help?

Sanyal said consolidation may happen in bits and pieces but not on a large scale because of the nature of the business in India.

“It’s a very fragmented industry and mostly family-owned. Very few corporate entities exist. Unlike in print and TV where the spends fell 40-50%, in outdoor, it was almost 99% if not 100%. Some outdoor associations have managed to get some amount of relief via way of waiver of taxes but that’s not enough and the liability on the owners is huge. In such circumstances, consolidation is a not a viable mode of sustenance,” he explained.

While Pandya believes that collaborations are a wise way of surviving the storm for any business and foresees it happening, Gaikwad said how dRSTi had already received multiple interests from various stakeholders and market leaders for such collaboration and are in the process of delivering an actionable plan for the same.

Consolidation of media assets would reduce the clutter created by individual companies. However, Tanwar believes the primary objective now should be digitising assets and de-clutter the skyline across the country. This, however, is not so easy to implement because of collaboration issues and improper skill sets, which apparently is the need of the hour, he said.

Apart from the unlocking of the markets, which have presented a tad bit of opportunities to these companies, a lot of expectations were also coming from the political campaigns and of course the festive season, which seems to have dampened now as Covid-19 cases spike.

Can we still hope surge of new business from political campaigns and the festive season?

The initial stages of the lockdown did have a lot of positive mindset among businesses. However, the extension of the lockdown in stages actually put the industry in ambiguity of what will come next.

Political campaigns as of now may have to be extremely sensitive in communication, especially with the emotions of the various setbacks that have occurred during the lockdown.

Recovering will take time economically, any spends whether political or non-political would be welcome, said Pandya.

In the current situation, Sanyal said it’s unlikely to witness large spends in outdoor from political parties as people are more likely to spend time indoors. Mass gathering and mass movement are restricted and hence outdoor will play a minute role.

While the nation and the political parties are doing their bit to fight this pandemic, Tanwar foresees no campaigns from them.

Nanda suggested that since OOH has always played a pro-active role in reinforcing critical public messaging in the past and is willing to continue, the government should use it to spread public awareness on safety and hygiene measures to curtail the further spread of the virus. Government ministries such as travel and tourism should use this opportunity to promote local tourism within India.

“People have been confined to their homes and are looking for a holiday – and will be keen to travel using their own vehicles. Hence, it’s an opportunity to capitalise on it and promote local tourist spots,” he added.

Apart from this, as the industry is trying to get the brands back via package deals, Sanyal foresees digital OOH media gaining a lot of interest and this year, the traction is likely to go up.

With benefits such as programmatic buying, real-time execution and a content rich two-way engagement platform, digital assets have carved a niche and are the future of advertising spaces in the world of OOH.

There is no doubt DOOH and innovations are making the OOH value chain more robust, but in times like this how much benefit is it reaping for the industry?

Digitisation is fast catching traction with advertisers and agencies and in the pre-Covid scenario it garnered 2-3% of the outdoor spends. Largely, the digital assets grew in malls, multiplexes, airports and railway stations.

Tanwar said, “We do see quite a few players taking the leap of faith. Various webinars have had sessions where media owners have been educated on the new normal and the way forward. Digital OOH is expected to be a Rs 500-600 crore industry in the next few years and today there is greater recognition for brands that use digital OOH.”

The industry has seen new digital assets coming up on street furniture in some cities. Once normalcy returns, experts say there will be more digital assets on the street and as we go ahead in the near future, we will witness DOOH becoming a regular part of digital plans.

Nanda said that while it is possible to use digital media in walled gardens such as airports, malls, metro and cinemas, the regulations forbid companies from investing in the street furniture format.

“Government relaxation of norms on this front is required to propel this industry in that direction,” he said.

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