Digital billboards: The new star of the OOH town

OOH industry observers are unanimous that digital billboards have emerged to be an effective canvas with data capabilities

e4m by Sonam Saini
Published: Sep 1, 2022 9:01 AM  | 8 min read

Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) has built its appeal with the new format and cost-effective options. This charm has now worked for digital billboards as well with the FICCI EY Report 2022 estimating that there were 60,000 connected screens in India as compared to 55,000 in 2020. This number is expected to reach 90,000 screens by 2025. Also, the share of DOOH revenues is likely to reach 15% by 2024.

So, what makes digital billboards more lucrative apart from the screens?

The digital billboard is a highly effective branding tool, says Imtiyaz Vilatra, Country Head, Posterscope India. This mode of communication enables brands to make information and content available in specific locations, and provide unique interactive experiences to customers. And because digital billboards can be films, moving graphics, or live broadcasts, marketers can be quite creative with their promotions.

Explaining in detail, Vilatra cited three reasons why digital billboards outperform ultra-large billboards. “Digital billboards have a location advantage. The placement for billboards is key, and these can be placed at locations with good footfall or traffic, ensuring we garner the right eyeballs. Secondly, digital billboards have the creativity advantage. They use computerised digital images or video content that can be changed at desired times throughout the day. The third is interactive advantage as digital billboards reframe conversations and help in building interactivity in a storytelling format.”

Talking about the impact of digital billboards, Gulab Patil, Founder & CEO, Lemma, said these come with a combined advantage of an impactful canvas with data capabilities, offering advertisers the unique opportunity to engage with audiences in the most relevant context rendering the most appropriate communication.

“Digital billboards have evolved multi-folds in the last two decades. This remarkable evolution of the digital OOH industry enabled via programmatic platforms has created an ecosystem that leverages several data cues like location, audience, mobile, live API data and more. Programmatic capabilities in DOOH have ushered in audience planning and buying, creativity flexibility, measurement and retargeting in DOOH, making the medium accountable and giving it an edge over others,” Patil shared.

Various studies and polls show that people are more accepting of DOOH billboards than traditional outdoor billboards because they view DOOH as a progressive and, in the modern sense, a non-intrusive media.

Globally, screen volumes in developed markets have increased dramatically. Sharing the Indian market’s perspective, Patil said many displays have appeared in diverse areas throughout metros and non-metros alike. This increased screen count is largely due to digital India and smart city initiatives, higher-quality displays at lower prices, and advertisers' desire to experiment with this medium. “Furthermore, media owners are experimenting with other forms of DOOH displays, such as floating DOOH, 360-degree DOOH, anamorphic screens, interactive screens among others.”

Patil also pointed out that in the Indian market, inventory is increasing at a rate of 100% year on year. Furthermore, the displays are being enhanced with programmable capabilities, which will provide much more structure to the system by classifying DOOH screens and transitioning the medium to mainstream digital.

Although the world is heading towards digital in any case, improvements in regulatory laws that permit LED screen hoardings have hastened the development of DOOH in the nation.

Aman Nanda, Chief Strategy Officer, Times OOH, confirms that regulatory change is largely responsible for this spurt. "Everyone is embracing digital, and we are already seeing its advantages. Earlier, OOH policies prohibited the use of digital but they are now permissible. Digital screens are mostly used in selective cities.” Nanda also shared that Times OOH has signed a contract for 120 digital billboards. 

He further said digital billboards stand out despite the overabundance of static billboards. “Also, it's relevant in today's time and with digital, they have the liberty to play different ads at different timings to attract an audience,” Nanda pointed out.

DOOH has gained traction in India as a result of the country's rapid digitalization and infrastructure developments. According to experts, DOOH has grown significantly in Mumbai, Delhi NCR, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad. DOOH network has begun to develop scale and network spanning transit, corporate parks/malls multiplex, airports, and other venues in Tier I and II as well.

Sharing growth figures, Arijit Chakrabarti, Vice President – Strategy and Creative, Kinetic India, said: “Digital OOH has been growing at a CAGR of between 20-25% over the last few years.”

Chakrabarti believes this growth has been further accelerated in the post-Covid scenario. “Delhi and Mumbai have the highest share of digital screens across multiple touchpoints with a mix of screens across both impact and frequency formats.”

With DOOH the advantages are countless as a new advantage is added to the medium with advancements in data and technology, explained Patil.  Factors like upgraded screens, enhanced technology platforms (programmatic), and improved data systems make DOOH a highly impactful medium delivering outputs at par with other digital devices. 

“Digital out-of-home advertising permits dynamic messaging. Data and trigger-based creative management, such as weather, sports, and traffic signals, assists brands in attracting audiences. Brands may investigate the newest developments in DOOH advertising, such as anamorphic illusions (3D Ads) and mobile DOOH displays, to remain ahead of the competition. Digital OOH is an agile medium where a DOOH plan can be changed on the fly, reacting to the latest trends or as a campaign optimization call,” said Patil. 

As an integrated medium, digital OOH allows marketers to activate omni-digital/ channels campaigns, complementing the overall marketing strategy for brands. The benefits now vary from real-time data sync advertisements to brand lift studies enabled by mobile data retargeting. However, in addition to the benefits outlined today, the future will provide numerous more, explained Patil. He said, “DOOH, like any other digital media, is evolving, and industry players are always bringing improvements to make the medium even more strong and adapted to the needs of contemporary marketers. To adequately analyse ROI, almost all brand categories increasingly favour digital mediums.”

Talking about the brands’ preference, Nanda explained, “Post pandemic, brands have become very selective about what they would want to do. Digital gives us the option to do micro-targeting which can be done with static as well but it's difficult. We can do a particular ad for an hour also with digital. It gives brands a lot of flexibility which is the reason why brands like digital."

He believes that pricing is not a very big factor for brands but the value is.

“For the same money, they can have far more value than static ones.”

Stating thoughts on the advantage of digital screen over static one, Chakrabarti pointed out that in controlled spaces – digital allows for moving images which are in any case more compelling for audiences than static images.  “Not only that with Programmatic DOOH and connected screens – advertisers no longer pay for time or space on a billboard but just for the audience, making for an all-day prime-time while minimizing wastage.  This helps to make outdoor complimentary and an integral screen of even a pure-play digital campaign. We are also noticing a shift towards creative-based experiments on digital billboards such as anamorphic 3D as against traditional cut-outs & jut-outs.”

He further added that visual brands especially with a range of products are categories that find digital billboards extremely appealing. Categories such as Automobiles & Mobile Handsets lead investments in this space.  “OTT which sees the screens as a natural extension of their customer’s screens regularly runs pure DOOH campaigns as well.”

Even though digital has a lot to offer to brands, it also comes with some challenges and the major one is that it's a shared media. Jayesh Yagnik, CEO, MOMS, said that the only challenge this media faces over traditional is that this is shared media. “You will be one amongst the others and it gets difficult to convince clients at times. However, most of the clients are used to this shared platform on media like TV, radio and digital and hence we manage most of the time.”

He further added, “All those who are into traditional outdoor are doing DOOH happily on large formats in conjunction with traditional formats . We are not at that stage where one has to choose between either of traditional and DOOH. These both will keep growing together, however DOOH growth rate will be rapid.”

However, on the cost front, when it comes to cost and when they compare the same with large format traditional vs large format DOOH on road, he says that DOOH is expensive as it’s a shared media and one pays for the slot wherein in traditional you are present 24x7.

“In hindsight, since its slot system even smaller clients can afford to be at prime locations which otherwise was challenging for them. We do have a large network of smaller DOOH media at touch points like residential complexes, corporate parks, bars and restaurants, malls, airports etc and this is growing too rapidly. More and more new age start-ups are using this extensively to make their presence at the last mile.”

Yagnik concluded by saying that DOOH is at a nascent stage, currently the growth will be significant as the base is low. “This is exactly how the growth of digital media has been. So, in DOOH the growth will be multi-fold as more and more inventories in traditional large format are getting converted to DOOH. The agencies have better inventories to manage as they can sell the same site to multiple clients on slot systems. This is surely resulting in increased billing for agencies and better ROI for media owners.”

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