It's too early to gauge the COVID-19 impact but OOH will bounce back: Industry leaders

OOH industry leaders talk about how the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered their agencies and their expectations on when growth will pick up

e4m by Noel Dsouza
Published: Apr 27, 2020 9:07 AM  | 6 min read
Impact of COVID-19 on OOH

With the spread of COVID-19 and it’s uncertainty posses a grave issue for the oldest form of advertising- OOH. However, many industry leaders have shared that this period is a good time to revamp the industry in terms of their communication with consumers. OOH leaders believe that when the lockdown is over, consumers will want to venture out and OOH will gain back its prominence.

Impact due to Lockdown

Rachana Lokhande, Co-CEO, Kinetic India shares that business has come to a standstill but we have only ‘paused’ not stopped. “A lot of OOH campaigns have been cancelled and are in a state of lockdown, it doesn’t seem like a favourable choice for marketing either. We are making the best of this situation to reflect upon our business strategies, invest in technology, and come up with innovative campaign solutions, for life after COVID-19”, shared Lokhande.

Like every industry, OOH was also hit by the COVID-19 crisis in real-time. Upinder Singh, Project Director, Edge1 OOH Software, says, "It's too early to know exactly what impact will be in the near-term but I can assure that the base of the OOH advertising industry is strong, and will bounce back. When we're back to normal, businesses will highly depend on OOH and recover the losses.”

Aman Nanda, Chief Strategy Officer, Times OOH states, “The COVID-19 pandemic has surged the global economic slowdown and has bestowed a considerable toll on the media industry at large. The challenges being faced by Times OOH is not unlike that of the overall industry. Given that we are focussed on the Transit Sector, the impact is amplified. All our assets target audiences are on the move, and with them being ‘locked down’ we are facing the brunt of the impact - NIL audiences in these environments. As a result, we are witnessing major curtails in ad spends.”

Gulab Patil, Founder, CEO, Lemma Technologies comments, “If I have to talk about Lemma in particular, the industry recently started warming up to the concept of Programmatic DOOH and we have seen great momentum, not only from OOH agencies but also from digital media firms. Just when pDOOH was at its tipping point, the demand has slumped with budgets being put on hold until the situation stabilizes. Having said that, it’s reassuring that brands aren’t discarding or terminating the plan completely but are rescheduling the activity to sometime in the near future.”

Rishabh Mehta, Founder & CEO, LOCAD feels that India so far has been able to cope up with it in a much better way as compared to many other developed and developing countries. “It’s unprecedented what we are going through and at such times the only thing we all can do is to be positive and look at things with a different perspective so that by the time the lock-down is over we all come back with a bigger bang”, says Mehta.

Solutions to curb the issue at hand

Lokhande shares, “Our global partners have smartly utilized DOOH to relay relevant communication and celebrate the front-line heroes. Its high time that digitization of policies in India is also given a serious thought. Besides, an industry like ours is extremely labour-inducive. The employees, vendor partners, and the actual on-field workers, all contribute equally to our success. I believe that agencies and media partners could start by providing insurance, life, and pension schemes to ensure financial security.”

The current scenario calls for some stringent measures to safeguard employees. Nanda comments, "Our employees continue to engage with our partners – Clients, Agencies, Business Associates, and respond to the emerging needs. This is being done remotely. Also, as a norm for large organizations, we always had our Business Continuity Plans in place to minimize disruptions to our business operations as well as processes, and this has been activated.”

Singh stated, “This time is not good for OOH companies due to lockdown but we're seeing a major increase in companies focusing on automating their back end business process through software. We’re getting a lot of calls from clients asking us: ‘How we can automate the business process more?' As usual, they don't get time from their daily work. At Edge1, we are using this time to connect digitally with teams and clients as well. Additionally, we are using this time to plan future strategies. There is no sugarcoating that demand is incredibly soft right now.”

Patil shares, “Our vision from the very beginning was to build a unique platform to enable programmatic capabilities for DOOH and up-skill the OOH industry through education. We are utilizing our time in building business strategies, improving platform efficiency, developing more technological innovations and solutions that would help revive pDOOH post the lockdown. Simultaneously, we are emphasizing on generating more awareness about Programmatic and its benefits to the ecosystem. We are integrating and onboarding screens into the programmatic platform and being future-ready by strengthening our pDOOH network while we have the time.”

Post COVID-19 Expectation

Lokhande remarked, “Currently, consumption across OTT platforms is amplifying. Once the lockdown lifts and the situation stabilizes, we anticipate a positive integration of OOH in the marketing mix and business to pick up pace in a month, or even in just a week. We will have to monitor the advertising checkpoints like billboards, airports, malls, cinemas, and metros, and observe before we leap into strategizing.”

Patil thinks it’s hard to say how soon this will happen but once the footfall volume is steady and rising post the lockdown phase, then there is no stopping the OOH ads.

Nanda feels that there could be slow growth. He concludes saying, “The industry has to take assurance from the fact that this is just a phase, but we will arise with vigour and stronger. OOH, Media has the substantial power to reach, convey essential messages, and propel the desired behavioural change in the coming time. Considering, some categories would be able to rebound faster and do not continue to cut back on spending, and instead utilize the time to ‘remind’ consumers of its brand. Since this would be the time for brands to lean in and resume to advertise for a longer-term. At Times OOH, we are confident that new brands and new categories will emerge as this kind of pandemic changes consumer behaviour and habits. However, the speed and extent of recovery will be governed by many factors, and one of the key factors is how quickly and extensively the Government provides relief to the Industry.”

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