Government looks at OOH as a cash cow, says Noomi Mehta

As the year 2015 nears an end, Noomi Mehta, MD of Selvel and Chairman of industry body IOAA, spoke to us about what needs to be done to improve relations between the OOH sector and the government over the past year

e4m by Abhinna Shreshtha
Updated: Dec 1, 2015 12:28 PM
Government looks at OOH as a cash cow, says Noomi Mehta

According to IOAA Chairman and MD of Selvel, Noomi Mehta, the government’s insistence on smart cities could provide OOH industry a great opportunity in coming years. “A lot of plans are being laid out for creating smart cities and so I am definitely sure that we will see them in the next few years. We hope they will build OOH advertising as a part of their infrastructure,” he told us.

As the year 2015 nears an end he speaks to us about what needs to be done to improve relations between the OOH sector and the government.

IOAA, the industry body of the outdoor advertising sector is working to change the government’s perception about the industry. Founded in 2007, the IOAA has been trying to introduce a more professional vein into the industry, which also includes educating government agencies and making them realize the importance of the OOH sector.

Speaking about the challenges currently being faced by the OOH industry, Mehta opines that most government officials look at OOH as a cash cow by raising expensive tenders. Another factor here, according to him, is that with the absence of a proper SOA or set of rules, the OOH industry is at the mercy of personal biases of government officials. “The absence of legal framework for authorities is leaving the OOH industry on tenterhooks,” Mehta says, giving the example of recent incidents in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata, where civic corporations cancelled permits for hoardings or put tenders in abeyance.

“People will not invest money in something if it is not stable. You cannot build an industry if the civic body just gives permission for 150 out of 600 sites in a city,” he maintains. He also pointed out to some decisions by the Mumbai High Court cancelling contracts on charges of corruption on government officials. “The outdoor agency has already invested money. How would we be aware that bribes were taken? But if you go to government agencies and ask them for compensation, you will get laughed off,” he says.

To find a solution to these issues, Mehta said that the industry is looking at, firstly, getting ad agencies on board. To do this, Mehta told us that the IOAA, which has already has an association in place with the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) for research into common metrics for the industry, is also looking to involve the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) for the same. “All members of the ecosystem; advertisers, ad agencies, media agencies and OOH agencies should be involved to find a common solution,” he said.

Apart from this, IOAA will be holding a meeting in the coming weeks with the central government to discuss the various issues facing the OOH industry. The aim of this is to get the government to understand the various problems the sector is facing and create a continuous dialogue between the sector and the government at the highest level. As part of this initiative, the industry will also be submitting their ideas on how OOH can be integrated with smart cities to the government. Mehta said that a broader event, including all stake holders, including agencies from outside India is also on the cards for a later date.

However, he agrees that these initiatives will not bear fruits immediately and would take at least 2-3 years.

Speaking about the need for consolidation, Mehta called it a “crying need” and something that would do “wonders” for the industry. However, he says that the Indian OOH ecosystem is nowhere close to showing any consolidation. “Any new money that is coming is actually leading to more fragmentation. If there are only 4-5 big players in the industry, it will create a more ethical approach. You cannot talk about ethics to a person with 3-4 sites whose priority is putting food on the table,” he said.

Despite these problems and a “stuttering” economy in 2015 (as he calls it), Mehta agreed that the Ooh sector did show signs of stabilization in 2015 as compared to last year. “There has been marginal improvement and we seem to be on track to touch the earlier forecast of 8-10 per cent YoY growth,” he told us.

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