Inside Clear Channel's big bet on programmatic out of home

Clear Channel's move into programmatic out of home

Clear Channel has made its single biggest ever investment on bringing programmatic to out of home advertising, betting its future on the process of buying outdoor media being an automated one.

Seven years ago, in the UK around 2% of Clear Channel’s revenue came from digital screens. Today that number stands at 60% and it’s a trend that’s emulated across the world. This complete change in the very nature of its media is why the out of home giant abandoned 800 roadside billboards in the UK last year and yesterday (18 January) debuted its first out-of-home programmatic buying tool.

One of defining factors of delivering an OOH campaign was that it was a complicated media buy, admitted William Eccleshare, chairman and chief executive of Clear Channel International at a press briefing on the new tool. The biggest clue to why it has invested seven-figures in this is that it wants to trade quickly, more efficiently and be comparable to other media.

“We invested in our own platform rather than buying something off-the-peg because there is nothing available that allows you to do this, in outdoor with the sophistication that we needed,” explained Eccleshare.

“As we grow, we can also control to whom we trade and how. It’s about creating value which if you don’t do it properly [means] you commoditise your inventory and that’s why there been some resistance from media owners. If it’s not done right it just treats everything the same [and] it's why we’ve been conscious in saying we’re selling audience.”

What does it mean by a guaranteed buy?

The offering being peddled to advertisers is the “trading of inventory on an automated guaranteed basis – giving media buyers the ability to reserve a fixed volume of inventory at a fixed price.” It's selling an audience in a particular location at a particular time, which the advertiser can have for as long as they want.

Clear Channel’s explanation for this route is that out of home is such a different medium that the general online model of starting with remnant inventory in an open marketplace and then working up simply didn’t make sense.

So, working through Clear Channels own platform, a DSP or the planning and buying tools (either proprietary ones) within the specialists or (the bigger ones) agencies use, the buyer can choose the parameters – those currently available are location, time of day and length of campaign - and then they will get a price back if it is available. If happy, it is confirmed and the campaign will then run.

“You get a price back for the inventory that will deliver that audience and that time for a price that is guaranteed,” Clear Channel explained. “It’s real-time automation in that it’s checking our availability and buying that inventory.”

This isn’t about delivering real-time audience information so an advertiser can tell exactly who’s viewing and when. “But this is phase one and where we’re looking to move is into a much more measurable space,” said Eccleshare.

“We realise the importance of transparency. We’ve started with existing data but further down the road we will fuel assets with external data for advertisers to increase requests on the kind of audience they want, during the campaign to reassure that it is on screen and fine-tune it, and then after to allocate the impact of their campaign.”

What makes it different from other players to have offered POOH?

Programmatic out-of-home was first trialed by Xaxis in 2013 and made its UK debut in 2015 as part of a Rubicon Project and Bitposter partnership.

But, Clear Channel was implicit in the fact that this is unlike any other programmatic out of home offering on the market at the moment for one simple reason; scale.

“Without wishing to denigrate what others have done, no one else has done it at scale [6000 digital sites are currently open]. Some of what’s been done is automated trading, but this is significantly more sophisticated,” explained Eccleshare.

But it will be open to the market

“[We want to trade with the market and if the market wants to trade with us this way we’ll need to be ready,” said Eccleshare.

It’s currently working to connect with all of the DSP or should an advertiser have its own in-house programmatic solution then it will be able to plug into that.

The data

Data sits at the heart of the new proposition. In the UK, the Clear Channel is using Route – the OOH industry standard – but it’s also looking at third party data from the likes of Experian (as long as it gets geo-location with it) and in the future there will be the opportunity for brands to build in other data feeds, like transactional.

“The truth is that audience measurement data is getting more sophisticated and we and our competitors invest in improving the quality and it’s more robust in some areas than other. But with programmatic trading we’re bringing all of that data to bare to sell an audience to our partners.”

This is not about Clear Channel becoming a one-to-one channel

The key takeaway from Clear Channel is that it will never be a one-on-one medium and it will always market its estate as best used for broad reach. What it is offering is the opportunity for advertisers to better target audiences.

Nationwide was used as an example of a brand that might be inclined to shake up the way is uses OOH. The building society knows that people think most about changing their bank accounts between a Monday and a Wednesday so, they only want to advertise then.

Clear Channel has no idea if this will take off

“We really don’t know what the engagement is going to be like from advertisers. We know there’s a huge amount of programmatic trading online. Will that translate to OOH – I honestly don’t know. My gut tells me it’s likely to but it’s a significant change,” admitted Eccleshare.

“In my experience agencies can be a little risk averse to change and there are times where I’ve felt like we’re the first with a telephone, not one else does, but we’re waiting for it to ring.”

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Jennifer Faull

Jen Faull is Brands Editor at The Drum. Based in London, she has interviewed major business figures including top marketers from Mondelez, Unilever, Tesco, and Lidl.

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