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Let's rethink outdoor media

The year 2020 has brought more disruption to the outdoor media sector. As cities open up, it's a good time to rethink the potential of outdoor media for public spaces. 
By Dr. Sarah Barns 
Director, Storybox Places

Digital platforms are changing the fundamentals of outdoor media in Australia. This brings new opportunities for outdoor media to engage communities and showcase local talent. 

The big changes happening in outdoor media should mean better outcomes for public spaces. That's why the STORYBOX project is re-thinking outdoor media as 'public space media'. The project is driven by an ethos of public value, and supports the quality of public spaces as vital to the health and wellbeing of communities. 


Let's explore what changes are happening, and why this matters for public spaces. 

What's changing with outdoor media? 

So what's going on with outdoor media? Let's look at some key trends. 


First: Digital disruption.


Digital screens have gradually been replacing the traditional billboard. The industry calls this a shift from 'out of home' (OOH) to 'digital out of home' (DOOH). The shift means not only are the advertisements we see outdoors brighter and shinier, but also that asset owners can sell the same space to advertisers many times over. 


To the second trend: Growth.


Digitisation has also meant growth. In  2019 the Outdoor Media Association (OMA), Australia's peak industry body, reported net revenues of close to $1bn — twice the figure from 2013, just five years ago. Impressive results, considering this was the period when Facebook and Google absconded with much of Australia's digital advertising revenues, leaving traditional media companies crying foul. Yes, these profits have taken a big hit in 2020, but more on that later. 


Third: Consolidation.


In Australia, most of the outdoor media assets we see when we 'look up' from our phones, while out and about someplace in the city, or while driving, are owned by two companies: JC Decaux and Ooh! Media.  Smaller companies, like AAPN, have tended to get bought out by these two major players. QMS is currently on the rise in Australia, having won the City of Sydney's outdoor advertising tender in early 2020 from JC Decaux. 


Fourth: Programmatic advertising.


Outdoor media platforms are no longer just physical inventory, whether old fashioned print or digital screens.  There's an increasingly competitive array of digital platform providers, from 'demand side' to 'supply side' platforms, working to intermediate and automate the way buyers and sellers of advertising space outdoors connect.


Think of these companies as the Ubers and Airbnbs of outdoor media, creating digital platforms that let buyers book ad space based on granular, data-driven insights, from location, demographic data, time of day and more. Among these emerging platforms are companies like Broadsign and Intersection, owned by Google parent company, Alphabet. 

Fifth: Covid and re-localisation 

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the workings of Australia's biggest cities, particularly as many workers were required to work from home. Once busy downtown centres and congested highways were suddenly quiet. Revenues reported by the outdoor sector plummeted by more than 50 per cent; some large billboards and screens were even left empty, or filled by the asset owners own branding, demand was so low. With people less time commuting and more time in their own communities, suburban centres, parks and other outdoor spaces became busier, while CBD precincts stayed quiet. 

Let's think differently 

These trends are each proving critical to the work of STORYBOX. We launched online during the height of lockdowns as a project committed to promoting urban media engagement in public spaces. As lockdowns have relaxed in Australia during the course of 2020, it's clear outdoor spaces have a more important role than ever in promoting new kinds of connective cultural experiences. 


Over coming months, outdoor spaces can and will be used in novel ways by artists, creators and performers, empowered & funded by local governments who want to bring people back into town. 

In this environment, outdoor media has so many new possibilities. That's why think it's time for a rebrand. It's time for public space media. 

How we define public space media



Public space media supports the value of public spaces as shared spaces for local culture and creativity. 


Public space media is created by bridging the physical and digital divide in novel and imaginative ways, to enhance the quality and experience of a place and its many communities.   


Public space media is likely to be experienced by audiences in a transitory way.  It is not television. It exists exists somewhere between architecture and media.  Ultimately, it should aim to enhance, not diminish, what is unique about shared spaces. 



Why partnerships matter

Over 2020 the STORYBOX team have worked in partnership with the ABC Content Ideas Lab, who share with us excitement about the potential to connect with audiences through hyper local storytelling and engagement opportunities.

Like any other organisation we work with, the ABC partnership supports bespoke media created specifically for public spaces. In other words, we don’t intend to run ABC TV ads. Instead, we are working with the ABC to explore how to produce and deliver content in ways that integrate digital and physical spaces in innovative ways — allowing for new ways to connect with audiences in hyper local settings.

In 2020 the City of Parramatta also became a key anchor partner, hosting our launch in Parramatta Square in October 2020. These partnerships have been critical to our engagement with Greater Western Sydney communities, surfacing diverse stories, archives, personal insights, creative media and even local moods.  Our Parramatta launch project has seen over one hundred contributions and content assets created by diverse communities and creatives, demonstrating to us how exciting it is for many to have the opportunity to exhibit and showcase work outdoors, in public spaces. Cultural organisations like FORM Dance, Story Factory and Curious Works have also come on board, connecting us to emerging writers, dancers and creative cultures from across Western Sydney. 

We're looking forward to new creative projects, collaborations and connections in 2021. If you'd like to know how you might work with us to establish a STORYBOX initiative in your city or precinct, get in touch. It's an important time to try things differently in our shared public spaces. 





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