LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- The outdoor industry, like all traditional media, suffered a difficult 2009 -- full-year ad revenues were down 15.6% to $5.9 billion, a $1.2 billion drop from 2008, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. But outdoor executives are banking on 2010 to become a rebound year not just in economic confidence but in accountability too. Eyes On, the industry's long-anticipated new audience measurement currency, has finally arrived.
A longtime project of the Traffic Audit Bureau, the outdoor industry's measurement agency, Eyes On has been in development for the last five years, including several delayed launches. The currency was conceived to provide more accurate audience data from the outdoor industry's previous measurement, Daily Effective Circulation, or DEC. Where DEC measured the audience who had the "opportunity to see" a billboard or outdoor location, Eyes On will measure the audiences "likely to see" an outdoor ad, with rich demographic and ethnographic data for the first time.
Rocky Sisson, Clear Channel Outdoor's exec VP-sales and marketing, said Eyes On would give the outdoor industry necessary confidence in selling its inventory. "With DECs, you didn't know if the number was audited, advertisers didn't know where it come from, you would see billboards on the same road 500 feet from each other with different metrics," he said. "Now, with a centralized Eyes On number, we're giving clients a number that can really tell them who's likely to see their ad and making it much easier to buy."
Competing with other media
As buyers and sellers get more comfortable with using the new data, Eyes On could help them compare outdoor with other media more easily, buyers said.
"We're still in the evaluation period, where everyone's kicking the tires on the car and looking at the capabilities," said Chris Gagen, senior VP- managing director of Aegis Media's Posterscope. "We haven't had the same vocabulary as other industries have, and we haven't had a lot of conversations about reach and frequency."
The United Kingdom's outdoor industry underwent a similar currency transformation over a decade ago, Mr. Gagen noted, and saw revenues triple over the course of an 11-year period. Eyes On, coupled with the outdoor industry's increased investment in digital billboards and place-based video screens, has an opportunity to do the same for the United States market.
The old metrics were a barrier to entry to some large, sophisticated marketers, Mr. Gagen added. "Out-of-home tended to be a one-off because it was measured in a different way," he said. "Now we see it as being a platform that can be put into sophisticated planning systems. We can let the data tell its own strong story."
Eyes On was developed by the TAB using a combination of data from technology and research partners to provide outdoor media sellers with specific geographic and audience data. Micro-Measurement Solutions captured high-definition video measuring pedestrians' exposures to video, which was then vetted in a Perception Research Services laboratory to track how many eyeballs were actually engaged with a specific ad. A group called Marketing Accountability Partnership then applied the results of 400,000 units of inventory to the Eyes On database, sorting them by format, road type and location. Mediamark Research & Intelligence helped conduct over 50,000 travel surveys to gauge audiences' transportation habits and exposure to outdoor advertising, while People Count collected updated data from each market's traffic engineers. Finally, Telmar integrated all the eyetracking, circulation and travel survey data to produce the final Eyes On rating.
Assembling all those moving parts was the main reason it took five years to develop and deploy Eyes On, according to Joe Philport, president of the Traffic Audit Bureau. "Considering where we started from, going from a system with significant weakness in terms of measuring what we had, to where we are today, a five-year cycle was necessary for us to deliver to all markets," Mr. Philport said.
Eyes On probably won't help outdoor media companies charge more, at least initially, so much as it will help attract new clients and help existing clients use outdoor better, said Greg McGrath, Los Angeles market manager for Clear Channel Outdoor. Under the old Daily Effective Circulation currency, there were entire categories of marketers -- such as packaged goods -- that traditionally spent very little on the medium because it lacked certain metrics.
"This will open us up to a great number of categories that aren't presently using our medium because we'll be very credible in terms of what we're presenting," Mr. McGrath said. "I think it will also allow existing clients to be able to tailor programs that are much more efficient and allow them a greater use of our medium."