Demographic data added: Outdoor tries ratings systems

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[Washington, D.C.] New ratings systems that could help the outdoor industry achieve a bigger share of advertising dollars were the talk of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America's biennial convention.

Arbitron and Nielsen Media Research are going head-to-head to roll out the systems, which will provide newfound demographic data to outdoor companies and their clients.

Both have completed system test runs in Atlanta and Johannesburg, South Africa, respectively, and will launch the systems simultaneously in Chicago this fall. The ratings systems are expected to roll out throughout the country in the next couple of years.

The outdoor industry now relies on traffic data from the Traffic Audit Bureau, which validates outdoor site placements. The data give estimations as to how many people passed an outdoor site, but give little information as to demographics. The additional demographic insights provided by Arbitron and Nielsen would put outdoor on par with the ratings provided for radio and TV.

In standing-room-only sessions, the companies described how they use GPS technology to track a sample's movements around a city. The ratings are "not a guarantee you will get in a media plan," Steve Morris, Arbitron president-CEO, told the crowd, but will level the playing field.

Although outdoor revenues have been stable in the weak economy, the industry still only accounts for about 4% of ad dollars spent. After a similar system was developed in the U.K., outdoor's share of national ad spending doubled in about four years.

Tony Jarvis, senior VP-strategic insights at MediaCom, sees in the ratings an opportunity to take on the fragmented TV market, making a prediction that outdoor could make up 10% of ad spending by 2010.

Outdoor is at a "turning point," said Erwin Ephron, president of media consultancy Ephron, Papazian, Ephron. "The medium is ready, but the real question is-are the advertisers?"

Industry consolidation has helped apply resources toward improvements in technology and ratings. Companies such as Clear Channel Outdoor, Viacom Outdoor Group and JCDecaux have worked alongside OAAA, Arbitron and Nielsen.

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