Arbitron and Nielsen Face Off With New Technologies

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WASHINGTON ( -- 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 here.

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

Crowded sessions
In standing room only convention

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sessions, the companies described how they track a consumer sample's movements around a city using global positioning satellite (GPS) technologies, while also collecting information about income, age and ethnicity, among other variables.

Previously, the outdoor industry had to rely on traffic data from the industry's Traffic Audit Bureau, which validates outdoor site placements. The data would give estimations as to how many people passed an outdoor site, but would give little information as to who they were. The additional demographic insights provided by Arbitron and Nielsen would put outdoor's ratings on par with those of radio and TV.

Successful test runs have been completed in Atlanta (for Arbitron) and Johannesburg, South Africa (for Nielsen). The two companies will enter the Chicago market this fall in the first official installations of the newly developed systems and will roll out throughout the country in the next couple of years.

The ratings are "not a guarantee you will get in a media plan," Steve Morris, president-CEO of Arbitron, told the crowd, "but they will allow you to play on a level playing field."

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

Tony Jarvis, senior vice president of strategic insights for Grey Global Group's media buying and planning arm MediaCom, sees in the ratings an opportunity for outdoor to take on the fragmented TV market, making a predication that outdoor could make up 10% of ad spending by 2010.

Outdoor is at a "turning point," agreed Erwin Ephron, president of media consultancy Ephron, Papazian, Ephron, but cautioned that the "medium is ready, but the real question is 'Are the advertisers?' "

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

'Vigorous competitors'
"We are vigorous competitors, but able to work together on industry issues," said Paul Meyer, president-CEO of Clear Channel Outdoor. "There is a stronger spirit of cooperation than ever in this industry."

The OAAA convention, themed "Outdoorevolution," pulled in a turnout of 905 participants and was held for the first time with the Traffic Audit Bureau.

The theme meant to convey the idea that the industry is on the cusp of a true breakthrough. "It's a magic time," said the OAAA's president, Nancy Fletcher, who cited new technologies, the ratings systems and top-tier creative work as reasons for optimism. "There is this confluence of events happening, and outdoor is positioned to be on an entirely new elevation."

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