OUTDOOR COMPANY ACQUISITIONS ARE DISTORTING AUDITS: CMR PLANS TO ADD 8-SHEETS MEDIA TO THOSE NOW TRACKED

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The torrent of acquisitions among outdoor ad companies has caused headaches for Competitive Media Reporting in collecting industry revenue data, even as CMR plans to add to the number of outdoor venues it tracks.

The aftereffects of up to 100 outdoor industry acquisitions in the past nine months have disrupted the reporting of data to CMR. Newly merged companies are "having a hard time coordinating their [two different software] reporting systems," said Melanie White, CMR's VP-outdoor services.

OAAA STYMIED

Since fourth quarter 1996, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, which relies on CMR numbers, has been unable to break out spending in particular categories such as tobacco. Full-year 1996 revenue was delayed, and, most recently, OAAA said first-quarter 1997 figures increased 8% over the same period in 1996-while Competitive Media Reporting found an 8.7% decrease.

"Outdoor revenue numbers have always been underreported by CMR, and now it's even more so" due to consolidation in the outdoor industry, said OAAA President Nancy Fletcher.

CMR will ease another reporting problem soon when it starts to track additional outdoor venues. The company expects to begin reporting eight-sheet poster data by the second quarter of 1997 and later will add transit and other forms once it has updated its tracking software.

Eight-sheet and transit advertising combined is estimated at a growing 11% of the industry total.

Up until now, CMR tracked only full-size boards at 54 of about 600 outdoor companies, totaling $1.3 billion in revenue last year. That leaves out much of the $3.76 billion represented by all out-of-home companies, Ms. Fletcher said.

Also, major cities such as New York, Atlanta and Cleveland are adding significant outdoor "furniture" contracts-such as kiosks and newsstands-where there was no revenue before. Non-traditional outdoor media are expected to contribute 10% to 15% growth, compared with 8% to 10% for traditional outdoor.

OWNERS TO COOPERATE

Outdoor owners themselves historically have not provided full information to CMR. Not until 1992 did giant 3M Media (recently acquired by Outdoor Systems) begin reporting even its national transactions, which made up only 40% of its billings.

But at an OAAA board meeting last May, the industry finally attained unanimous support and agreed to report to CMR.

Previously, "I had members who said, `My revenues are none of anyone's business,"' Ms. Fletcher said. "But now they realize advertisers want to track spending. We're the only medium that's self-reported."

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