But soon there will be even more if the new owner of public transport advertising rights, Transportation Displays Inc., gets its way.
In August, New York-based TDI bought the rights to sell advertising in the London Underground and London buses from the London Transport Authority as part of the privatization of the LTA's advertising unit.
This isn't TDI's first foray into Europe. When the Berlin Wall came down, the company raced into Eastern and Central Europe, but by September of last year, those operations had shut down.
TDI had exclusive agreements for all the transport advertising in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Prague, and was also selling ad space on public transport in Bratislava, Sofia, Budapest, Bucharest, Warsaw, Gdansk and Belgrade.
Although TDI had advertisers-R.J. Reynolds, Benetton, PepsiCo, Frito-Lay, Mars, Philip Morris, Delta Airlines, Japan Tobacco, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Samsung Electronics, Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and others-the company overestimated how much the advertisers would spend.
"We were losing about a million dollars a year," said William M. Apfelbaum, TDI president and chief executive. "Advertisers were spending tiny, tiny sums. We thought we would get orders in the magnitude of $200,000 a month, but we were get-ting $10,000."
The result: A change in attitude. "We decided to spend in the free world," he said.
He is hoping that London, TDI's only international operation, will be different. "To us, London is really like one more big city in the United States. I really think of it as another New York or Los Angeles. Culturally, it is not very different," he said.
Mr. Apfelbaum, 47, wants to increase the Underground's share of outdoor advertising from 30% to 50%, increase the amount of U.S. advertising in the Underground from 3% of the total to 15% within a year and install TV monitors, touch-screen kiosks and LED screens on Underground platforms.
As for London's famous double-decker buses, or "giant billboards," as Mr. Apfelbaum calls them, they may soon be used for full-wrap ads that will consume entire buses or perhaps even have illuminated rooftop signs.
"It is the biggest transit advertising contract in the world," boasts Mr. Apfelbaum, who said that the deal will help take TDI from $180 million in revenues last year to $220 million this year.
TDI beat out the 46 other companies for the contract, but paid a handsome price: $100 million over the next six years, an amount that forces TDI to somehow sell more ads than ever before.
"If anyone can do it, Bill Apfelbaum can," said Naren Patel, managing director, Primesight Ltd., an outdoor agency involved in a partnership that was among the final four bidders.
"In terms of imagination and new products, the LTA was weak," Mr. Patel said. "Their sales force was mainly order-takers rather than sellers."
The exposure numbers are impressive. There are 750 million passenger trips a year on the Underground, or "tube." The average wait on a platform is 3.5 minutes. In a typical month, 3.1 million people see ads on the Underground, or 28% of the metropolitan area population. A single 11-by-24-inch poster ad in a car costs about $6 per month, not as cheap as it sounds considering that they must be bought in large numbers to have any impact.
TDI's major strength comes from its ongoing relationships with U.S. advertisers already buying space on public transport in some of the 440 cities where TDI sells it, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Already, apparel company Calvin Klein and ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's have committed to buy on buses for the first time, and the New York Marriott Hotel has agreed to a three-month, six-figure deal to place its first-ever ads on the London Underground, Mr. Apfelbaum said. Other naturals he expects to sign include U.S.-based airlines, computer companies and movie studios.
"Probably half our growth will come from an enormous influx of U.S. advertising," Mr. Apfelbaum said.
Expanding capacity through the use of televisions, LED message boards and touch-screen kiosks is also part of the plan.
"I like the TV idea an awful lot because it gives us the capability to become the biggest daytime television station in London," he said. "We have similar TV monitors in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco, and they have done quite well."
London agencies are already thinking about how to use the electronic media. Lesley Butterworth, media director at Dewynters Plc., one of the largest entertainment ad agencies here, can envision using LED screens to promote theater productions for impulse buyers. "We might put up something like, `You are only five minutes away from `Oliver,"' she said. "I could see them as being very good tactical things."
If TDI's London plan works out, the company will expand into other U.K. cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh but has no desire to take another stab at Eastern Europe. "We only want to be in major markets," Mr. Apfelbaum said, "where we can make a lot of money."