The major outdoor players have had more than a few distractions over the past year, but, following some big contract wins and renewals, the sector is set for some significant investment and even more innovation in the coming months.
Now that the contract for London Underground has been renewed, Viacom Outdoor is planning a major overhaul of the network - everything from cross-track projection to expanding the digital escalator panel trial.
Meanwhile, JCDecaux recently staved off competition for the BAA contract, which covers seven UK airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, and has earmarked £25m for the upgrade programme, including the installation of the advertising network at Terminal 5.
Clear Channel is installing billboards with special reflective technology to improve visibility and cut down power consumption and has also developed sophisticated planning tools to help media agencies with their jobs.
Meanwhile, Titan Outdoor is likely to make announcements on new innovations over the coming months, but is understandably not ready yet, having only recently emerged from the takeover by its new American owner.
The outdoor of the future is happening much sooner than you might think and it's likely that media agencies can take advantage of these shiny new toys towards the end of this year.
The outdoor media landscape is set for a dramatic proliferation of digital screens. Viacom is placing 225 LCD panels in exit corridors and ticket halls at London Underground stations with high passenger traffic over the next 18 months. Meanwhile, JCDecaux Airport plans to replace all small-format advertising with digital screens, first at the flagship Heathrow, followed by Gatwick and other airports. The digital screens, like the DEPs, are designed to provide greater creative potential and allow remote copy changes, and day-part and week-part advertising.
DIGITAL BUS STOPS
Digital screens in bus shelters are set to get bigger. Earlier this month JCDecaux started trialling a 62-inch screen in a bus shelter on Great West Road in West London. The screen is almost the full size of the bus shelter and the biggest to date - 42 inches was the previous record.
MOVING 3D SCREENS
JCDecaux, fresh from launching The Torch on the M4 and signing up Barclays as the first advertiser for the structure, has also created a 48-sheet special build with a moving 3D creative and display screen.The ad for the new LG "Chocolate" phone has a 3D phone with a unique moving face that slides up and down on a 20-second repeated cycle. The face moves to reveal an illuminated keypad, while a demo plays on the screen.
Clear Channel has developed innovations to help media planners with their job. The outdoor giant has recently combined its in-house Personicx tool with Postar data and maps of major retailers.
Clear Channel can now tell planners the distance of every billboard and six-sheet in its network from any major retailer such as Tesco, Sainsbury's or Marks & Spencer.
In addition, to make targeting, for example, male consumers aged 25-35 who own a dog, Clear Channel can identify the hotspot areas where they are most likely to be found and customise a poster campaign to match.
Clear Channel is also installing the UK's first network of outdoor digital billboards, with an initial trial of 10 sites across London including Cromwell Road and Vauxhall Cross.
The billboards, which measure 5.3m long by 2.3m wide, use new Magink technology rather than energy-intensive LED screens.
The Magink technology has been used just once before with two JCDecaux billboards in Cannes, reflects sunlight.
This means the billboards should be highly visible, even on a bright day, but use very little electricity. At night, the panels are lit by small spotlights, which are also reflected and magnified by Magink.
The billboards will carry multiple ads from six advertisers that can be updated instantly and remotely.
DIGITAL ESCALATOR PANELS
The digital escalator panels (DEPs) on trial at Tottenham Court Road tube station for the past year have been a huge hit with media agencies, who value the format for its high visual appeal and ability to cater for immediate copy changes.
Viacom has committed to installing DEPs at 20 stations across the Tube as part of a wider digital network of 2,000 screens.
The scale and size means Viacom will be able to realise the true potential of digital media and sell ads by the time of day or day of the week.
Having secured the £1.2bn London Underground contract from Transport for London, Viacom is now ready to embark on a £72m investment programme upgrading advertising on the network.
As well as a serious commitment to digital, Viacom plans to revamp every station on the network, including 31,000 non-digital sites over the next 18 months. It is introducing a new 12-sheet illuminated advertising format, which consumes half the electricity of current versions.
There are also plans for the introduction of "dry-posting", an innovative technique developed with 3M, the inventor of the Post-It note, which will eliminate the need for glue, protect the posters from dust and ensure that all waste can be recycled.
All ads will be framed and the cross-track advertising will form part of a continuous "media wall", which forms a second skin completely covering the brickwork.
Cross-track projection (XTP), where moving images are projected onto the platforms, which has existed overseas for several years, will finally hit the UK this year. In fact, the media agency world is set for not just one new XTP project, but two.
Viacom has announced plans to install 150 screens on walls opposite platforms at 24 London Underground stations - an average of two per platform. The screens, which measure 2.1m high by 3.7m wide and carry images but not sounds, will form Viacom's cutting edge big brand format.
At the same time, JCDecaux Airport is planning to install cross-track projection on the Heathrow Express.
The soundless screens, which will be at the stations for Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5, will be in place for the opening of the fifth terminal in March 2008.
IBM BRINGS BLUETOOTH OUTSIDE FOR WIMBLEDON
IBM has sponsored Wimbledon for 17 years, but this year it is trying something different.
The technology giant has transformed Finsbury Avenue Square and the Fulcrum at Liverpool Street into Bluetooth zones to allow fans to tap into the magic of Wimbledon.
In a deal brokered by IBM's media agency MindShare, everyday objects such as trees, stones and plants have been converted to transmit the latest scores and news to passers-by missing the action.
Alan Flack, IBM's strategic brand manager, says the campaign is targeted at City workers and aims to position IBM as "the innovators' innovator".
IBM has garnered praise for innovations such as online training for ball boys and girls and the ball tracker, which shows players exactly where their balls have hit.
This article was first published on Media Week