William Eccleshare explains why Clear Channel International is making a “significant investment” in the introduction of programmatic trading technology.
The idea of trading out-of-home (OOH) media programmatically has been around for some time.
Since 2015, ad tech firms like Rubicon Project have signed a raft of deals to introduce supply-side platforms (SSPs) into the outdoor media space. However, to date those experiments have been limited in scope and scale.
That may be about to change. Clear Channel has become the first major international OOH player to make the leap into automated trading, announcing yesterday (18 January) the roll out of an automated guaranteed solution in Europe.
Briefing M&M Global on the news, Clear Channel International chairman and chief executive William Eccleshare says the company is committing to a “seven figure” investment in the new trading systems. Programmatic, he adds, represents Clear Channel’s “big bet”.
“This is a very significant move for us. It is an absolutely critical next step in the future of our medium. One of the things that used to characterise outdoor is that it was a complex buy [with] long lead times and complicated procedures. If it makes it easier to buy, then it is something we should be embracing,” says Eccleshare.
Early advertisers to have trialled the new method of buying inventory include Mercedes-Benz, Unilever and Deliveroo, with Stefan Lameire, Clear Channel International’s chief customer and revenue officer, claiming that those clients would have chosen to spend elsewhere were it not for the programmatic element.
Marketers can select their media choices based on an initially limited number of parameters, such as location and time, to avoid “confusion” too early on. They are then offered a price by Clear Channel’s platform and, if acceptable, can buy the inventory there and then.
“The reason why we have developed our own [system] is that was nothing available for outdoor with the sophistication we needed”
The trading is managed by a piece proprietary technology, with Eccleshare claiming it was impossible to buy an appropriate SSP “off the peg”.
“The reason why we have developed our own [system] is that was nothing available for outdoor with the sophistication we needed,” he says. “If you don’t do it properly, you commoditise your inventory.”
Only Clear Channel’s own third-party and proprietary data can be used to inform campaigns for now, though the media owner says it is looking to introduce ways for clients to feed in their own data sets – as well as eventually bringing in transactional and Beacon data as well.
However, Clear Channel is keen to distance itself from the measurement promises made by digital media companies.
“Programmatic allows us to trade more efficiently, more effectively, and to be more comparable with other media […] But there are lots of differences,” says Eccleshare, criticising the “spurious accuracy” of some digital media reporting, and arguing for the continued importance of a “degree of judgement” in media buying.
“We are not dealing with real-time audience information. It is not directly analogous to an online campaign.”
“We will never be a one-to-one medium; we will always be a reach medium,” adds Lameire.
With systems already live in Belgium, and UK marketers being briefed this week, Clear Channel is keen to expand programmatic trading across major markets – but is allowing itself a “flexible trajectory” for the roll-out.
Belgium was chosen as the test market as it represents a “quite small” audience, allowing for real-time learnings without much in the way of “visibility”. However, Eccleshare says it is important to prove programmatic OOH has a future in a major territory – hence the upcoming UK launch.
“If you innovate, you need to be able to wait and see”
“We felt it was important to put it in a sophisticated, major market, to gauge demand. We really don’t know about the level of engagement with advertisers and agencies. In my experience, agencies can be very risk averse. If you innovate, you need to be able to wait and see,” he says.
With that, Eccleshare and his colleagues depart the media briefing to begin selling Clear Channel’s “big bet” to the UK advertising community in the hope that they too will agree that programmatic OOH is ready to take off.