Fortune has favoured transport media in recent years. In fact, it is arguably the only media sector where social policy meets the spirit of the age to produce not just robust audience growth but big approval ratings.
Green consciousness and government policy is pushing public transport further up the political and social agenda, and passenger numbers are continuing to rise. An increasing tax burden is falling on the motorist and that has been given added impetus in London with the Congestion Charge.
That will be made to bite even more deeply as planners try to find ways of making 2012 the first "carless Olympics" of the modern era. Meanwhile, both the Mayor's office and London Underground management believe advertising can and should make a qualitative difference to the experience of the traveling public and have given media owners every encouragement to up their game.
Audience numbers have been on the rise and revenues have followed. Now media owners are looking to capitalise even further on their position of strength by introducing new screen-based formats.
As always, LU has proved the focus for much of this. It is, after all, one of the biggest outdoor contracts on the planet and at the time of writing, having gone through a long-winded pitch process, Viacom Outdoor (the incumbent) and JCDecaux were on tenterhooks waiting to see which one had been awarded the ten-year contract, worth an estimated £1.2 billion.
It is almost inevitable that we will see more screen-based panels rolling in London Tube stations. Viacom, the long-term LU incumbent, introduced digital screens in place of escalator panels at Tottenham Court Road station last year and, according to Tim Bleakley, the company's joint managing director, they have been fully sold since their introduction.
"It opens the medium for broadcast-centric advertisers," Bleakley says.
"I think the future of all advertising is about the power of the screen and about the new ways creatives can adapt to new screen forms."
Bleakley says the reason for Viacom's transport advertising's success is also down to the captive aspect to the audience. Dwell time is, by definition, high. On average, commuters in London are exposed to advertising messages for 36 hours a week. One-third is accounted for by outdoor, with 90 per cent of that transit advertising.
In an era of ad avoidance technology available on home-consumed media, transit media has the lowest avoidance score of any sector.
Viacom has research showing people who are highly mobile are not just high-spending consumers, but are also highly amenable to new ideas and are among the most impulsive consumers.
In the first four months of 2006, transport advertising was recording double-digit rates of growth, putting it up there with online as one of the media industry's hottest hotspots.
To date, transport has been dominated by Viacom and Titan/Maiden, and the story of 2005 was one of wildly contrasting fortunes and a shift in the balance of power in favour of Viacom.
Maiden got into trouble when it allegedly overbid for at least one rail-related contract last year. As one of the market's weaker players in terms of its portfolio of sites, it was obviously desperate to retain the business but to do so it is thought to have made unwise levels of upfront investment guarantees. Cashflow problems soon followed and it was put up for sale.
Perhaps ironically, it was acquired by the US outdoor group Titan, whose boss, Bill Apfelbaum, used to run TDI - a company that evolved in the 90s into what is now Viacom. Viacom had been mooted a possible bidder for Maiden, but observers pointed out it had already taken most of what it would have wanted from Maiden, having emerged victorious in three contract pitches in 2005 (Scottish, GNER and First Group). It now has around one-third of total national rail business.
On the other hand, Apfelbaum is a powerhouse player in the transport medium. So perhaps it will soon be Viacom's turn to find itself on the back foot. Bleakley does not see it quite that way. "His arrival here is a good thing," he argues. "We are number one and we intend to keep it that way, but competition is a good thing and it's positive to have someone as passionate about transit advertising in the market."
Meanwhile, away from trains and buses there has also been a mega-pitch in the airport sector as BAA's ten-year contract came up for renewal.
It is worth an estimated £500 million and will include the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow, which is due to open in 2008. The challenge for the winning media owner will be to come up with advertising formats that do justice to the cutting-edge design of this space.
VIACOM BUS AND TUBE SHEETAGE
TV area Bus rear L-side Streetliner Superside T-side Total
Anglia 1,434 - 1,170 493 497 3,594
Border 289 - 229 51 50 619
Carlton 6,322 - 2,205 5,136 4,959 18,622
Central 5,266 - 4,000 1,694 1,600 12,560
Grampian 838 - 692 190 181 1,901
Granada 4,434 - 3,784 1,205 1,200 10,623
HTV 2,157 - 2,969 419 411 5,956
Meridian 1,930 - 1,448 699 655 4,732
Scottish 2,873 - 1,909 1,262 1,043 7,087
Tyne Tees 1,319 - 1,372 338 337 3,366
West Country 795 - 981 155 166 2,097
Yorkshire 3,465 - 2,970 1,500 1,140 9,075
TV area 12- 16- Four- 48- Six- Escalator/ Tube Total
sheet sheet sheet sheet sheet stair car
(LU) (LU) (LU) (LU) (LU) panels
Carlton 766 3,289 10,416 1,667 3,433 13,916 94,490 127,977
Source: Outdoor Advertising Association.
THE EVOLUTION OF TITAN/MAIDEN'S RAIL INVENTORY
Four- Six- 48- High Lime Spot Trans-
sheet sheet sheet light light light vision
2005 5,394 2,888 939 326 53 50 14
2004 5,334 2,551 760 309 - - 10
2003 6,801 2,785 859 244 - - 7
2002 6,946 2,779 854 246 - - 3
2001 6,946 2,779 854 247 - - 1