Media Perspective: Outdoor is emerging from its dark days to enjoy the sunshine

There have been some dark days for ITV of late, but at least the honest talking from its director of television, Simon Shaps, has shed some light on the situation. Talking of facing its own "Clause IV moment" (a reference to the modernisation of the Labour Party), Shaps dropped some tired old shows and spoke with a measure of optimism about ITV's future while being straight about some of the mistakes it has made.

Elsewhere in media, too, there are those facing their own "Clause IV moments". In outdoor, for instance. While it might be overstating it to say the whole outdoor business has faced dark times, there have certainly been calls to overhaul and modernise certain murky areas of outdoor trading.

Several events put this into focus. First we had the young upstart GEN Outdoor writing directly to advertisers with details of its own spin on the commission system, then the former IPM chief executive Alistair Lines launched an outdoor auditing company with the blessing of ISBA, again putting the focus on greater transparency. Then we had the near-collapse and rescue of Maiden before the departure of Julie France from Clear Channel, apparently involving e-mails of a commercially sensitive nature.

You could argue that all publicity is good publicity, but there is no doubt that some in outdoor have been uncomfortable in the spotlight. So you could almost sense the collective sigh of relief that outdoor is now hitting the headlines for more positive reasons.

Innovation and progress are once again the watchwords for outdoor as it seeks to continue its growth of recent years. After a period of internal focus because of the pitch for major contracts, such as those of the rail companies and Transport for London, the big outdoor contractors are now unveiling their "next-generation" products.

Last week, Clear Channel, under its new chief executive, Barry Sayer, unveiled its network of digital 48-sheet billboards, a development that will allow advertisers greater impact and flexibility. Then the process for the award of the ten-year Transport for London contract finally neared conclusion, with the incumbent, Viacom Outdoor, announced as the "preferred bidder". Digital innovation was key to the bid, with LED screens and links to mobile technology that have already been tested by Viacom expected to be taken to new levels. Then we had Titan's chairman, Bill Apfelbaum, promising a hefty war-chest to reinvigorate the company formerly known as Maiden.

So, despite fears that some media owners over-promised when tendering for large contracts, there could be sunshine and laughter ahead for outdoor after a tricky few months. Let's just hope this lingers longer than the blossom being dispensed from the Magners cider billboard on the A4.

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