NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON THE XTP SYSTEM - XTP system to bring 'moving images' to Tube poster sites. A new projection technique will liven up Underground sites, Alasdair Reid writes

The peeling plaster and weeping walls of the now-defunct Aldwych Underground station are witness to all sorts of strange scenes these days.

People shoot macabre pop promos down there. It also does a roaring trade in "London can take it

period pieces about the Blitz.

It's no surprise, then, to learn that people have been conducting devilish experiments down there that could change the face of advertising as we know it. Or outdoor advertising at the very least.

Actually, technically, it's that bit of outdoor that's indoor. It's called XTP and it's a system for projecting moving images on to what were previously conventional static poster sites (48-sheet size) on the walls opposite underground platforms. Indeed, the system can be used to project silent images of all types, from still pictures to animated graphics to full-motion video.

XTP is designed to complement existing cross-track posters, with around three screens per platform. Following the Aldwych experiment, live trials at Euston will begin in the next few weeks (although these have been delayed owing to "design modifications") and a full-scale launch across 100 sites in zone one stations will take place in the summer. It is envisaged that eventually there will be a total of 400 XTP sites across the tube network.

Old media becoming the newest of new media? It seems so. But will it catch on? Well, Viacom Outdoor has already signed ten pioneer advertisers - including Tropicana, Nestle, Virgin and Beck's.

Last week Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R unveiled two purpose-made full video executions for Virgin Mobile. Alison Pye, the brand manager for Virgin Mobile, was moved to call XTP a "brand new type of media".

David Tallis, a managing partner of Poster Publicity, says he likes what he has seen so far. He says: "From an emotive point of view it is seriously impressive, especially in an Underground advertising context. It's not a new concept - other projection and plasma systems have existed for a while - but it's certainly new in this context. In fact, the problem they may have is the knock-on effect it has on Viacom's other underground inventory - it makes the existing stuff pale into insignificance."

The new system is so flexible that it allows you to run varied executions in different segments of the day and to accommodate later deadlines and tactical copy changes. There is also a possibility that this medium could be traded more closely to the TV airtime model than the way conventional outdoor inventory is.

"It will be interesting to see how that evolves,

Tallis says. "We will want to look at whether it delivers in terms of accountability and effectiveness before we declare that it is the future of Underground advertising. But you'd have to assume that this is the way that things will be going over the next few years, not just on the Underground but in the outdoor industry generally."

However, Alistair Lines, the managing director of IPM, can see potential problems: "In the past there have been problems creatively with this sort of moving image system - just putting a TV ad on there doesn't always work.

"So sometimes this sort of thing doesn't get on to schedules because the right creative work isn't there. But they have been doing an excellent job promoting it and from what we've seen it looks great. The only worry is that it could be an expensive business. They will make it as easy as possible for people to use it but for a handful of sites it might represent a lot of work."

Alison Reay, XTP's business development director, does not believe this is a problem. The company is working with agencies to address technical and creative issues surrounding the system.

She says it shouldn't be massively expensive to repurpose existing creative executions or to create specially tailored work.

She adds: "It is not just about taking a TV commercial and turning the sound off. There are things you might need to do to change it slightly so that it works - such as using a text overlay or adding extra shots. We've been talking to creative agencies across town and they certainly seem to be willing to listen to what it's about."

Pip Bishop, a creative at RKCR/ YR, was. She says: "The quality is not the same as TV so there are things you have to watch - such as making sure what you shoot is not too dark. But we saw it as an opportunity to do some silent films. It's a great opportunity to get a young director involved."

Apparently, it's going to be a real mix, with many of the pioneer advertisers going down the animated graphics route rather than full video. Stuart Cox, Nestle's media manager, says that five of the company's divisions will trial the system. He adds: "We were keen to experiment with this. In many respects it is a new medium - it's certainly exciting in terms of the outdoor market."

But what about the cost issue? It surely can't be cost-effective to produce commercials for just 100 screens. Cox argues that it's important to test the water because he believes there will be many other out-of-home screen and projection systems coming along in the near future. So eventually costs should be spread more efficiently.

That doesn't mean that advertisers are prepared to throw money about.

Cox concludes: "We regard this as an efficient way of learning about how to create advertising for this sort of opportunity. We see it primarily as a poster that moves rather than a TV ad that doesn't have sound. But the learning curve is about how we and our agencies can produce appropriate creative at an economical price. We want to see how flexible and adaptable agencies are in these situations where we are looking at rock-bottom production spends."

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