In May next year, the outdoor industry will gather in Barcelona to discuss past developments in the medium and what the future holds.
At the last conference there was much optimism - the industry even set itself the aim of achieving a 10 per cent share of advertising revenue - but what will be the themes of next year's meeting?
The 10 per cent goal was set before the onset of the advertising recession and the uncertainties caused by conflict in the Middle East. But that said, this target has not proved to be completely unrealistic - last year it had grown to 8 per cent.
Most industry pundits suggest that outdoor's actual share of the ad cake by the time of the Barcelona bash will be slightly less than this, but it is still a credit to outdoor's willingness to improve research, marketing and planning and buying systems.
A major part of this growth has come from the entertainment and media sectors and there is optimism that this growth will continue to drive revenue over the next year.
"Films and entertainment, telecoms and FMCG advertising will continue to grow," David McEvoy, the JCDecaux marketing director, predicts confidently.
McEvoy thinks that the overall sector will experience year-on-year growth of 5 or 6 per cent this year.
Another development came in February when tobacco advertising was finally banned. Because it has been in the pipeline for so long, no-one was surprised and the outdoor industry was able to absorb the loss.
While the demise of tobacco advertising could have left a nasty hole in the back pockets of the outdoor contractors, this had been pre-empted with the developments of new technology. During the next 12 months, the industry predicts this growth will continue.
"Technology will get more sophisticated and screen-based media will continue to develop," the business development director of Posterscope, Glen Wilson, predicts. Clear Channel is already testing a digital-ink technology on its billboards. According to the ink's manufacturers, the billboards require little electricity, are visible in sunlight and the copy can be changed instantaneously. This could mean that the trading of outdoor by daypart becomes more of a reality.
Stevie Spring, the chief executive of Clear Channel, is a little more cautious. "There has to be demand from the clients for the installation of new technology," she says.
However, as the price of technology falls there could be a growth of plasma screens, particularly in the retail environment and Wilson thinks this could present a challenge to the traditional outdoor sector.
Not everyone agrees with this, however. McEvoy takes the opposite view: "The growth of retail sites, particularly in supermarkets, will attract more advertisers to outdoor, rather than cannibalise the existing market." McEvoy thinks that this money will come from mainly below-the-line media and PR.
With retail moving from the fringes of outdoor media and into the mainstream arena, there could be other changes in the ambient sector.
The managing director of Portland Outdoor, Alex Thompson, says: "A lot of stuff will be seen as a luxury. Those that come to the fore will be more accountable and mainstream while the peripheral stuff will wither away and die."
Thus a trend started with the collapse of Forecourt TV at the end of last year will continue over the next 12 months.
Elsewhere in the technological arena, Wilson thinks that interactivity will also be a buzzword for the next year, inspired by the roll out of the 3G mobile phones, although, of course, the fortunes of both are linked.
Wilson thinks that this could present enormous opportunities for advertisers, if seized upon by the creative agencies. "Interactivity could provide an extremely intimate relationship between a brand and a consumer," he claims. It is at least partly up to the creatives to get this working, so are they up to the job?
On this question the industry is divided but remains optimistic. Mike Segrue, the European managing director of Poster Publicity, thinks there are few agencies that understand the creative potential of existing and new out-of-home media. However, he is optimistic that new recruits into creative agencies are beginning to change this.
"The influx of younger creatives seem to be better than the more establishment ones - maybe they are more on the street," he says.
His counterpart at Concord, Nigel Mansell, agrees. "I think we'll see better effectiveness of creativity and if they get it right then more advertisers will spend on the medium," he says.
Effectiveness looks like being the theme of Barcelona 2004 as advertisers chase return on investment. Mansell is optimistic that, by the time of the conference, inclusivity will cease to be just a concept and Postar will finally be recording buses, taxis, trains and stations.
In terms of the traditional formats, it appears little will change. Thompson argues: "I think that the 48- and 96-sheet landscape won't change because this only happens when the revenue is strong. While Van Wagner is a good addition to a campaign, it does not provide a real alternative."
Spring agrees and says that there may be the odd transvision screen installed and a few more Golden Squares but nothing more dramatic than that.
However, bearing in mind that the Railtrack contract and a number of six-sheet London borough contracts are coming up for renewal, there is the potential for the ownership structure of outdoor to change.
This could lead to further consolidation over the next year and, for Spring, this will be good for the industry. "I genuinely think that one of the benefits of consolidation is that it makes us better at selling our wares," she says.
In conjunction with the changes at the Outdoor Advertising Association, and now that the members of the doomed Out of Home Media Association have returned to the fold, the industry can truly claim to have a trade body that represent the interests of the community.
Its chief executive, Alan James, has been applauded for the way the organisation has evolved from a lobbying company to one that actively markets the outdoor industry. "You'll see more consolidated marketing coming out of the OAA over the next few months," McEvoy predicts.
OUTDOOR'S SHARE OF ADSPEND
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
All display pounds pounds pounds pounds pounds
7,924m 8,422m 9,167m 8,478.5m 8,499.5m
Outdoor 7.11% 7.08% 7.60% 7.99% 8.12%
TV 43.24% 43.60% 43.09% 41.58% 43.25%
Radio 5.29% 5.51% 5.84% 5.74% 5.77%
Nat newspapers 17.41% 18.13% 18.72% 18.45% 17.29%
Reg newspapers 10.43% 10.11% 10.02% 10.88% 11.07%
Consumer mags 6.98% 6.71% 6.46% 7.30% 7.31%
Bus & prof mags 9.54% 8.86% 8.27% 8.06% 7.19%
Source: Advertising Association/WARC.