Media: Perspective - Its versatility is what enables outdoor to continue to shine

Forget Lord Browne and The Mail on Sunday. The big legal action of last week was a ruling by two High Court judges over a billboard site in Wandsworth.

It focused on a painted ad on a house in Battersea that extols the virtues of the defunct Sunday Evening Telegram (snappily saying "Spend a Happy Sunday with the National News Sunday Evening Telegram"). It had been unchanged for 80 years, prompting Clear Channel to argue that it need not apply for consent to place new ads on the site as it was clear for all to see that it was already an ad site. The judges saw it differently, and in a test case for some 200 similar sites in London, said: "Once an ad does not always mean an ad."

A pain for Clear Channel, which was ordered to pay costs and also found guilty of the offence of displaying ads without consent. And an indication of greater numbers of legal hoops for the outdoor industry to jump through as it attempts to grow. So there is sympathy for Clear Channel and its rivals over this issue, but elsewhere there are more significant positives for the business. The most obvious sign of this was the Outdoor Advertising Association popping its corks after outdoor hit its target of 10 per cent share of display ad revenues for the second quarter in a row during the last three months of 2006.

"It is the only established medium that's performing at this rate," Alan James, the chief executive of the OAA, crowed. But beyond the stats, there are other events to be excited about. The unveiling of JCDecaux's plans for Heathrow Terminal 5 was the latest. (And, as an aside, many are glad to see the return of Julie France to lead this initiative after her rather odd departure from Clear Channel last year.)

Digital is still a small proportion of outdoor revenue, but at least the major media owners are serious about introducing new options, as Viacom, now CBS Outdoor, demonstrated last year when it re-won the London Underground contract. Yet, the impressive thing about both Viacom and JCDecaux is the verve they have injected into traditional formats. The size of some of the new ads at Heathrow should be impressive to behold.

And wider industry trends might lead to further growth. The imminent takeover of Clear Channel's outdoor operation by venture capital money might serve to focus minds and JCDecaux's recent multinational deal with Unilever illustrates the potential scale of the business.

In the UK, despite a commission system that rewards agencies twice and is impenetrable to all but the most engaged client, a trade body that has seemed pedestrian compared with others and a deafening silence from Postar, the industry measurement system, outdoor is thriving. Further opportunity knocks.

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