Mergers and acquisitions in the outdoor business tend to be rather
messy affairs. They usually involve protracted investigations by the
Monopolies and Mergers Commission which result in awkward rulings. Deals
are either delayed, destroyed or radically restructured, with new owners
having to sell on lots of their inventory to meet competition rulings.
This is odd, given that outdoor is such a small medium and one that can
be easily bypassed by advertisers.
But here we go again. Havas is selling its Avenir outdoor businesses,
including Mills & Allen in the UK, a clutch of transport advertising
businesses such as Sky Sites, AP Systemes and Pearl & Dean. Mills &
Allen, a player in nine European markets, is the plum asset. Last year,
its total European turnover was pounds 350 million and it accounted for
18 per cent of the UK outdoor market.
Which on its own must be tempting for some of the players already active
in the UK outdoor market. Clear Channel, which now owns More O’Ferrall,
for instance. Or TDI. Or Maiden. Any of these might generate MMC
This time, however, there is a feeling that things may be different.
There’s a lot of speculation - for instance, that we may see the
emergence of a newcomer. An outdoor media owner not yet active in the
UK. Or a UK media owner not yet active in outdoor.
Look at Carlton, say some observers. It has successfully diversified
into cinema - that proves it can make a profitable move into minor
Or what about Granada? It knows a bit about the transport business,
given its ownership of service stations.
Would advertisers welcome an injection of new thinking? Would there be
drawbacks to TV involvement? Eric Newnham, the managing director of
Poster Publicity, points out that in the US, many outdoor contractors
have recently been bought by companies from other media sectors -
He says: ’The essential factor is whether the buyer has enough money to
continue to invest in the product, but they must also have the depth of
experience to understand the medium. Big radio companies in the US have
found themselves on a particularly steep learning curve. There has to be
an understanding of the nitty gritty - issues like how councils work
when it comes to giving planning permissions for sites.’
Newnham is sceptical about the ability of TV companies to appreciate the
existence of that learning curve and he has concerns about possible
abuses - like conditional selling - that could come from cross-media
But he suggests it wouldn’t be a complete disaster for a large outdoor
company to consolidate its position.
He says: ’For someone like Maiden or TDI to buy it would make some sense
because it would give them the European dimension they currently
But it would cause real concern if they became too strong in the UK
market. This has to be about balance.’
But Chris Morley, the chief executive of IPM, would certainly welcome
the arrival of a TV company. He comments: ’A television company would
bring an advanced level of management skills, and that would be
’I believe that the issue of inventory management will be crucial in the
future and TV, with its history of managing a complex trading system,
would bring a lot to that. It could keep the momentum going in the
medium - and it has been building quite nicely recently.’
But how about that learning curve? Outdoor, Morley says, is not a black
art any more. ’I don’t think the principles of selling are all that
different and we are working towards a transparent system for audience
measurement. People are still not sure about the system, but that will