The Year Ahead for ... Outdoor

Glen Wilson says people spending more time out of home, coupled with more smartphone connectivity, will drive greater outdoor investment.

What shape is your curve? Ours has been V-shaped. As the recession bit, out-of-home revenues fell quite sharply, but as the economy picks up, the sector's revenues are rising rapidly too. Outdoor revenues for 2010 (at the time of writing) had risen nearly 15 per cent against the same period in 2009, thanks to a broad range of advertisers increasing their spend with the medium.

The vast majority of the medium's biggest advertisers increased their spend, and 2010 definitely saw the return of "big advertising" as advertisers sought to create a dominating presence through out-of-home - among them Aviva, Google and Kellogg, which wrapped the Torch site on the M4 with a giant cereal packet creating what must surely have been the biggest pack shot in history.

And while brands returned to building their equity with the classic broadcast attributes of OOH, the newer side of the medium was growing apace. Digital, as we would expect, continued to outperform the market as a whole, shooting up 49 per cent year on year. Right now, we think there will be continued growth in 2011, with digital continuing to outpace the rest of the sector, growing by up to 30 per cent.

Our belief in OOH's continued growth derives from a combination of factors: macro-trends that make the medium more attractive to consumers; innovations that make the medium more relevant to advertisers; and continuing investment from media-owners, which will both improve existing formats and develop new ones.

One key trend, which has helped to drive growth in the medium for some years now, and will continue to do so, is that the amount of time that people spend out of their homes has increased. And not only do people like to go out more, they are more connected than ever before when they're on the move.

Four key trends that will make OOH more effective as 2011 progresses are: the increased penetration of smartphones; more search "on-the-move"; the trend towards location-based social networking via your mobile; and the ability to buy directly from poster sites - again using your phone.

We already know that OOH is particularly effective at driving search online. During 2011, it will become even more effective as smartphone usage increases significantly.

Smartphones are reaching a tipping point - they now represent 64 per cent of all new phones sold in the UK, and 45 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds already have one. As a result, today's OOH consumer can do much more: they can spread word of mouth faster, they can search online and they can buy. A recent Ofcom report confirmed that, not only is the UK outstripping comparable countries when it comes to the take-up of smartphones, but that we use them more for search than consumers in other nations.

Posterscope has already been involved in research studies with Nokia and JCDecaux to understand how consumers will use visual search. It seems that they are keen to access content by simply pointing their mobiles at a poster site. Decaux was so impressed with the results that it has developed its own OOH specific visual search app, u-snap.

Increasingly, consumers want to check in when they're out and about. The arrival of Facebook Places has taken location-based social networking mainstream, and that same Ofcom report also notes that in the UK, we are using our smartphones more for social networking than other countries.

Forward-thinking advertisers are already working with this connectivity to create interesting OOH campaigns that offer interactivity and engagement with their audiences. Red Bull and Nike in the US and Coca-Cola in Australia have all run campaigns where consumers were invited to take part in competitions that involved them checking in at key locations to access content or win prizes. Consumers' appetite for this modern twist on the old scavenger hunt suggests that there is great potential here for a wide range of brands that can thereby, with one piece of activity, raise awareness, drive a deeper engagement with an audience, spread word of mouth and direct customers to a desired location.

Meanwhile, the development of Near Field Communication technology means that soon we will all be able to buy products simply by waving our mobiles next to a relevant poster. At the Web 2.0 Summit this year, Google's Eric Schmidt announced that the next generation of its Android operating system would support NFC.

The next generation of Postar - the industry's audience measurement survey - is due in 2011. Agency planners and their clients will be interested to hear that this new Postar has gleaned its data by respondents carrying GPS tracking devices, so that instead of the results being based on the journeys people said they made, new Postar is based on the actual journeys actual people actually made.

New Postar also brings a new level of inclusivity, incorporating many new formats and environments into the survey for the first time: in Q1, we expect Roadside, Underground and London Bus; three months later - train, national bus and shopping malls; and later in the year - airports, taxis, supermarkets and leisure centres.

There will also be deeper insight available this year into exactly how consumers engage with different OOH formats in different locations at different times, from qualitative and quantitative surveys such as Posterscope's OCS, which will be adding new questions to take account of some of the trends we've discussed above. As a result, we'll understand more about how OOH drives search, prompts word of mouth both face-to-face and via blogging and social networking sites, and how it affects other digital activity.

With the Olympics on the horizon, you'll be expecting an increased investment in OOH formats in London and beyond, and you won't be disappointed. OOH media owners have invested more than £500 million in developing new sites and improving existing ones over the past decade. As this heavy investment continues in 2011, unsurprisingly the focus will be on digital.

During the year, you can expect to see improvements, both in terms of quantity and quality. New developments such as the Westfield Stratford mall and Stratford station will be "all digital". In fact, the number of smaller-format digital screens is set to double over the next year.

At the same time, you'll see clear improvements in the quality of many of the existing larger-format digital sites, and also in traditional formats, which will increasingly switch away from fluorescent lighting to LEDs. This will offer improved visibility and impact and save energy.

So, OOH in 2011 can look forward to continued growth, major investment in digital, better measurement and accountability, as well as an increased ability to reach today's connected consumer at key times - all this and we're doing our bit for the environment too.

Glen Wilson is the managing director at Posterscope.