Out-of-home (OOH) is enjoying something of a renaissance, to put it mildly. As the latest numbers from agencies Magna and Zenith both show, OOH spend is on the rise, and will continue to play a big part in ad spend growth in the future. According to the latter, in the US alone, between 2018 and 2021, it is expected to expand by more than $4 billion. No wonder the Economist described it as a “booming” medium.

Of course, ad spend is a strong indicator of advertiser confidence – and in this case, building excitement – in a specific channel. However, I want to argue there are three distinct factors at play here. They are all interconnected and spell out exactly why advertisers should care about OOH right now.

1. Creative outdoor

To understand the creative opportunities springing up in this sector, consider its trajectory. With its origins in print, with glue and paper billboard slowly being replaced by digital screens and video, the shift to the moving image is, of course, exciting in itself. Now a further evolution to programmable screens is in progress – a creative step change all in itself. Essentially, that’s because what we are now seeing is not just video playing out on giant TVs, but rather HTML5-powered displays that are completely programmable and therefore customisable too.

With the benefit of the API, there really is no limit to how OOH creative may now be customised, dynamically and in real-time, and mixed with any combination of live content taken from social media, news, or even live currency exchange rates or flight path and plane destination data.

While it isn’t necessarily often discussed in the same breath as creative, programmable outdoor has opened up important new opportunities around cross-media. Put differently, it’s not just how your live and customisable creative on the big screen creates an impression on its own – but, as is the growing use case – its impact alongside a concurrent mobile campaign. According to the IAB, mobile users are up to 48% more likely to engage with an ad as part of an integrated campaign they’ve already seen on an outdoor screen.

2. Outdoor trading

Of course, programmatic buying is also in a big way about automating and improving the age-old ways we buy and sell media. And the changes coming to the outdoor sphere are no exception – but perhaps even more dramatic. Because buying billboards programmatically are not just faster than before, it can effectively be real-time. That means buying can be informed by all types of local information – weather, time of day, location, footfall, etc. This means not only that buyers can be more selective of when or where they advertise, but crucially also where and when simultaneously.

Another big aim of programmatic has always been to provide a centralised, single buying platform across all media. Outdoor is already a part of this, and that surely means better ways OOH can collaborate with other media – and using one platform for your cross-marketing efforts combined means better reporting and overall campaign measurement.

3. Outdoor for the people

Finally, all of these trends are bringing outdoor closer to desktop and the wider programmatic community. In the process, they are democratising the channel, making it more accessible than ever for advertisers – and not just those who traditionally specialised in this space.

Programmatic already makes up the majority of digital display spend in a number of markets – and in some already almost all of it. In-housing is a much-discussed topic, and another sign the market is growing ever more comfortable with and adept at automated, data-driven buying. From a production perspective, the above point around screens becoming HTML5-powered also means not just campaign planning, but also creative can be freely adapted and consistent between the largest screens, and the smallest, handheld ones too.

OOH ahead

Advertisers have a lot to be excited about right now in the world of OOH, whether that be powerful new creative possibilities, greater targeting options and control of when and where your billboard ads appear, or greater powers of cross-media collaboration, optimisation and measurement.

It might also seem obvious, but an IAB report on the sector highlighted that outdoor is always above the fold and in view. Any brand that really wants to stand out should take note – especially living as we do in an age of handheld screens, and minute detail.

Perhaps most exciting of all, this is just the start of the journey – by one count, only 29% of US OOH revenue in 2018 was digital. If that is indicative of other markets too, the best days of outdoor, as programmatic goes mainstream, creatively and in planning terms, are still ahead of us.