JCDecaux’s CCO Max Eburne: ‘OOH is stronger than ever before’

With the COVID-19 restrictions easing, Mumbrella's Emma Shepherd chats to JCDecaux's chief commercial officer, to discuss how the OOH sector is bouncing back from a significant revenue loss over the last two years, and how the industry is 'stronger than ever' coming into 2022.

As COVID-19 restrictions ease and the advertising industry attempts to make a full recovery from some significant financial losses over the past two years, the out-of-home industry is said to be coming back in full force, admits JCDecaux, chief commercial officer, Max Eburne.

“We’re definitely starting to realise that audiences are definitely now coming back and out-of-home is stronger than ever before, with an increased demand for portrait video,” Eburne tells Mumbrella.

JCDecaux CCO, Max Eburne. (Pictured)

“There is an incredible energy coming back into our environment of OOH, and just for context, JCDecaux came out of 2020 and into 2021 losing roughly one third of our value of our media channel,” he admits. “While we came into a partial recovery last year, COVID-19 just dragged on continuously. The pandemic definitely took a little bit of the wind out of our sails in terms of our attempted recovery. But, the good news is that all of our conversations with all of our media agencies, it feels like we’re a long way past the significant loss we felt in 2020, when clients just cancelled everything.”

Eburne explains it is really the road, street and rail formats really driving the recovery for the company, as well as airport making a comfortable comeback now Australia has opened its doors to international travelers and lockdowns have eased.

“I think the really positive thing for us at JCDecaux and in the OOH sector is roadside billboards as an environment are back, fully recovered and ahead of 2019 numbers,” Eburne says. “Retail is also back and fully recovered since the peak of the pandemic. Agencies are also indicating that full recovery for us as a media channel will come through audience recovery from rail, and airports.”

In September last year, JCDecaux was awarded the Sydney Trains contract, becoming the main advertising partner across the network of concourses and platforms of train stations for a period of ten years.

It is the largest individual roadside large format contract in NSW, and has significantly digitised the offering as part of sweeping upgrades to current assets.

The contract was previously held by competitor oOh! Media, having taken over responsibility for the assets through its $570 million acquisition of Here, There & Everywhere’s Adshel in September, 2018.

Adshel had extended the contract earlier that year, having won the Sydney Trains contract when it last went to tender in 2013 alongside APN and S&J Media.

“In terms of rail, we were looking at audiences. The rail network had in January this year, over 10 million journeys in that month, which is more than 50% of all transport in Sydney. And despite being the peak of the Omicron variant, we still did see that rail was still seeing audiences returning, up 74% year-on-year,” admits Eburne.

“We have really seen advertisers come back in a number of different ways. We are starting to get people investing in production, in more longer term brand play, and it’s a really positive sign to see the re-investment in brand, and slightly longer-term brand opportunities,” he says.

He adds there are two major components the company has been focusing on. “The interesting thing for us is two things. At one end of the scale you have the longer-term brand opportunities, printed kind of materials, and then for us, we have had this two-year hiatus within OOH, and now the advertising opportunities are more sophisticated than ever,” he explains.

“Within the rail network, while we have been, let’s call it offline, for the last two years with the pandemic, we’ve been working as a media owner and as an industry so hard behind-the-scenes, on the future evolution of our media channel, and a lot of that for us is digital, it’s data driven audience delivery, and fundamentally, the outcome is programmatic trading,” says Eburne.

In March, JCDecaux launched programmatic trading and a new audience measurement system at Sydney Airport.

The introduction of programmatic trading and Airport Audience Measurement (AAM), JCDecaux’s proprietary airport audience measurement system, is a first in Australia and gives advertisers the ability to enhance engagement with airport travellers by delivering more relevant and timely campaigns.

“Our vision has always been that we want all of our environments, our digital assets in those environments, to be able to be treated either traditionally, or programmatically,” he says.” As of January, our rail assets are now able to be traded programmatically, and also our airport assets.”

Meanwhile, Eburne shares that the most growth, not just in the OOH sector but in the digital media space, a large portion of growth, has been driven by premium video.

Eburne says: “A lot of digital advertising in OOH is purely static creative. As you start to get into more of these immersive environments, like rail and the airports, within rail, we can run static digital, but we can also run full-motion animated content.” 

He adds: “On the cross track TV product, we can run full audio-visual content. As we move towards a world of where we can trade inventory programmatically, we feel the rail environment can almost be our premium video opportunity for the OOH channel. As audiences return, that leads advertisers to return, and as they return I think they’re going to find some exciting new opportunity that exists now that never did two years ago. For us, what we will be doing for the rest of this year is to continue to replace digital assets with higher quality assets, and architecturally-designed assets will have a bigger digital footprint on small formats, more street furniture-style assets.” 

In September last year, JC Decaux said it would digitise 18 large format billboards before the end of the year, as the out-of-home provider works to increase its national total by 25% across 2021.

Last year, 35 additional large format DOOH assets became part of JC Decaux’s inventory, with 17 of those locations already in market.

Meanwhile, Eburne says other global OOH markets are also seeing an increased demand for what’s known as ‘portrait video’. “If you imagine the number of brands that are creating digital portrait-video content for these devices. There’s a massive opportunity to then take that content, and use it in an omnichannel basis and different environments.”

“The job for us is to not only make the OOH market, brand and agencies aware of what can be done, but to really educate them to really get the most out of the media channel as we come back in full force from the pandemic. There has been some really interesting chats we’ve had with agencies now that we are coming back from the pandemic, and this is them giving us perspective, but if you think about a number of media trends that have played out over the COVID period, you’ll see that with other media channels, the significant rise of the non-ad platforms, in both audio and TV, in particular.

He adds the benefit of OOH is you can’t turn off the advertisements, you can’t skip it, you can’t unsubscribe, so once again, it’s playing back to that traditional power.

“We have run studies overseas and in other markets to understand the impact of cookies, and there is no doubt that cookies have provided a really valuable marketing tool for marketers and digital marketers over the last couple of years,” he explains.

“But, the research looked at whether other media channels, such as OOH, can actually prime audiences to then drive greater connection through mobile devices, and one thing that we do know is if there is a really strong connection between the OOH creative, and then and digital mobile-based creative, OOH has the same ability to prime and drive digital output in other media channels To almost deliver the same level of effectiveness as cookies have provided,” he says.

In terms of what to expect from OOH moving forward, Eburne admits rather than potentially seeing brands follow audiences through cookies, they will move back to a more contextual type of mentality.

“Everyone is just trying to get their brands in the right environment,” he says. “Whether that’s a digital environment onto the right platforms, and OOH plays an amazing role contextually. I think if there is a move away from people using cookies and moving more to a  contextual type of way, we think OOH will play a really important role in this space moving forward.

“An area which we are moving towards and are increasingly trying to understand, as we can start to play a more important role and actually not just focusing on top funnel marketing but following it all the way down to lower funnel sales activation.”

Eburne adds: “At present, we can run an advertising campaign on OOH assets, but we are then able to capture the mobile device IDs and understand audiences within those environments who have been exposed to these assets, and then re-target people who have been exposed and buy mobile advertising, or social media advertising programmatically to re-target those audiences through their device IDs, potentially with an advertising message which is more retail driven, but an opportunity to really act in terms of that sale activation on the brand messaging off the OOH assets that they’ve seen.” 


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.