If five years ago someone told me that my company’s content could be found in places like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, I would have told them to lay off the Big Macs.

Back in January 2006, our objective was to create professionally produced, evergreen and ad-friendly premium video content that would help users in their social, personal and professional lives; inadvertently, we built a catalog that was almost perfectly suited for out-of-home screens.

In retrospect, we faced two massive challenges. First off, we were starting with a clean slate. Because we had no rights to any content, we had to create and curate the hard way: hit the pavement and shoot stuff, and then make it come together in the cutting room.

Exacerbating that challenge was the fact that search engines did a poor job of indexing video content. We learned early on that trying to build a destination website was challenging at best and impossible at worst. When it came to distribution, our blinders were on. We were focusing on online distribution and to a lesser extent wireless (because that’s what all the cool kids were doing).

Then one day, I got a call from a company in Los Angeles that was looking for content for its out-of-home networks. Truth is, OOH wasn’t even on our radar, let alone the backburner. I didn’t even know what the acronym stood for.

Rise of the screen

Worldwide OOH revenues grew 16.3 percent from $5.56 billion in 2009 to $6.47 billion in 2010, according to a recent report, with forecasted growth of 16.9 percent in 2011 to $7.56 billion. It’s pretty clear that we’re living in the age of the screen.

Out-of-home media serves consumers in public places, on the road, or as they are waiting in line for their goods and services. The right content needs to be PG-13, but not too mundane or boring, either.

What drew the OOH network to our videos was the fact that our content was:

  • short form
  • visually rich and engaging (no “talking head” material)
  • could work in mute settings
  • diverse, ranging from auto to video games
  • frequently updated

What made our videos less than ideal was that:

  • they weren’t necessarily timely and sometimes you need that kind of “newsy” content to attract consumers’ attention.
  • some networks only look for videos that are exactly 30 seconds long or 60 seconds long, whereas our videos, while short, weren’t that precise in length.

It’s important to remember that the best OOH networks plan their programming around news, weather and other more topical and lifestyle-oriented content to create a varied line-up that won’t grow stale. As such, you will have to both co-exist with and stand out from other content producers on any given network.

Content reborn

It’s not hard to understand why OOH has grown so dramatically: Marketers want to reach consumers 24/7, throughout their daily journey. In an ever-more fragmented and cluttered media landscape, outdoor real estate is taking on greater value as once-analog two-dimensional billboards have made way for dynamic electronic screens.

It’s a recipe for massive growth opportunities, and content will play a vital part in extracting that value; after all, consumers will seldom look at a screen if all they see are ads.

At a time when content’s value is being questioned and generating revenue is harder than ever, it’s important for media executives to keep in mind that when it comes to emerging platforms, the playbook isn’t written yet. Digital out-of-home creates a new springboard for otherwise stale content to build your brand, extend your audience and create an incremental revenue stream.