Streaming Wars’ Latest Chapter Plays Out On Out-Of-Home Ads

The streaming wars have been well-documented over the past three years, as new launches and new patterns of consumer behavior turn the streaming landscape on its head. With Netflix losing subscribers and HBO Max’s future clouded by rumors, the streamers need eyeballs not just to stay relevant but also to stay alive.

Amid a return to normalcy in commuter patterns, with more people back in offices following the pandemic-forced work-from-home period, the streaming wars are relocating to an interesting new location: the skies above and the tunnels below.

This summer, the streamers are increasingly promoting content via one of the oldest forms of media, out-of-home advertising. For years before the pandemic, OOH was the only form of traditional media seeing gains in ad spending, but the pandemic knocked the medium off its game a bit, with fewer people commuting, which led to declines in billboard and transit advertising.

But with consumers returning to many pre-pandemic behavior patterns despite the lingering threat of COVID-19, billboards and transit have seen an accompanying resurgence of interest. And streamers have been leading the way.

Options include digital boards with anamorphic content that look like 3D, such as Hulu’s Orville and Netflix’s NFLX Resident Evil; wallscapes on the sides of buildings, like for Discovery+’s Shark Week; wrapped trains; and billboards with little visual extras, such as one for Disney+’s Ms. Marvel with the superhero perched on top.

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Behind the OOH Streaming Boom

Julie Radlovic, vice president of national sales for the West Coast at OUTFRONT ONT , one of the country’s leading out-of-home advertising companies, says the company has seen a “significant” increase in interest in advertising from streaming companies this summer. From quarter one to quarter two, entertainment spending on billboards rose 36%, according to this week’s OUTFRONT earnings report. She attributes part of that to the sheer number of new companies.

Paramount Plus, Discovery Plus, Peacock HBO Max, they’re coming in, and they’re coming in heavy, at first doing branding campaigns and then doing campaigns on specific shows to gain viewership,” she says. “So it’s a combination of streaming is big, but also streaming is really big because there are all these other players now that didn’t exist in this space five years ago. Then, it was Hulu and Netflix.”

Plus, she says, Netflix set off an OOH feeding frenzy four years ago when it bought up billboards on the Sunset Strip. That gave the streamer permanent real estate in one of the most desirable places on the West Coast. Other streamers are eager to compete. Amazon AMZN , for instance, bought up all the boards it could in Culver City when it moved its offices recently there. “They recreated what Netflix did on their own. They had to buy multiple vendors to get that combination of things. But over time, every time a new product comes up, they add another billboard in Venice,” Radlovic says.

A Transit Resurgence

Another contributing factor to the OOH streaming boom is consumer behavior. Radlovic says transit ridership is “back in full force” since the pandemic, and in some places, it’s even exceeding 2019 levels.

“We’ve seen some really clever ideas,” says Chad Shackelford, OUTFRONT’s vice president and head of digital creative. “For instance, Amazon did one for The Boys with a wrapped car on the A Train. Well, one of this season’s main antagonists is called A Train. That’s really just a clever idea to make the connection.”

Billboards Make a Statement

OOH also signifies something to those in entertainment. “There’s a saying that you haven’t made it in entertainment as an actor unless you have a billboard on the Sunset Strip or in Times Square,” says Radlovic. While that used to refer to stars of movies and TV shows, now it includes streaming stars.

She notes that the social amplification that comes with OOH also makes it popular in the entertainment category. Billboards and transit ads can earn second lives online. Radlovic cites a recent example of a show starring 50 Cent that had a domination (lots of billboards) in Times Square. Kim Kardashian is a good friend of 50’s and posted a photo of the billboards on social. Boom: 50 million additional people also saw the ad. “Out of home is the only medium that can do that,” she says. “You never see a star posting a picture with a TV screen in the background saying, ‘Look at my head behind me on the screen.’”

Greater Frequency, Greater Tune-In

Finally, frequency is a key part of effective advertising—the idea that someone has to see a message more than once to absorb it and act upon it. Transit advertising provides great frequency because people take the same route to and from work each day. So they may pass your sign 10 times a week on the way to the office. Suddenly when they get home Friday night and want something to watch, they think about that wrapped train for Amazon’s The Boys and click to Prime Video.

“You’re able to kind of build a recurring relationship with audiences and drive tune-in anticipation, and I think that’s why we’re seeing so much interest in out of home from entertainment brands,” says Shackelford.

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