Broadsign on the impact of Covid-19 on Digital Out of Home in China and Australia

Broadsign interviewed staff members in China and Australia about the impact of covid-19 on digital out of home.  We’re running the responses below.    
We are living in unprecedented times as the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has rapidly spread around the world, and the global population navigates a new normal, many uniting to protect others from the pandemic. We recently caught up with Broadsign team members Victor Zhang and Yiling Huang in Shanghai and Ben Allman, Remi Roques and Sophia Furness in Sydney to get an idea of how their respective regions have responded to the pandemic, its impact on OOH and their outlook on recovery. 
Victor Zhang, Broadsign Sales Director, Asia

Conditions in China and Australia

Victor Zhang: Although many people and businesses have struggled to pay rent on time, the Chinese government has stepped in, working with landlords and property management companies to help out tenants and businesses as much as they can in these times. Overall, we’re beginning to see positive signs that point toward an impending recovery. Cinemas and offices are slowly beginning to re-open and most schools have resumed. That said, the government is still instituting reminders in public places to socially distance and temperatures are being checked ahead of entering highly trafficked spaces. Looking at digital-out-of-home (DOOH) specifically, we’re starting to see more DOOH campaigns emerge as lockdown measures relax and more people venture outside. Media owners in China are just now starting to report a steady uptick in campaign bookings for May and June, which is encouraging. Things are looking up. 
Remi Roques, General Manager, APAC, Broadsign

Remi Roques: Australia is still very much in the thick of its battle with the virus, with the government having implemented stage 3 restrictions. Under these restrictions schools are currently open, but the government recommends that students stay at home and follow courses through distance learning if possible. Restaurants, bars and sport centers are all closed. Public transit is open, though it is less trafficked. This is largely because the government has asked the public to avoid going out in groups and make trips only for essentials such as groceries, medicine or to exercise. Other activities could result in fairly substantial fines.

COVID-19 impacts on digital out of home 
Yiling Huang: A number of brands across China have put a temporary hold on DOOH ads, but screens haven’t gone dark all together. Though some media owners have taken their networks offline, others have quickly transitioned their screens to become an information source for the public, with PSAs that remind people to keep their distance and wash their hands frequently, and to provide vital updates. Networks screens in residential elevators have also remained incredibly active, sharing PSAs, and ads for education and learning apps, and local restaurants offering takeout.
Though it’s clear advertisers, media owners and ad tech developers are all feeling adverse impacts of the pandemic, we’re also seeing them use this time to layout a recovery plan and rethink how they prepare for unforeseen events. All that said, businesses are just now beginning to re-open their doors, and as we’re seeing more people in the streets, little by little, advertisers are beginning to re-engage. This is particularly true for networks located in office buildings, as people begin to return to work. 
Photo courtesy of Oriental Sunrise Media
In the last two weeks, the outlook for DOOH in China has grown increasingly positive, as demand is starting to rebuild. For example, Oriental Sunrise Media Group powered up their screens after taking them offline during the virus’ peak here and has seen the number of campaign bookings rise quickly. Another major media owner in China that specializes in roadside signage also told us last week that they just signed three new customers for May, while Focus Media recently reported selling out of inventory from May through June. Our hope is that these developments indicate the beginning of a global recovery for our industry, and that as other countries begin to turn a corner in their battle against the pandemic, they’ll begin to see a similar demand arise.   
Ben Allman Sales Director, Broadsign

Ben Allman: We’ve been in constant communication with our publisher partners in Australia and New Zealand throughout the pandemic, and while verticals such as cinemas, office spaces and gyms have been hit hard, other sectors of DOOH continue to deliver sizable audiences. There’s a misconception that DOOH is effectively shut down, which isn’t the case. Although most people are doing the right thing by staying home when they can, many are still out and about for the essential purposes of working, shopping and exercising. Smart brands are continuing their conversations with consumers in a way that is sensitive to current events. A lot of the content we’ve seen thus far reflects this, and there have been some great campaigns to come out of the region. Advertisers are able to turn these campaigns around in minimal time, given DOOH creative can be produced relatively quickly and cost effectively compared with other mediums.   

Looking Ahead 
Victor Zhang: Given the pandemic’s sweeping economic impact, business owners across industries across China and the rest of the world are now seriously re-evaluating how they can embrace automation. This applies to nearly every market, including OOH, and programmatic is quickly being discussed as a solution. As such, I think we’re going to see new momentum build for programmatic digital-out-home across Asia as we recover and social life resumes, because it helps advertisers reach potential customers efficiently and with more relevant messages in a meaningful way. The interest in automation became increasingly clear to us after seeing the response to one of our recent webinars about digital transformation with participation of over 1,000 local media owners and publishers. From our conversations with media owners across China this week, it’s clear that a recovery is in sight, and that our industry will emerge from the pandemic forever changed but stronger than before.   
Sophia Furness, Marketing Consultant, Broadsign Australia

Sophia Furness: At the early stage we’re currently in, I don’t anticipate that we’ll see much forward-planning in the Australian DOOH market in the near term because of so many uncertainties, but once social distancing restrictions are relaxed, people will likely be excited to get out and about again, eager to resume activities from which they were previously restricted. We’ll gradually begin to see more cars on the road, shopping centers grow more packed and office spaces active once again. This will no doubt create new opportunities for brands to reach consumers in a meaningful way.

To support the demand that recovery will spur, it’s important for media owners to try and take time now to figure out the best way to improve operational efficiencies with their networks and programmatic is a key part of that. Though programmatic DOOH was very early days in Australia prior to COVID-19, I see that changing in a big way once we come out of this for that very reason. In the same way that programmatic has proven detrimental to our industry in the short term as it’s allowed people to switch ads on and off, that same flexibility will benefit the industry when they need to get their messages out quickly as we rebuild. 
The crisis has also brought our social responsibility as an industry to the forefront, as companies like JCDecaux, oOh! Media and others have risen to the occasion to use the medium to help governments promote stay-at-home and social distancing measures or deliver creative thanking workers on the frontlines. Their efforts are a testament to the power of digital out of home as a tool to serve the community through the good times and the bad, and have brought us closer together as an industry. 

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