As Auckland grows, so too does Auckland Transport (AT), the body in charge of the city's public transport. Since it sprung from the loins of the Super City in 2009, it has, understandably, been focused more on operational improvements than commercialising its assets. But that's set to change with AT consolidating its outdoor advertising and signing a nine year contract with Ambient Group, which was acquired by the soon-to-launch QMS Media back in May for an undisclosed sum.
Chris Monaghan, chief executive of Ambient (and 25 percent owner of QMS in this market), says it started working with Auckland Transport around the Rugby World Cup in 2011. He says AT's outdoor assets were very fragmented and the revenue was going "everywhere but to AT". So "the shared vision", along with AT's Ian Robertshaw, was to consolidate those assets and grow revenue. And with Auckland's urban intensification, the creation of the City Rail Link and double digit growth in public transport passenger numbers, he's confident that it can mimic other large cities and make it happen here.
“Ambient will be incorporating AT’s current transportation network media assets into a single, unified product offering which includes buses, trains, ferries, stations and interchanges, street flags, billboards, cross road banners, carparks, as well as future road corridor development," he says.
He says QMS will create a small format digital network in the city and it will be the largest in New Zealand. And, unlike Adshel, which can’t use full animation panels due to driver distraction, he says its panels will be fully animated.
He says it is also looking to move aggressively into the large format digital space. While he says QMS has no billboard assets (and the options for acquisitions are limited after a raft of consolidation in the outdoor industry), AT has over 30 billboards around Auckland, and he says it will look at redeveloping those sites and also creating new sites around AT infrastructure. Because it is working so closely with AT, he says it can build advertising into the plans early in the process so "they look like they should be there rather than bolted on".
He says it’s following a similar model to what QMS has done with VicTrack in Melbourne and convert a lot of static assets to digital, which is growing rapidly here and around the world. He says this long-term contract gives the company the confidence to invest and he says QMS, which recently listed on the Australian stock exchange, has a market cap of $224 million and is backed by the Qatar government, has no capital constraints.
It will also aim to co-develop an audience measurement tool with AT. And while he says buying outdoor with programmatic is “getting there” and there are already a lot of day parts being sold, "it’s not quite there yet".
So how does this affect the other outdoor players AT currently works with? APN Outdoor has concessions for some billboards on rail land but when they come up for review Ambient says they will then come under its purview. As part of the Public Transport Operating Model, Monaghan says tenders are going out progressively across regions for bus operators like NZ Bus (there's one in South Auckland currently). Network Media currently handles advertising inside buses and iSite Media deals with the various bus operators rather than AT on the exterior. But it's thought all of that will eventually come under the Ambient's purview. Adshel’s contract remains in place.
Even though outdoor will now be the major focus of QMS, Monaghan says Ambient’s traditional focus on experiential, events and PR will continue as before.