Between POPAI, ISMI, the OAAA and countless other three, four and five-letter acronyms, I thought we already had an ample supply of industry groups and pundits arguing the merits of in-store media. After all, POPAI's digital signage group is slowly building momentum, major retail trade shows like NRF and GlobalShop have included (and even highlighted) digital media pavilions, and a growing number of major retailers are signing up for sophisticated digital signage trials and deployments. But according to this article at AdWeek (which you probably can't get to unless you're a subscriber, so instead read this copy from Yahoo!), PRN, IBN and others are backing a new organization whose mission is to "serve as a clearinghouse for information about in-store TV advertising."
The "Out of Home Video Advertising Bureau", as the new group is called, hopes to bridge the gap between providers in the digital signage market (and specifically, the in-store TV segment), and the agencies who might someday start buying and selling ads on these networks. One of the most commonly-cited problems in our industry is the lack of understanding and acceptance by major media brokers and clearinghouses, but the OHVAB (which I'll refer to hereafter as "the Bureau," since OHVAB doesn't exactly roll off the tongue) hopes to change that by "market[ing] and promot[ing] ad-supported TV networks in retail chains like Wal-Mart, Kroger's and Circuit City." I'm not sure if that means they'll proselytize these networks in an attempt to raise their profiles with ad buyers and sellers, act as a media clearinghouse for them, or perhaps some combination of the two. Organizers of the group, including Mark Mitchell, EVP of ad sales for PRN, say they expect to formally unveil the Bureau in September with about 20 charter members, and they are currently looking for an executive director to run it. While they don't mention any charter members in particular, I expect to see many of the aforementioned network owners/managers, as well as the usual suspects from the ad agency side (I'll guess Mediaedge:CIA from WPP, Omincom's OMD, Interpublic Group's R/GA and Draft, and maybe St. Joseph's/Alchemy).
Right now it sounds like the Bureau will focus more on acquiring and disseminating information than actually handling transactions between media buyers and sellers, which raises an immediate question about the group's relevance. If the Bureau is really being founded to market and promote in-store media, that suggests that its founders are unhappy with the way things are being handled by the existing organizations that focus on out-of-home and in-store advertising. Granted, I can't blame them for trying to speed things up (though I know a lot of work is going on in the background at these groups), but I wonder if starting yet another competing group is really the best way to solve the problem. As I alluded to in my opening paragraph, it feels like there are already a lot of organizations focusing on the research projects and marketing efforts that will help the in-store media industry flourish, encompassing enough different ideologies to satisfy most every corporate and political agenda. Starting another group could simply fragment the existing marketing and research efforts, making it even less likely that the industry as a whole would benefit.
Of course, competition is also the thing that makes capitalism such a powerful force, and it's certainly possible that a lean group staffed with media savvy, well-connected experts could make major inroads in marketing the effectiveness of at-retail media. Without an established internal bureaucracy or lengthy operating history, the Bureau could be the group that publishes the definitive study documenting the business processes and ROI models that make digital signage and other forms of in-store media a success. On the flip side, it's also possible that the lack of these very factors could hinder the Bureau's performance or possibly even make their research appear suspect in the eyes of unrelated third parties. For that matter, I don't know if I'd trust "research" from a group made up entirely of network owners studying the effectiveness of their own screens.
Even with these nagging concerns, though, I'm cautiously optimistic about the Bureau's formation. While we have plenty of industry cheerleaders, most of the organized studies on the effectiveness of in-store TV and other forms of digital media have been sponsored or even conducted by a specific corporate entity that stood to gain from showing positive results. Yes, there are some exceptions, but they are unfortunately few and far between. Thus, a group dedicated to promoting the proper use of in-store media in a fair and relatively unbiased way would be a welcome addition to the existing crop of organizations that study this marketplace -- especially as Wal-Mart and others continue to bring at-retail media into the mainstream.