Outfront says “Watch these spaces”

Columbus Circle, as New Yorkers know, is a busy, pedestrian-unfriendly roundabout at the bottom left-hand corner (okay, southwest corner) of Central Park. Flanked by the Trump International Hotel & Tower at 1 Central Park West, and the huge, curved frontage of the Time Warner Center, it’s a hub to pass through fast–on your way to dining, shopping, or just anywhere else.

Beneath the Circle sprawls the 59th Street subway stop where three lines and five trains cross (it’s complicated, okay?). And down among those passages, you’ll find TurnStyle, a self-consciously stylish food and shopping mall which runs down a long, well-lit stylish subterranean passage between 57th Street/8th Avenue and the train platforms. It opened just last month.

What brought me to TurnStyle wasn’t a sudden craving for matcha and hemp juice (Pressed Juicery) or an Intergalactic bath bomb (Lush), but an invitation from Outfront Media to view the state-of-the-art interactive ad displays positioned along the development’s broad gangway.

Although TurnStyle is accessible from various entrances around Columbus Circle, it doesn’t advertise its presence dramatically.  You need to look out for the signs.

Once inside, and running the gauntlet of around 40 vendors–not to mention pop-up kiosks–the Outfront displays are discreet (not billboard-size) but unmissable, broadcasting a kaleidoscopic range of still and video images.  I especially liked the NY etiquette display.

But at the time I visited they weren’t yet showing much in the way of advertising.  So what’s the plan? (The displays, after all, were very new).

Some background. Outfront is a spin-off from CBS, where–as CBS Outdoor–it had a decades-long history as the largest US billboard and outdoor media business. It brings to its new business a substantial real estate portfolio in part acquired through the pre-spin-off purchase of Van Wagner Communications, but now has a fresh focus on tech investment and ad tech–and especially the opportunities around mobile and location marketing.

According to conversations with Outfront, the core vision is now to unite outdoor and digital marketing.  The advantage of the outdoor business, especially with Outfront’s portfolio of prime city center and lifestyle center locations, is that–unlike transient websites and apps–“the assets aren’t going anywhere.” What’s more, “reach is not a problem.” What Outfront is now doing is scaling up its digital presence and applying data.

Outfront says that it has a “deep ownership stance” on its technology, which includes proprietary displays, an app infrastructure, and cloud linkage, well-adapted to channeling content in response to real-time data–quite unlike simply having a media player repeat a loop of content. Outfront is currently developing a DMP, and is geared to providing an “end-to-end” service, from screens, thru software, to inventory–intelligently interacting with the environment. The direction of the service is programmatic, but they’re not there yet.

Technology embedded in the displays will be able to interact, by permission, with mobile phones, allowing local vendors to deliver timely information and offers directly to a personal device, as well as through interaction with the screens. “There are so many possibilities to unlock,” including, for example, gamification using the displays. Similar developments are underway at Hudson Yards in downtown New York, as well as in Washington DC and Minnesota.

The significance for marketers, of course, lies in expanding the digital environment–and therefore the customer experience–to further reaches of the brick and mortar world.

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