Andrew Wood leads one of the newest digital signage companies in the UAE. Abu Dhabi Media Digital Out of Home (AD Media DOOH), which operates under the media brand al Barq Digital, launched in July 2010 and seeks to champion standardisation, measurement and regulation across the sector.
Andrew spent his early years in the computer industry, first in the USA, then in London with the ORACLE Corporation, before holding a number of leadership positions, including roles at Accenture and Ernst and Young. He was first exposed to the world of digital signage in 2001 when he founded a media agency in London. After growing and selling the business in 2006 to a Private Equity Company that created the ENQII Digital Software Business, Andrew started looking for his next challenge and whilst visiting the Middle East he saw what a great opportunity existed for a DOOH business in the region. Andrew bought himself a one-way ticket to Dubai, met some likeminded people at Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) who were keen to invest in this area and the rest is history as they say.
Can you provide us a short overview about your services and products in the Digital Out of Home Industry?
Abu Dhabi Media Digital Out of Home (AD Media DOOH), which operates as digital media brand Al Barq Digital in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, provides Digital Out of Home solutions in 3 main areas: indoor, outdoor and mobile. We launched our indoor solutions first in 2010, with interactive digital mall networks and a number of private media networks. Launching indoors made good business sense for us, given the constant high temperatures in the UAE, and the fact people spend more time in malls in this region than anywhere else in the world.
We have also made good progress with our outdoor solutions behind the scenes, and we’re exploring new format screens, architectural building wraps and plenty of innovative solutions in this area that we look forward to sharing with you in 2011.
The third area we operate in is mobile, and we currently offer interactive wayfinding solutions and downloadable mall maps and store guides in the UAE. Current trends in our region and globally, mean we expect mobile marketing, location-based services and screen interactivity to dominate many of our capabilities in the year to come.
Creating our own IP and delivering class-leading solutions is one of the core principles we work to and something we’re really proud of is that all of our products and solutions have been conceived, designed, developed and produced in the UAE. Whilst we may source services and components internationally, and our team work with some of the leading Digital Signage technology companies globally to build bespoke software and functionality, our solutions come together in their final form in our lab and factory in the UAE, ensuring that they are totally fit for the purposes for which we need them.
As a business, we’re making it our mission to empower the consumer in their relationships with the brands they are interested in and to drive engaging, quality and profitable two-way relationships. So, whilst we have a good idea of where this is likely to lead us the next 12-18 months, we continue to actively listen to brands, agencies and consumers, to understand their needs and that will very much dictate where we go and evolve as a business.
Where do you see the biggest challenges today?
The biggest challenges we’re seeing as a DOOH business in an emerging region are the exact same ones that our industry faces as a whole globally. Namely quality research to inform the sector and the business cases of those looking to utilise the medium; standardisation of digital out of home formats to make planning and buying easier for advertisers and accountability through accurate measurement and agreed metrics & reporting. Many of the more mature markets are already making good headway in these areas, giving us the opportunity to benefit from their learnings and fast track our own progress, but these key challenges remain a focus for all working in our sector right now.
From an Al Barq Digital perspective, one of the biggest challenges we are facing as a business is within malls, and how to provide consumers with an efficient, practical and engaging wayfinding solution. There are lots of solutions out there and we’ve tested plenty, but finding a practical, user friendly one, which meets the needs of consumer in malls and that they want to return to use, remains a challenge and a topic of much debate.
What is your view on the digital signage industry in your country compared to the rest of Europe?
The reason that such a great opportunity exists for Digital Out of Home companies in the UAE and wider MENA region, is because our market is very immature compared to the majority of European markets and the likes of North America, Canada. We’re seeing budgets returning, a real appetite for outdoor advertising and a market keen to embrace new technologies and innovations.
In MENA right now there are a couple of larger Digital Signage companies present including JC Decaux, Rotana Media Services Outdoor and ourselves, but the majority of network operators are small local businesses, often traditional outdoor companies who are starting to test the water with digital solutions. There are many different types of format, including plenty of tv screens hanging from ceilings, with little standardisation; there is no reach, with companies typically operating in 1 or 2 venues only; few of the networks are centrally controlled and managed, and the quality of creative and content is often poor and badly selected for the medium.
Positively, we know the issues and challenges to face, and how to resolve them, which is why we’re extremely positive about the opportunity we’re presented with and the future potential of the MENA region. We do expect to see many new entrants to the market this year and traditional outdoor companies making the move over too, allowing us to catch up with European and other mature markets quickly.
Which European countries do you think have the biggest potential in terms of Digital Out of Home networks?
If we’re talking countries in the newly expanded remit of OVAB which covers the MENA region, then we’d definitely say that this area as a whole has great future potential and is the one to watch. We predict that the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be the areas to surge ahead initially, as they’re growing fast and have money to invest, but we also expect to see plenty of activity in the Levant region which covers Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria over the next couple of years.
What was the reason to join OVAB Europe?
When we launched our business in 2010, we saw that not only was there a great potential to develop and innovate in terms of DOOH technologies and solutions in the MENA region, but that there was an even bigger opportunity for advocacy of the newly emerging DOOH sector and so we made this part of our core strategy. Projects we have been working on include, the commissioning of independent research to better understand DOOH in our region, championing agreed standards, metrics and accountability and the establishment of a regulatory body in the region. When we started scoping and planning to launch a regulatory body in MENA, we undertook a lot of research looking at already established groups across the globe. We had seen a lot of the good work that OVAB Europe had been doing, especially in the area of standards and measurement and given the closeness geographically, and the fact there are so many business ties across Europe and the Middle East, it seemed a natural fit to approach the OVAB Europe board to see if they would consider working with us to launch something similar, or expand their current remit. OVAB had also keenly witnessed the recent growth in MENA and were keen to explore this area with us, and in January 2011 we became the first member of the newly expanded body.
What will be your engagement within the Association?
We’re the first member of OVAB in the Middle East and we’re working very closely with the OVAB Board and team as their “on-the-ground” partner. We’re advising on current market trends, scoping local and regional opportunities, assisting with marketing and communications, helping to organise local events and talking to potential new members. Establishing a regulatory body in MENA is something we believe in whole-heartedly and we’re taking a very hands on pro-active role, to ensure its support and long term success.
What is your vision about the Digital Out of Home industry and market for the next 3-5 years?
For the Digital Out of Home medium to hit critical mass and reach in each of the Middle East markets, allowing it to compete for TV and traditional media budgets and be an integral part of every advertiser’s media plan. For our industry to deliver interactive, immersive and engaging experiences for all consumers each and every time, and wherever they may be, through the successful integration of mobile and location based marketing technologies with Digital Out of Home solutions. That our medium revolutionises the way brands interact and engage with consumers and the manner in which media is consumed by people the moment they step outside of their homes.