Mediacom buys Urban Outdoor, retires brand

One of Canada's best-known out-of-home media brands has vanished from the landscape, a victim of ongoing consolidation in the industry....

One of Canada’s best-known out-of-home media brands has vanished from the landscape, a victim of ongoing consolidation in the industry.

Toronto-based Urban Outdoor Trans Ad has been absorbed by Mediacom, which purchased the company from its parent, Standard Broadcasting, for an undisclosed sum.

Urban Outdoor brings with it an inventory of nearly 1,000 backlit outdoor boards, as well as transit properties and a subsidiary, Cieslok Outdoor.

The sale comes just six months after Urban Outdoor suffered a crippling blow, losing the $75-million Toronto Transit Commission contract – the largest such concession in Canada – to Transportation Displays Inc. (TDI) of New York.

In the out-of-home marketplace today, bigger is definitely better, says Mediacom president Brian McLean.

In the past two years, he notes, the competitive stakes have been raised significantly, as new players from the U.S. and Europe have entered the Canadian market – among them TDI, Obie Media, Gateway Outdoor Advertising, Ad Shel and Eller Media (which made its mark by winning the coveted contract for Terminals 1 and 2 of Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport, a contract that was previously held by Mediacom).

The Canadian market for transit vehicle ads, transit shelters and traditional billboards is estimated to be worth some $275 million.

Consolidation, McLean says, means national advertisers will be guaranteed an out-of-home product that is consistent from one end of the country to the other – and they’ll only have to deal with a single company to get it.

"We offer them the same hamburger in Halifax as we do in Vancouver," McLean says. "So they can be assured that the quality, delivery and integrity is going to be the same.

Mariam Hoosen, vice-president, strategy director with Toronto-based media management company Starcom Worldwide, says this kind of consolidation in the out-of-home industry was inevitable, given the number of new suppliers moving into the marketplace.

As some out-of-home companies have expanded, Hoosen says, they have attempted to force advertisers into package buys encompassing multiple markets. But she doesn’t anticipate these kinds of tactics from Mediacom.

"Mediacom and the Urban group have always been very ethical in their way of dealing with media buyers," Hoosen says.

Still, she’s quick to add that buyers hope Mediacom’s expansion won’t have any serious effect on its standards of professionalism and service.

"We’re just hoping that…the way they’ve been servicing the industry will continue – that being bigger doesn’t have to mean [being] arrogant and imposing restrictions on negotiations."

Some Urban Outdoor staffers will stay with Mediacom during the transitional period. But the two most senior executives have left the company.

Ron Hutchinson, formerly president of Urban Outdoor, has remained with Standard Broadcasting as president of Integrated Media Sales, a joint venture between Standard and Telemedia Broadcasting.

John Baird, Urban Outdoor’s vice-president and general manager, has declined Mediacom’s offer to stay with the company, and is considering other opportunities.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group