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Clear Channel turns digital billboards into 'store fronts'

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The CEO of Clear Channel says there will be fewer billboards in the future, but that those which remain will be screens, and able to sell you stuff too, the Financial Times reports.

The move away from paper posters shouldn't be any surprise: in city centres screens are already replacing paper posters and Clear Channel reckons that in the UK 10 per cent of our billboards are already screens. But the exploitation of "dwell time" – time spent waiting for a bus or similar – to sell as well as promote stuff is new, and will be powered by the widespread adoption of Near Field Communications (NFC).

NFC enables short-range communications from extremely low-cost hardware, so a tag costing less than 20 pence can be embedded in a poster and transmit a URL to a smartphone waved nearby. That URL could connect the user to a transaction service, say Amazon, to place an order for the product advertised – turning the billboard into a store front.

That increases the value of the billboards, which is good news for Clear Channel International as it runs nearly a million of the things around the world, including more than 200,000 in the US.

According to William Eccleshare, Clear Shannel's CEO, in 10 years' time 90 per cent of our billboards will be electronic screens, with adverts booked for specific time slots in a way more akin to TV than traditional posters. The paper points out that Magners already limits its poster advertising around Piccadilly Circus to Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, as there's little point promoting posh cider at nine in the morning, even outside Vulture Towers.

But it is NFC that has the company really excited about transforming posters into shops, and making money out of them: "This year we are going to start seeing some real breakthroughs ... in terms of providing real revenue and a real business model" gushes the CEO, and with a million potential shop fronts to hand, why wouldn't he? ®

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