Clear Channel is bringing data-driven billboard advertising to Europe

11 Aug 2020

Image: © William/

Using anonymised smartphone data, Clear Channel shows advertisers which outdoor locations can help them reach their target market.

The Financial Times has reported that Texas-based digital billboard company Clear Channel Outdoor is set to launch its Radar technology in Europe next month.

Radar is Clear Channel’s platform that uses anonymised mobile phone data from third parties to provide advertisers with better insights on where to place advertisements in public spaces.

It can measure a consumer’s real-world travel patterns and behaviours as they move through their day, analysing data on direction of travel, billboard viewability and visits to specific destinations.

Clear Channel’s Radar system has been used in the US for four years, but the company waited to launch in Europe so that it could meet stricter EU privacy laws.

‘A bit creepy’

When the company launched its technology in the US in 2016, Clear Channel’s vice-president for research and insights, Andy Stevens, admitted to the New York Times that in theory the practice might “sound a bit creepy”.

Stevens explained that Clear Channel’s technology uses the already-available data that mobile advertisers have been using for years and that ad targeting isn’t a new concept. He said: “We’re just tapping into an existing data ecosystem.”

In the Financial Times’ article, Clear Channel CEO William Eccleshare said: “We would be able to see – and remember, this is very well anonymised – we can follow your movement to a store. We can follow what you purchase. And yes, we can look at your viewing habits that evening if you pass an ad for a Netflix show.”

Eccleshare said that the company was using “absolutely compliant” data suppliers to meet the EU’s privacy laws, of which he said he was “very conscious”.

In the US, there has been some opposition to the technology. When the platform launched in 2016, the Center for Digital Democracy’s director, Jeffrey Chester, told the New York Times that “people have no idea” they’re being tracked and targeted. “It is incredibly creepy, and it’s the most recent intrusion into our privacy,” he said.

Launching in Europe

The company’s launch in Europe comes after a difficult few months for the outdoor advertising sector, which was hit badly during the Covid-19 pandemic. With shrinking advertising budgets and less consumers in city centres, outdoor advertisers suffered.

In Clear Channel’s latest earnings report from 7 August, the company reported losses of $143m in Q2 as revenues dropped 55pc to $315m. According to the Financial Times, shares in the company have lost two-thirds of their value since January.

The company will first enter the European market through the UK and Spain in September, followed by a launch in Sweden in the following months. The company already has operations in Switzerland, where Eccleshare said that revenues surpassed last year’s for “six straight weeks”.

Eccleshare added that the world’s largest outdoor advertising group, JCDecaux, has had its eye on Clear Channel for some time.

“Our French friends endlessly say they are looking at Clear Channel,” he told the Financial Times. “They have said that since the day I joined, which was in 2009, and I think they were saying it before that. It is time they put up or shut up. I don’t think they are serious, I don’t think they would pay what we need them to pay in order to make it make sense.”

Updated, 6pm, 11 August 2020: A previous headline on this article suggested that Clear Channel’s billboards are used to track phones. This was updated to clarify that the company uses third-party data to provide insights for billboard advertising.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic