Ocean Outdoor interview: Turning places into spaces

The launch of Europe’s biggest digital ceiling heralds a new dawn of immersive Out-Of-Home displays. Paul Milligan speaks to Catherine Morgan from Ocean Outdoor to find out more.

Opened in late March, Printworks is  aleisure scheme in Manchester in the UK, which has undergone a £21M (€24.5M) refurbishment by owners DTZ Investors. Part of Manchester’s busiest retail and leisure area, Printworks accommodates more than 20 bars, restaurants and leisure venues. The centrepiece is a fully immersive and interactive 1,000 sq m LED ceiling, called Printworks Skylights, which spans three internal streets and a central courtyard. Printworks Skylights features LED technology by ADI and is now part of the vast Ocean Outdoor portfolio of OOH displays. Comprising over 10,720,900 pixels and around 115m in length, the digital ceiling can be transformed to suit varying audiences and align with live events and brand campaigsn taking place. The technology (specified by ADI) driving Printworks Skylights is a combination of Green Hippo media servers, which manage the video, lighting and audio play-out, content scheduling and triggers are handled via a Signagelive interface.

While we have seen larger and larger screens installed all overEMEA, there are not many of this scale. Will we see projects of thissize and ambition in the next fewyears, or does the scale (and cost) of this one mean Printworks Skylights could be a rarity? “Certainly the ambition is therefor the market to do more thingslike this,” says Katherine Morgan, managing director of Ocean Labs (a department of Ocean Outdoor group, looking at innovation and experiential areas).

“What’s really interesting is we are seeing a lot of our landlord partners look at how they can turn their locations into attractions, we call it ‘spaces into places’, building reasons for consumers to keep coming back beyond the typical retail and f&b [food and beverage] offering.” In fact, Ocean is working on another project in the UK called Below The Lights, due to open this June, which will offer an immersive space directly beneath the iconic Piccadilly Lights in central London. “It’s very much an immersive brand experience space. Whilst PrintWorks is different because you’re there for multiple reasons, you’ve got f&b, retail, cinema etc, Printworks is showing the trend of building owners really seeing the value of creating immersive spaces that attract people to them,” says Morgan.

Just as we’ve seen a big post-pandemic push for a ‘return to theoffice’, could immersive spaces like Printworks herald a ‘return to retail’? “The reinvention of the High Street is paramount for a lot of retail developers and looking at how they can give shoppers more reasons to go there. It’s about purchases of course, but it’s also about creating an experience you can’t have online, and creating something that immerses them into that space,” says Morgan.

It also taps into a wider trend she adds, where OOH immersive spaces have been inspired by art such as Frameless in London or even the numerous Van Gogh 3D exhibitions seen around the world. PrintWorks features Ocean’s bespoke DeepScreen technology, which allows the display to utilise augmented reality (AR) content, lighting and sound effects, gamification, live data and video feeds. Visitors can interact directly with Printworks SkyLights or play against each other on a separate, large format interactive e-gaming screen, with experiential opportunities for advertisers to connect directly with daytime audiences or night-time visitors. If you have been on LinkedIn in the last two years you will have seen a version of the same technology DeepScreen employs. Called anamorphosis (also known as ‘forced perspective’), it’s a technique which mathematically warps imagery so that, when viewed from a specific vantagepoint, the illusion of 3D depth is created on flat surfaces. When done well it’s extremely effective, with cars or watches appearing to jump out of the screen (without the need for anyone to wear special glasses).

“As consumers we’re expecting and demanding a really high level of immersive experience, and that’s not just for art, it goes exactly the same for retail too. We first saw that starting over in Korea as an art project, and then we saw we could commercialise it and bring it to life and advertisers have really got on that bandwagon.” Ocean’s own research shows that anamorphic content works, full motion OOH content is two times more impactful than static images, with 3D content generating another 16% increase on top of that for adults. It is also sharable too, 36% of 18-34 year olds surveyed said they would encourage others to see it too. In a time when so many of us are desensitised to advertising content in the homeand outdoors, those numbers are getting advertisers very excited.

Immersive screens offer something exciting says Morgan.“We are all craving real-world experiences, there’s so manygreat things you can do with your mobile phone, but from an influencer point of view it’s about having new experiences that you can use to share that experience.One of the powers of outdoor screens and immersive experiences is the ability for consumers to be part of a two-way experience with a brand, or potentially see themselves as part of an advert, on an OOH screen. Large screens offer that unique moment of fame, AR or Facebook or Snapchat are great, but seeing that on a giant screen is a money-can’t-buy buy experience for a consumer to be a part of. Creating immersive event spaces within towns and cities gives people more reasons to keep going backand they know if they go there, they’re going to see something immersive.”

Are OOH campaigns looking for an audience generated content element still pretty rare when it comes to clients? Not anymoresays Morgan. “Several years ago,we would get the occasional brief from a brand wanting to dosomething different, now it’s literally every single brief has to have some innovation on it. We’re seeing such a big increase in brands really planning their social activations around OOH, and it’s not just about the reachon the streets, it’s about building in that social aspect, when you’re working with influencers it’s all about that shareability. ”A few years ago it was just the luxury brands who would have the budget or bravery to use interactive elements todifferentiate themselves from the pack, now it’s brands from all product categories says Morgan. To help with this Ocean’s DeepScreen Alive technology uses Unreal Engine software to control content on the screens and provide 3D content in realtime.

Morgan explains how that works in relation to brands: “It could be a car configurator that you’re customising on the screen, and it’s responding to all your different selections in 3D in realtime, or you’re adding your initials to a piece of jewellery which is engraving it on the screen, or you’re playing an interactive game in 3D that’s responding to you. It’s leaning into that trend of consumers wanting to be part of an experience. We see Deepscreen as beautiful 3D storytelling, whereas DeepScreen Alive is about the consumer telling that story and being part of the narrative.” There is no doubt that immersing people, either through giant screens or interactive content or a clever mix of both, increases engagement in products and/or brands, and that means that projects like Printworks will have a bright future.

Above: Wheel of Time at Piccadilly Circus

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