All advertising spaces in all of Belgium’s railway stations will for the next ten years be controlled by Clear Channel, a multi-billion dollar US corporation, the company has announced.
The contract concerns more than 4,000 advertising panels, seen by an average of eight million rail passengers a week.
While those viewing figures rival magazines, newspapers and TV programmes, the more important issue in this context is that the SNCB contract is a monopoly: in the country’s railway stations, no other advertising is available.
The contract begins in January, when Clear Channel plans to start increasing the number of digital advertising panels from 200 to 800. The panels are able to rotate advertisements so that several target groups cane be reached in a short time.
They also operate on an almost subliminal level; one ad disappears before you can take it in, and you find yourself almost compelled to wait for it to come back around to find out what it was – an advertiser’s dream.
Part of the contract involves the SNCB promising to upgrade the environment of their stations “for a better customer experience”. The ‘customers’ themselves, notably, have not so far been able to extract such a promise from the rail authority.
On the Clear Channel side, the company has promised phone-charging stations by the ad panels, seating areas with plants and in-station events.
"That is part of the reason why they chose us," said Jan De Moor, director of Clear Channel Belgium.
The company seems unphased by the fact that the number of commuters has fallen drastically since the onset of the pandemic, and the growth of teleworking which looks like outliving the virus.
“People will keep on travelling,” De Moor said. And the company reckons by 2025 the numbers of rail-users will finally have topped 2019 pre-corona levels.
Four years ago, the relationship between the SNCB and Clear Channel came to court. Belgium’s own advertising giant JC Decaux brought a case against the award of an advertisement contract in the stations to Publifer, which happened to be a joint venture between the SNCB and Clear Channel.
The award of the contract to Publifer was unlawful, JC Decaux said. The court agreed.
The solution: the SNCB – a state-funded organisation – bought Clear Channel’s share in the enterprise.
And now Clear Channel is back.