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“We can get better metrics on urban audience behaviour”

Blending the wealth of data generated by modern cities and their inhabitants could provide new ways to target digital out-of-home media in real time, according to researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Despite 1990s predictions that the rise of virtual reality would mean the end of  interaction in urban space, in fact “people are interacting more, they’re out in the streets more”, said Christine Outram of the institution’s Senseable City Lab.

And, she added, “what is happening on the Internet is happening in the city as well. We’re getting better metrics on the Internet, we can get better metrics in the city.”

While the lab’s work in aggregating, combining and visualising anonymous data from mobile networks, governments and other sources remains at an experimental stage, Outram believes that eventually it will not only offer more accurate numbers for out-of-home advertisers, but also create new opportunities to reach their audiences more effectively in the cities of the future.

For example, in the greater Boston area – where MIT is located – the lab worked with mobile-phone data on around 1m users, or roughly a quarter of the population. “For each user we have a set of visited locations over one-and-a-half months,” and from this it was possible to identify individual trips.

That, in turn, enabled the lab to establish which kinds of events in the city tended to attract residents from individual postal codes, with potent implications for marketers seeking to reach people away from their homes.

In Rome, meanwhile, Telecom Italia data on mobile-phone usage during a major football match was overlaid on a city map to demonstrate how advertisers could use this kind of information for targeting their messages in real time. Phone activity surged and declined as the game developed in ways that would not be predictable in advance.

And in Singapore, “the realisation of what we call wiki-city”, many different kinds of data including healthcare, weather and taxi movements were combined to give a much more sophisticated picture of human activity in the conurbation than conventional media metrics provide (pictured).

Predicting an increasingly digital future for the more than 50 percent of the world’s population that now lives in cities – and not failing to make the now-obligatory reference to the sci-fi film Minority Report – Outram, speaking at Screenmedia Expo in London, said “anything we do in the city is going to be immersive” as digital technologies become omnipresent.

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