17 January 2012

Billboard Industry Consolidation

Buyways by Catherine Gudis, 2004, Excerpts

By the mid-1920s, many of the smaller billposting firms were already subsumed by larger companies. In 1925, Foster and Kleiser agreed to sit on General’s board of directors, and also agreed that Foster and Kleiser would limit its operations to the region west of the Rocky Mountains. Between these two behemoths, this put them in control of approximately 90 percent of all poster and point plants in the United States located in cities, towns, and villages having a population of 10,000 people or more.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the outdoor advertising industry had become a devastatingly effective lobbying machine. A reform sympathizer explained that “this lobby shrewdly puts many legislators in its debt by giving them free sign space during election time, and it is savage against the legislator who dares opposes it. It subsidizes his opposition, foments political trouble in his home district, donates sign space to his opponents and sends agents to spread rumors among his constituents.”

The banner year of 1996-1997, Clear Channel Communications bought Eller Media for a whopping $1.15 billion, and three billboard companies – Outdoor Systems, Lamar Advertising, and Universal Outdoor – went public, making their CEOs multimillionaires. Together the “Big Three” outdoor companies – Viacom, Clear Channel, and Lamar – came to control 40 percent of the revenues generated by the approximately 400,000 billboards across America. No longer recognizable as the successor to the rough-and-tumble world of the itinerant billsticker, the outdoor industry is now a multimedia, global operation.

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