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Programmatic Advertising Comes to the New York Subway



Buying ads on the New York City subway is moving into the digital age.

In recent years, ads on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s trains and platforms have helped grow digitally native startups, firms like Casper and Hims, into household names.

But despite being a place for buzzy brands to advertise, the process of buying ads on the MTA has remained low-tech, with inventory only available via directly sold insertion orders.

Last December, Outfront Media—the digital out-of-home advertising company that contracts with the MTA to sell ads—began offering some subway inventory programmatically, meaning advertisers could buy ad space via a demand-side platform. The MTA is first publicizing these efforts now, Adweek can exclusively report.

For the MTA, programmatic doesn’t mean real-time bidding or identity-based targeting. Buyers can bid within the MTA’s available inventory, which, for now, includes the digital screens above subway entrances and exits, though that is expanding to screens in subway stations and Long Island Rail Road and Metro North platforms, according to Neil Shapiro, vp of programmatic at Outfront.

Advertisers can target by several variables including time of day, day of the week and location. Post-campaign reporting includes impression delivery, spend and timing of ad plays.

“Transit advertising is so effective because of its ability to reach consumers as they go about their daily journey, reaching them multiple times a day,” Shapiro said. “When coupled with the flexibility, speed to market, audience targeting, measurement and the ability to see campaign-wide reporting in one platform provided by programmatic, it’s a powerful combination.”

The large majority of campaigns are still direct buys, though programmatic is growing, Shapiro said. The goal of the MTA and Outfront is to attract new brands that might not have previously considered advertising with the MTA.

Those efforts are paying off: 78% of advertisers who bought ads programmatically are new to the MTA, according to Victoria Mottesheard, vp of marketing for the New York/East region at Outfront Media.

New revenue streams are important for the MTA, which has long faced financial struggles, particularly as ridership sagged during the pandemic. Last month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul passed a budget bill that helped the MTA allay a nearly $3 billion deficit.

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