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Will there be takers for MMRDA's 35 skywalks?

By Rohit Nautiyal , afaqs!, New Delhi | In OOH News | May 17, 2010
By 2010, Mumbai will have close to 33 skywalks, which will double up as advertisement space as well. Considering the fate of the Bandra skywalk and the lack of planning by MMRDA, will these tenders receive a good response from the industry? afaqs! explores

Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has recently floated tenders for advertisement rights to 18 of its skywalks present across Mumbai in locations such as Bandra, Santacruz, Borivali, Kandivali, Dahisar and Ghatkopar, amongst others, for a period of five years. By October, MMRDA plans to come up with another set of 17 skywalks, to be followed by floating of tenders for advertising rights to the same.

The development has been confirmed by Dileep Katwarkar, public relations officer, MMRDA.

& #BANNER1 & #A skywalk can be defined as an elevated walk way dedicated to the pedestrians, which connects a railway station or a high concentration commercial area to destination points where concentration of pedestrians prevail. The purpose of the skywalks is efficient dispersal of commuters from station or congested area to strategic locations such as bus stops, taxi stands, shopping areas and off the roads, and vice versa.

Quite similar to the branding pattern in utilities, the exterior of a skywalk commands a higher media cost as compared to the displays present inside.

Mumbai's first skywalk has a somewhat inglorious history. Following the opening of a tender in 2008 which attracted 16 outdoor players, the advertising rights for the city's first skywalk at Bandra East were grabbed by Big Street for a whopping Rs 79 crore for 10 years. The outdoor industry is unanimous on the fact that the tender saw over bidding by media owners. Soon after picking up the rights, Big Street started facing problems in the execution of the project.

According to sources at the company, one of the major challenges faced during the fabrication of ad displays were related to the lack of clarity on the number and size of these displays. Similar to the latest tender, MMRDA only mentioned the approximate area available for ad display at a particular skywalk. As per the unspoken rule, the media owner was supposed to figure out how many displays could be put up after taking NOCs and other clearances from MMRDA and the traffic police.

Also, as per the terms and conditions of the Bandra skywalk tender in 2008, the media owner was supposed to create utilities and lifts, make appropriate security arrangements and set up a drainage system - something that was not taken care of while constructing the skywalk.

Within four months of winning the tender, Big Street pulled out of the project. Refusing to let go of its revenue stream, MMRDA called for the bid once again but it got a lukewarm response. There was hardly any participation and according to sources, the quote was much less than what Big Street offered. Eventually, the tender was cancelled.

According to a senior outdoor expert, to some extent, the Bandra skywalk deal did not work out as it happened close to India being hit by the slowdown. "At the end of the day, skywalks are meant for the convenience of commuters and there needs to be a balance between commercial and public interests," he adds.

On a positive note, Mangesh Borse, director, Symbiosis Advertising says that the medium can be beneficial for media owners only when there is enough time to set up and market the medium. "At the same time, it cannot be denied that so much of inventory on skywalks can turn out to be a threat for billboards in the city," Borse adds.

Noomi Mehta, chairperson and managing director, Selvel One Group says that over bidding in tenders does not exist and players are not a bunch of fools. "There are two types of bidders - one who can afford to make mistakes and the others who cannot. As a medium, skywalks have huge potential for advertisers who can talk to the moving traffic beneath, apart from those who walk on these on a daily basis. Also, there has to be transparency on the methodologies followed while giving away the advertisement rights," he adds.

Also industry practitioners believe that there needs to be better planning by the authorities for such projects.

The closing date for submission of the tender documents is June 14. The earnest money deposit for all these tenders vary between Rs 5 lakh-1.5 crore.

As of now, the industry can only wait and see whether skywalks can be turned into commercially viable media opportunities or continue to be failed attempts by the authorities.

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