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Eller Media is purchased by broadcasting company

Published Oct. 1, 2005

The names are changing under many of Tampa Bay's billboards, but for area businesses that advertise on the huge panels, little is expected to change.

The name "Eller Media," which is under more than 2,000 billboards in the Tampa Bay area, will soon change because of the purchase of Eller Media Corp. by Clear Channel Communications Inc.

Clear Channel bought Eller Media last month for $1.15-billion, boosting the San Antonio, Texas-based broadcasting company's ability to place ads in markets where it has radio stations, such as Tampa Bay.

But since Eller controlled the area billboard business with an estimated 70 percent of the market share, no major changes are expected as a result of its sale to Clear Channel. The effect would be different if a major competitor was moving in to compete with Tampa Bay's dominant billboard company.

This is the latest consolidation in an industry that is being transformed by new technology. Increasingly, posters are created by computers and then placed on billboards, allowing more ads to be placed in a shorter period of time.

Eller, based in Phoenix, is the nation's oldest and largest outdoor advertising business, with more than 50,000 billboards in 15 metropolitan markets, including Tampa Bay.

Locally, Eller charges prices ranging from $300 a month to $10,000 a month, depending on location. Several years ago, Eller boosted its local market share by buying Patrick Media, another company with major operations here.

Clear Channel is one of the major radio station owners in the country, and it owns four radio stations in the Tampa Bay area: WRBQ-FM 104.7, WRBQ-AM 1380, WMTX-AM 1040, and WMTX-FM 95.7.

It also owns 18 TV stations, and apparently sees the billboard business as another type of media that's in demand and doesn't require much maintenance.

Getting into the billboard business also will allow Clear Channel to choose prime locations to advertise its stations.

Officials from Eller and Clear Channel didn't return calls seeking comment on what the deal means in Tampa Bay. But according to a local advertising executive who deals extensively with billboards, the effects may be minimal.

Linda Beckett handles sales involving outdoor media such as billboards, posters and outside kiosks through her Brandon company, DeWitt Advertising Inc. She said the Eller-Clear Channel transaction shouldn't affect local advertisers.

"I can't foresee this changing anyone's life," Beckett said. "What drives the market is supply and demand. This is a positive move, combining the media together."

As Eller's billboards become the property of Clear Channel, local advertising officials don't expect prices to change. Most billboard companies lease the land where they place ads, though they sometimes own the parcel, Beckett said. Billboard contracts are written for anywhere from one week to six years, but the average contract is for one year.

In the past, most billboards were painted, Beckett said. Today's billboards are a mix of painted and computer-printed graphics on vinyl.

The new method leaves little room for variation, but enables companies to remove an advertisement from the board at the end of a contract and use it again later. The artwork still must be installed by a team of contractors, but takes much less time than it took for artists to paint the large frames.

"It's amazing what we can do with the coming age of computers," Beckett said.