That unique, powerful cultural layer called music was sideswiped some 20 years ago by the ruthless velocity of the network, and - no matter whose fault it was in the end - its commercial value was crushed, and the business was slammed down to a fraction of its previous majesty and swagger.
While the cultural reach and depth of music itself remains, well, robust, the industry is unlikely ever to recover. I know this from up-close personal experience: my own career began in music, and I'll never forget the feeling of it.
The record shops I started out working in as a clerk, and eventually a buyer - now rarely seen at all - were temples of culture and of cool. Vinyl - the touch and smell of it; the size and physical presence of an album; the sense of profound personal discovery upon dropping the needle onto a record; the way a perfect pop song would weave its way into an entire summer.
This was Meaning of the highest order. And while the ghosts of that period still lurk around us, and once in a while step forward to remind us of exactly why, and just how much, music matters to us in a way that nothing else can touch, the wonder of music itself, along with its industry, will never be the same.
We recapture the magic, most obviously, in a live performance. There's a reason why concerts and festivals resurged so visibly over the past 10 years: we're now spoiled for choice.
But what happened to recorded music? If I could, I'd write a book about it. Because that's what it needs and deserves. Maybe later.
For now, and for the purposes of this argument, I think all we need to understand is that when the network hit music, it became ... Content. It became, as the word itself suggests, "contained", boxed in and commoditised, in a way than records and CD's, with all their perfect packaging, never did.
Music became a file, an MP3 or whatever. Online music distributors - and let's not make the mistake of claiming that they don't create entirely new, significant forms of value - are today a kind of Ikea experience. If you want to know where the new temples of culture and cool are ... just pop into an Apple Store.
As OOH goes digital, with an eye-watering investment in new infrastructure, and as its owners seek to realise the revenues and profits that this bold step forward demands, there are important lessons about culture, about meaning, and above all, about value, that can be learned from the recent history of the music industry, as it has battled to get off the back foot onto which digital has so abruptly shoved it.
THE MAGIC OF OUT OF HOME
I believe that OOH, done right, is advertising at its most pure and punchy. At its courageous, unashamedly interruptive, impactful best.
We have, for a moment or two, sometimes a few minutes, access to the richest and most exclusive attention of our audience. We have an expansive canvas on which to paint fresh, simple stories that refresh and reframe not just the way our audience perceives a product, but the way they experience a space, a period of time, a journey or a delay.
Stories have to be told, until very recently without recourse to either video or audio, using a few words and a single picture. The work needs to sell with either a momentary glance, or with a minute of two of fixed attention. The response is binary, a mental "yes" or "no" ... I get it. Or I don't.
The value exchange between advertisement and audience in OOH is unique. Think - or if you have time, please read - about the history of Jean-Claude Decaux's vision, and the innovative passion that still drives the JCD business.
I had the good fortune to dine with one of the founder's sons, Jean-Francois, now the Co-CEO of JCD, at the FEPE Congress in Budapest recently. This is, it seems to me, a media business built on relentlessly balancing and delivering value for not just brand and media owner, but equally for citizen and consumer. Utility of quality street furniture is combined with slick, attractive and entertaining creative.
This is advertising with an active, meaningful role to play: not merely in commerce, but also in culture and society.
In other words, JC Decaux, surely the most recognised brand in OOH in Europe, is an enterprise with a clear and unusual degree of purpose. And they're far from the only ones.
THE FORK IN THE ROAD TO GROWTH
The overall OOH share of brand advertising is growing. I'm not sure of the exact figures, but while OOH has languished at round 4-5% of global spend till recently, it's pushing steadily towards double figures. I believe the industry's target of 10% share can realistically be achieved by around 2020.
Naturally, the impact of digital on OOH's ambitions and fortunes is strategically significant and fundamental. From the point of view of both efficiency and creativity, we can all see the effects everywhere we look.
Clients - brands and their agencies - are clearly reassured by the new capabilities DOOH affords. Superior campaign scale and integration, the unquestionable impacts of quality video and audio, unprecedented volume and sophistication of data for planning and buying. We'll see the degree to which an integration with the programmatic which now drives so much online advertising is achievable - it's not as simple as we'd imagine.
And of course ... ROI. Like everyone else in advertising, OOH is struggling to push out from under the heel of evidence of provable campaign value. On the brand side, procurement rules the roost.
And here's where I have a genuine concern.
In focusing all of its investment and its discourse on the value of digital, I suspect that OOH could fall into a trap that catches so many of the industries that are exposed to the often-destructive power of the data.
Measurement is not to be mistaken for value. Just as the number of downloads of an MP3 (legal or otherwise) tells only a fraction of the story of the power of a song, so in OOH to double down on digital and expect it to drive long term growth is to miss the brutal reality of business on the network.
I'm not sure how OOH impressions are typically evaluated. But I'm pretty sure that, the magic I talked about earlier notwithstanding, even the most astonishing OOH work punches well below its weight. The definition of an accountant as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing comes to mind here.
The data is only a part of the solution. The unmatched creative canvas that OOH affords its clients is in danger of being obscured, even sidelined by an entirely appropriate rush to digital.
THE WAY FORWARD
While the boot heel of aggressive measurement will remain a central problem for advertising for the foreseeable future, I know from direct professional experience that the global brands with whom I've worked for over 10 years on strategic programmes of digital marketing transformation, are already realising that the efficiency that digital offers can become an internally focused block to creativity, and thus to growth.
No one else is going to confer on Out Of Home advertising the value it deserves, and must demand from brands and the agencies that represent them, if the promise of sustainable industry growth is to be delivered. While digital transformation has the potential to get an practitioner, whatever the sector, off the back foot, it's the unique cultural and commercial impact of OOH that needs attention.
Digital is critical. Now and for the immediate future. But it's not the destination. It's the new departure point. The new journey of OOH, I believe, runs through Digitally-Driven Efficiency ... to Creatively-Driven Growth.