While dining at a Chicago-area restaurant last month, my sister experienced a first: A wine list was handed to her in the form of an Apple iPad. "Interesting," she thought. "It's easy to change and they don't have to reprint it." A graphic designer friend of mine, meanwhile, spotted digital menu...
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While dining at a Chicago-area restaurant last month, my sister experienced a first: A wine list was handed to her in the form of an Apple iPad. "Interesting," she thought. "It's easy to change and they don't have to reprint it." A graphic designer friend of mine, meanwhile, spotted digital menu boards inside a Burger King fast-food restaurant. This same friend has seen similar types of electronic signage in movie theater concession stands, complete with animated, bubbling images of Coca-Cola, which amazed her but didn't faze her video-game savvy seven-year-old son.
At a municipal board meeting in Oswego, IL, a far western suburb of Chicago, a digital-vs.-traditional signage debate was quickly squelched. It was a no-brainer, said trustee Gail Johnson: "Either pay $40,000 for a fancy electronic sign or $1,800 for the regular kind." Taxpayers in town can rest assured that elected officials chose prudently for the sign marking their new Village Hall building. But the e-technology is not as cost-prohibitive as it was 10 years ago—some 75 percent less in the case of digital billboards, which fetched a steep $1 million in 2002 but dropped to a more palatable $250,000 or so by 2010. To recoup their ROI, operators such as Clear Channel Outdoor charge customers anywhere from $2,500 up to $7,000 a month to advertise on an LED billboard. Eyeballs, or views, are what they're paying for, from under a half a penny per eyeball up to as much as 30 cents per person.
Those pennies have added up to profits welcomed during the US economic recession and subsequently slow recovery. "One operator told me that although digital makes up just four percent of his inventory, it accounts for nearly 50 percent of his revenue," blogged Darrin Friskney, director of Watchfire Digital Outdoor.
Marco Boer, VP of digital print research consultancy IT Strategies, explained how, "strategically placed at bottlenecks and heavily congested areas such as the highway through San Francisco, digital displays have an opportunity to reach more than 875,000 people daily. Even areas with low populations such as White Plains, NY (56,000) have high commuter presence (200,000)." (Read more about this study here.)
The electronic billboard market in the United States grew in excess of 150 percent (CAGR) between 2006 and 2009, reported IT Strategies. Forty-one states and many large cities now support the use of high-efficiency, light-emitting diode (LED) billboards, which operate using far less energy. Energy requirements for some boards have been cut in half in just two years, reported DigitalSignageToday.com. As LED has moved in, liquid-crystal display (LCD) flat-screen technology was noticeably absent at the SGIA 2011 show last autumn, Boer observed.
Three and a half years ago, there were a little more than 500 electronic billboards out of an estimated 450,000 total billboards in the US. Today, there are approximately 2,500. "That's pretty impressive for a product that's disrupting a 150-year-old industry," Friskney noted in his blog last November. And I.T. Strategies predicted that the installed base is likely to grow to between 12,000 to 16,000 units in the US over the next three years, said Boer, accounting for some 3.5 percent of all billboards installed.
Many local communities still fight the aesthetics battle, of course, arguing that billboards of any kind "junk up" their roadways. Yet struggling governments are looking for ways to raise money in a volatile economy. In addition, there are ongoing safety concerns about who is distracted more by electronic billboards, teenagers or senior citizens. At speeds of 55+ mph, statistics show that drivers looking away from the highway for more than two seconds—either down at text messages on their smartphones or up at color-calibrated, digital LED billboards—take a deadly risk no matter their age.