The Rise of Digital Billboards

Digital roadside billboards have been gaining plenty of attention nationwide over the last few years. The ability of the media to provide timely, high-resolution advertising for multiple clients at a single site has changed the way people perceive billboard advertising and opened new roads to revenue for their owners.

Features including automatic dimming in low-light situations, instant display changes and public service messaging have helped win over some municipal zoning fans of the new boards as well.

SignTech Magazine recently spoke with Bob Klausmeier of YESCO Electronics about how this new sign technology is changing the sign industry. For anyone not in the know, YESCO is a huge, do-it-all nationwide electronic sign shop that has been in business since the 1920s and boasts such clients as Starbucks, the 2002 Olympics, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and a host of the top casinos in Las Vegas.

Today the Logan, Utah-based company has divisions and branches located throughout the western United States, Canada and abroad, and offers its own line of electronic billboards as well. Klausmeier is a senior sales rep at YESCO.

Describe the impact digital billboards are having on your company, and the growth potential they represent.

YESCO Electronics has now installed nearly 600 digital billboards in the United States. We have just sent our first units for installation in Canada and our first display in Central America.

We see digital outdoor billboards as the greatest growth opportunity in the history of our industry.

How are the electronic versions changing billboard advertising nationwide versus traditional static billboards?

One of our customers, Jimmy McAndrew of Magic Media, commented that the digital billboard has “unlocked the medium.” What was once a billboard with a single static ad now becomes a “targeted broadcast vehicle.”

The knock on traditional billboards has always been that the ad copy becomes “stale” quickly. The digital billboard, when used effectively, is constantly fresh with new, timely material.

In general, how are consumers and advertisers accepting them?

I know that the billboard companies report that the advertisers are renewing their ads. Understand that this information is anecdotal since YESCO, as a manufacturer of the product, does not deal with either the advertiser or the consumer.

I also understand that the advertising community is developing specialty creative arms to their agencies with a specific focus on developing digital ad campaigns. The billboard companies also report that they are consistently “sold out.” 
All that says success to me.

What is the response from local municipalities?

The municipalities have always been a hard sell to the digital sign industry. However, the emphasis the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) has put on appeasing governmental organizations has made the process easier.

What types of legislative roadblocks are most common, and how are they best overcome to the satisfaction of all involved?

Generally, government agencies that regulate the sign industry are made up of well-meaning people who are concerned about the safety and aesthetics of their communities. The “roadblocks” are usually legislative hurdles created to “protect” against potentially harmful effects to the community.

An example of a roadblock would be legislation written to forbid “flashing, animating or scintillating” lighting in a display. Modern digital displays include safeguards against the kind of things most feared by community leaders.

The digital billboard, as universally used by the outdoor advertising community, has no motion at all. It is a slideshow of messages that are passively changing—not flashing—in a pre-configured, time-regulated sequence. The illumination of the display is such that it changes throughout the day and night to adjust to the level of ambient light.

The light is localized on the display and does not spill off of the sides, top or bottom. The OAAA has arranged for independent studies, which conclusively demonstrate that these signs do not cause accidents. The lighting used in modern digital billboards can also be adjusted to the same level as a traditional billboard, and can be continually adjusted, automatically, to fit the ambient environment.

Educating the municipalities as to the nature of the product being used has brought about desirable changes in legislation in nearly every scenario.

What benefits do the billboards offer communities and their residents?

The timeliness of the medium allows for instant messaging to passing motorists. Digital billboards have also been widely used by local police, sheriff's departments and the FBI to target specific fugitives. The AMBER Alert is something that has been configured to work with local billboards and to override advertising when needed.

When the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis last year, local YESCO digital billboards alerted local drivers within 30 minutes of the disaster.

What typical challenges arise during on-site construction of electronic billboards?

A well-planned installation should be seamless. For instance, YESCO displays, up to and including 14-by-48-foot billboards, arrive in one piece and are lifted directly from the delivery vehicle onto the billboard.

If power (100 amps, including headroom) and a DSL or cable Internet connection are both there, the process should take about two hours.

As more of the billboards are linked by advertising groups nationwide via the Internet, in what ways do you see them becoming similar to a broadcasting network?

This has already been anticipated by the major billboard companies. The displays, en masse, actually will never become “similar to a broadcasting network,” in that they do not display content other than advertising and public service messages.

The similarity comes from the added reach that a major advertiser will be able to access. Where once it was necessary to buy television and radio to reach an entire major market, it will soon be possible to buy digital outdoor in a market such as Los Angeles, where there will be sufficient deployment to allow an advertiser to reach the entire populace.

The positive difference might be in the local flavor added to the creative content. A national advertiser might create an ad for a major market, but add local flavor for each of the segments in that market.

Do you expect them to become more interactive with other types of out-of-home advertising?

There will be synergies created between the digital media as it is deployed in a wider array of out-of-home applications.

In Las Vegas, there will soon be digital bus shelter advertising using LCD technology. Creative content can be adjusted for each of the technologies and can have interplay from one to the next.

What types of new technologies/improvements could affect the market in the near future?

Higher-resolution products allow for usage in smaller display areas, such as Eight Sheet applications. I also see high-brightness LCD as a viable option for bus shelters and other short viewing-distance applications.

How might these billboards impact the national landscape in years to come?

I see very little change, in that the placement of out-of-home media is already established.

As static billboards are replaced with digital billboards, they will be no more invasive or obtrusive than the existing structures. The change will be in an improved image quality, as well as more timely and accurate content.

In general terms, what is the impact of electronic digital billboards on the electric sign industry?

The electronic sign industry has already, and will continue to be, strongly benefited through the sale of the digital displays, as well as from the overall governmental reaction to high-caliber digital signs.

Whereas once there was an atmos-phere of high regulation of digital signs, there is now a developing standard that is still restrictive to poorly illuminated signs, but less restrictive to properly illuminated digital displays. Consequently, there are more opportunities for on-premise electronic sign sales as well.