Digital billboards are electronic image displays that present multiple static advertisements on a rotating basis. Larger outdoor billboards appear alongside roadways, while smaller indoor billboards appear in entertainment venues, such as sports arenas. According to EMC Outdoor, U.S. outdoor advertising companies offered 2,000 digital billboard displays for rent in 2010.
What They Are
Outdoor digital billboards use the same dimensions as standard, static billboards. The most common sizes are the Poster, at 12 feet by 24 feet, and the Bulletin, at 14 feet by 48 feet. These billboards use hundreds of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to create an image. Larger indoor digital billboards use the same LED-based displays as outdoor digital billboards. Smaller indoor digital billboards may use liquid crystal display (LCD) video screens, similar to computer monitors and televisions. Digital billboards may be mounted on a post or wall.
How They Work
A small computer attached to the digital billboard serves up the advertising images to the display screen. Advertising agencies can update the advertisements on these billboards remotely, by using the wireless cellular phone network to access the billboard computer. A designer produces the digital advertisement on a computer, which can then be uploaded to any number of displays. Digital billboards display advertisements for 6 to 10 seconds, with as many as eight businesses sharing one billboard.
How Much They Cost
As of 2009, Sign Industry magazine estimates that a typical 14-foot by 48-foot LED display costs $290,000 for advertising agencies to acquire. Higher advertising rates reflect both the higher initial investment for the agency and the demand for the technology. Businesses can expect to pay an average of $1,200 to $10,000 per month for a digital advertisement. They may have to pay an additional design fee. However, many advertisers have saved money by creating their own digital ads using computer design software.
Digital billboards save time and offer design flexibility. While traditional billboards had to be printed, pasted and removed by hand, all updating for digital billboards happens through the computer. This allows advertisers to change billboards frequently and provide time-sensitive information more immediately. For example, law-enforcement agencies can use billboards for public emergencies or retail outlets can advertise daily sales.
These digital displays do have several advertising limitations. LEDs can only be one color at a time, which makes fine lines and shading difficult to display accurately. Digital billboards also show several advertisers per location, making exclusivity an issue. Costs can also be an issue for small businesses with small budgets, since monthly fees are often double the amount for a traditional billboard.
Regulations and Restrictions
State and local laws governing digital signs vary. Several areas have limited or banned the use of digital billboards due to their perceived potential to increase what Sign Industry magazine calls “driver distraction." Communities also have restricted digital signage to decrease visual blight. While it heavily regulates light levels, display duration, spacing and location, the U.S. Department of Transportation considers digital billboards an acceptable form of roadside advertising.
Where to Buy
The big players in the digital billboard arena are CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel and Lamar. Smaller, local companies have also jumped into the fray, with agencies such as Norton Outdoor Advertising of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Silicon View of Palo Alto, California attempting to muscle in on the lucrative digital display business. The OAAA maintains a list of digital billboard advertising companies in the Media Marketplace.
Meagan Van Beest took up writing after graduating with a bachelor's degree in English literature. She has worked in advertising and marketing for the past decade. Her writing has appeared in advertising, brochures, newspapers and online magazines. Currently, as creative director of a design firm, she oversees the graphics, copy writing, and creative direction of print and Web design projects.