By Fritz Esker
Over the past few years, more and more media companies, advertisers, retailers and content providers are turning to large-format digital LCD displays to get their message delivered to consumers. These displays can be seen in the form of "street furniture," on the side of a bus shelter, on the back of a newsstand, in a shopping mall, in a quick-service restaurant showing menus, in transportation terminals, in store windows and even inside trains or on the side of a passing bus. Outdoor signage also can be seen as "arrays," creating an impressive virtual digital wall or billboard.
The obvious advantages to digital LCD displays versus static displays or light boxes are the ability to change content with a few keystrokes, to vary the type of content and to support multiple advertisers or programs. The ability to now provide dayparting also is significant. A single digital display can run coffee ads in the morning, food ads mid-day and beer ads in the evening to pique interest based on the time of day.
The initial cost will be understandably higher for these digital displays than for their static forebears. However, the impact and versatility of these dynamic, eye-catching large-format displays have proven to provide the needed ROI to more than make up for the difference.
As these displays are being deployed more and more outdoors, there are several new factors that must be considered. In an indoor environment, conditions are generally stable: the ambient temperature usually is the same, the ambient lighting is known, clean and reliable power is available and the environmental conditions are consistent (it doesn't rain inside). However, outside, things change ... and they change dramatically. Temperatures will vary greatly throughout the year, rain will fall, winds will blow, humidity levels will change, vandalism may increase, cloudy days will occur and direct/indirect sunlight will affect the viewability of the outdoor digital display.
"Indoor displays are designed for certain ambient light conditions, certain humidity levels and certain temperature levels," said Peter Kaszycki, CEO and president of Alpharetta, Ga.-based LG-MRI, a company that creates both outdoor and indoor digital signage displays. "When you go outside, everything changes."
An outdoor digital LCD display is more expensive than a traditional, static display, and more expensive than indoor digital displays because of the more complex heating and cooling systems and the different backlighting systems. However, digital signage gives a deployer more options than traditional static advertising, allowing the deployer to see an increased profit. On a static ad box, only one message can be displayed at a time, and only one client can be accommodated. With the flexibility a digital display offers, the owner can take several different advertisers and sell them 10-second spots on the billboard, meaning more money can be made.
"You're selling time, not space," said Scott Birnbaum, vice president of Samsung LCD of San Jose, Calif., a branch of Samsung that focuses on LCD screens for home and business use, both indoors and outdoors.
Advertisers can be charged more for placement on a digital display as opposed to a static advertisement.
"You can charge higher rates because a digital sign can do so much more," said Darrin Friskney, director of Watchfire Digital Outdoor of Danville, Ill., a provider of digital billboards. "It's a fast turnaround on your investment."
(And, of course, while the initial investment on a display designed for the great outdoors will be higher than an indoor display, that mitigates the cost of replacing that indoor display in a short time frame because it doesn't work any longer after being placed outdoors in conditions it can't sustain.)
Finally, Kaszycki notes that effectively handling all of the components, such as brightness, cooling, serviceability and monitoring, will bring down the overall cost of the outdoor digital signage display. If the display can be monitored remotely, some problems with voltage and circuit breakers can be stopped before they start, and if the system can be cooled in an energy-efficient way, then the display will have a lower total cost of ownership than a competitor. And if the brightness of the image can be maintained over a five-year cycle, clients can rest securely in the knowledge that their advertising content will look as good in year five as it did in year one.
In fact, investing in high-quality digital displays, while initially more expensive, can ultimately save a company money. Having the right technology components ensures a longer life cycle and lower cost to maintain and run the digital signage system, while the high-quality signage is more attractive to advertisers, increasing sales.
(This article was adapted from the LG-MRI guide, "Outdoor Digital LCD Displays," available for free download here.)