I have noticed an interesting trend in digital billboard sales so far this year. While 19mm/20mm bulletins have traditionally been the overwhelming favorite and the lower resolution optimized product is still extremely popular for longer reads, there has been a surge in orders for high-resolution 16mm displays in the billboard market. Although the 16mm is unlikely to supplant the others as the second most popular option any time soon, the orders are steadily increasing. So, why the shift? I believe there are a few reasons.
1. The 16mm is the "19mm/20mm of 2011" — Customers can now buy a 16mm bulletin for about the same price as a 19mm/20mm bulletin a couple of years ago. With a 16mm, images are considerably crisper because they have about 25 percent more pixels per square foot than the 19mm/20mm. Customers with high-quality locations were not hesitant to buy the 19mm/20mm product at 2011's prices, so the 16mm prices available today provide returns that are just as strong.
2. Advertiser sophistication — With each passing year, agencies and advertisers are becoming savvier in their evaluation of image quality. Pixel pitch is not the end-all-be-all of image quality (a litany of factors contribute to a high-quality image that lasts; factors such as component quality, contrast and whole-sign color and brightness calibration are just a few), nevertheless, at the end of the day, pixel pitch is the easiest to observe to the layman. As a result, I think billboard operators are "giving 'em what they want" — and that is higher resolution product.
3. Innovators and early adopters become the early majority — Marketing's classic product adoption curve tells us that the first adopters of a new technology, a group known as the Innovators, accounts for approximately 2.5 percent of any given technology market. They are followed by the Early Adopters, and together these groups of technology enthusiasts and visionaries account for about 16 percent of a market. Coincidentally, that is not far from the 16mm adoption rate I have observed in the first half of 2013. This trend is significant because according to Everett Rogers's Diffusion of Innovations Theory, the Early Majority, which alone accounts for 34 percent of the market, follows these early groups. Geoffrey A. Moore's "Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers" is a great resource if you are interested in learning more about the product adoption curve
4. Keeping up with the Joneses — Many billboard operators keep a close watch on what their competitors are doing. Once a 16mm board goes into a market, others follow in short order. No operator wants to find himself at a competitive disadvantage — and this higher resolution "one-upmanship" is a perfect example. As more billboard operators choose 16mm digital billboards, the demand for these models will only grow.
What does the future hold? I would not be surprised to see this trend continue. Prices have come down across the board, advertisers have become more in-tune with image quality, and 16mm displays are continuing to pop up. It might be time to consider a 16mm for your next digital display.