TVs for Captive Audiences
TVs for Captive Audiences
by Jean Lotus

"Like moths to a flame," is how department stores describe customers reacting to flat-screened televisions mounted on the walls. The technology costs are falling, and shops are using the slim-screened "digital signage" to make the store environment "hyper-real" and keep customers quiet in lines. The industry sold $19 billion dollars worth of signs and services last year and sees only growth ahead.

· Saturdays at Lazarus-Macy’s in Cincinnati, husbands are no longer in a rush to get home to the football game. Flat screens display Ohio State University games to sedate the husbands while wives continue to shop. · At Swedish clothing store H&M, in Manhattan, customers who often wait in long lines are distracted by music videos on flat-screens behind the cashiers. The fast-paced bombardment breaks up the long wait and keeps young, impatient customers from walking out in frustration. · Bank of America plans to install digital TVs at up to 300 branches next year. A spokesman says they’ll broadcast regular television and then intersperse Bank of America advertisements.

The ability to change content instantaneously in many locations is appealing to businesses. But this feature comes with added security worries. "The last thing you would want to occur on your digital signage network is a hacker posting obscene and inappropriate message," writes an industry blogger for Webpavement Digital Signage.

It seems the technology is so new and arresting that the industry fears a consumer backlash. When TV-B-Gone was announced, a shiver ran through the industry. Wirespring’s blog called it "the newest nuisance to digital signage." "Digital sign owners: Beware the TV-B-Gone," wrote Bill Gerba.

Video screens are everywhere: Elevators, gas pumps, ATM machines. Now, moving screens will dominate outdoor billboards, too. But traffic safety officials have long worried about moving billboards distracting drivers. In a memorandum dated June 12, 1998, the Federal Highway Administration agency ruled: "After careful consideration, we have concluded that such signs using flashing, intermittent or moving lights to display animated or scrolling advertising raise significant highway safety questions because of their potential to be distracting to motorists."

The billboard industry (Outdoor Advertising Association of America) recently paid for a study at Virginia Tech University that determined that drivers were not distractedby billboards. But they carefully avoided any detailed examination of electronic billboards, according to industry experts.

Currently, billboards are regulated by individual states, with an average of 8 seconds mandated between images. Expect buyers and sellers of video billboards to lobby state legislatures soon for an end to these limits.

In Atlanta, where the regional bus system just installed bus-televisions in its fleet, an interstate traffic snarl up has become a "branding opportunity" for billboard companies, and digital billboard providers are longing for some action. "Commuters spend hours every day in bumper to bumper traffic with nothing to do except talk on the phone and look around at billboards," writes Webpavement. Another captive audience.

Already the industry is licking its lips as New York City experiments with electronic signs over subway stations and on bus kiosks. And word is there will be more than 6, 000 digital signs purchased if the 2012 Olympic Games are held in New York.

Video screens chase us out of the house and down the streets invading the very places we eat and the stores we enter. Perhaps soon the only location where we will have a choice not to watch television is in our own home.