Almost Digital Signage

Here’s an interesting debate: Are billboards using digital ink, that can be updated on a network, digital signage?

My opinion: well … sort of.

Outdoor and media giant ClearChannel has just announced a deal with Israeli company Magink to use its digital ink technology for its network of roadside billboards across North America.

CLEAR CHANNEL OUTDOOR IS TESTING a new technology that allows users to shrink outdoor digital signage to a fraction of the width, weight, and power consumption of existing electronic systems, according to Paul Meyer, CEO of Clear Channel Outdoor’s global operations. The new technology, Magink, was developed by an Israeli company of the same name–and is currently being tested in a few locations in Europe by Clear Channel Outdoor and European competitor JCDecaux, Meyer said.

In Magink’s system, which Meyer described as “revolutionary,” small plastic tiles are smeared with a specially formulated paste containing helix-shaped molecules one micron long. When exposed to an electrical charge, these molecules move in regular, predictable patterns–which can be calibrated to respond precisely to different wavelengths of light, forming colors and shapes. By varying the electrical input, the molecules can then be rearranged to form different images.

Magink’s image resolution and brightness are comparable to traditional vinyl posters–but the Magink displays can be changed to display myriad images. What’s more, once it appears, each new image does not require a continuous power supply to be visible; it will remain until another electrical charge substitutes a new image. Each display can be “re-imaged” about 70 times a second, implying a potential capacity for video-like animation, although this application is still theoretical.

This seems to solve several major problems–preventing more widespread penetration of electronic signage in the U.S., according to Meyer. For one thing, the weight of existing LED-based signs is a major obstacle to installing them on the sides of some buildings for simple reasons of structural integrity. Meanwhile, the large amount of electricity required for LED signs also makes them quite expensive–with cooling systems pushing consumption into hundreds of watts per square meter, by some estimates.

A 10-foot by 20-foot Magink display currently costs around $50,000 to install–about five times the cost of a conventional display, but far less than the $500,000 price tag of an equivalent LED screen. And once the display is up, it obviates further expenditure on paper, printing, and labor costs–yielding huge savings for advertisers and the proprietors of signage infrastructure.

Finally, Magink’s image versatility is the Holy Grail of outdoor advertising, because it allows billboard owners like Clear Channel to “double up” ads on single displays, and to charge different rates for different day parts–for example with heavy commuting times fetching premium prices.

Because the current version of the technology doesn’t offer really anything more than changes to static images, albeit over a remote network, I don’t think it falls into the same category as what we all think of as digital signage. There’s no motion graphics, no content automation, no interactivity.

But it has to be awfully attractive to outdoor companies if they can change ad campaigns on short notice and lower the big costs of rolling trucks to change signs.

It gets really interesting if this technology does indeed get to a point where it can change the image even 25 times a second, never mind 70. At 25-30 times, that’s the equal of video. Then it definitely is digital signage.

Explore posts in the same categories: Opinion, Sightings

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