Outdoor digital boards: Welcome to the evolution

This is one of the original Yonge/Dundas area outdoor digital boards in Toronto.

This is one of the original Yonge/Dundas area outdoor digital boards in Toronto.

While competing against a sea of static billboards, the early outdoor digital sellers emphasized three things: These digital boards stood out and grabbed your attention, they were cool because they were different, and they all ran full-motion ad messages. Was that not the point of putting up a digital board so a spot could run with some motion like TV? This was, perhaps, best illustrated by Volkswagen’s new lime green Beetle car relaunch in the 2000s. A spinning and dynamic coloured vehicle that was just perfect for full-motion digital boards. However, full- motion was not for everyone.

Changing the game

In 2009, the trajectory of outdoor digital was forever changed. Astral Media announced the launch of 10 superboard digitals, all measuring 4.2 m x14.6 m (14 ft. x 48 ft.). This announcement was followed shortly thereafter by the launch of additional superboard digitals, all the same size, in Toronto and Vancouver. So, what we had was the first major OOH company to enter the outdoor digital realm. More importantly, they established the model that is still in play today. All their digital boards were (a) uniform in size, (b) the same dimensions as static OOH billboard formats that ad buyers were used to, (c) based on a standardized ad spot and loop, and (d) scheduled to run static spots (no full-motion) which would not require any conversion of creative from OOH billboards to digital ones.

Astral’s model of uniformity and standardization, along with coverage in Canada’s three major cities, proved successful. They kept it simple, made it easy for ad buyers to move their dollars to outdoor digital, and legitimized the category as the first major OOH company entrant. Shortly thereafter, the other major OOH companies followed. However, the clock was ticking for the early pioneers who did not have the financial resources and standardization to compete.

It’s important to highlight how things have changed on the manufacturing side as well. What made the early versions of outdoor digital boards attractive, was that they were less bulky, the colour and image output was crisper, they did not require the cumbersome cooling mechanisms used in indoor sports venue models, and they could operate in Canada’s wide-ranging seasonal temperatures. Words like nits, lumens, and pixel pitch have now become common language in the outdoor industry. Technology has also really accelerated in the last decade. Outdoor digital suppliers now offer boards with higher picture definition, front and rear servicing, longer warranties, self-monitoring cameras, software that raises alerts for any issues, among many other features. Prices have also come down considerably from the formative years, and there are a lot more exciting enhancements to come.

Leave a Comment

One comment on “Outdoor digital boards: Welcome to the evolution”

  1. Barry Renouf says:

    “It is hard to imagine it was 23 years ago that the very first outdoor digital board went up in Canada”. Yes it is hard to imaging because it wasn’t. The first advertising billboard in Canada was installed in 1995 on the Dartmouth Sportsplex in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia by an Halifax, N.S. based electronic sign advertising company called BrightStar.

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *