Billboards and Beyond: The A-Z of Digital Screens

A guide to the technology which has transformed production and transmission in outdoor.

A is for Avanti Screenmedia and ATM:ad, two of the specialist screen advertising companies, but it's also for Asda, which began trailing in-store TV in a couple of locations last year. And not forgetting airports: JCDecaux has begun to introduce plasma screens into terminals and a lot more could be on the way.

B is for bars and, rather improbably, buses. Buses have featured LED information strips on the insides for a while now and LEDs have also been used to create special effects on the outside. Now, media owners are looking to offer more ambitious moving-picture screens both inside and out. B is also for Baby TV, which offers 80 per cent coverage of expectant mothers via ante-natal clinics. Bless.

C is for clinics (such as the above), clubs (from the healthiest of health clubs to the unhealthiest of nightclubs) and cabs. Cabs offer a captive audience in an intimate environment - so intimate, in fact, that the size of screen is rather limited. Cabvision is a leading company in this market. Lastly, convenience stores, a sector that is being developed by Firebrand Media.

D is for, er, digital outdoor.

E is for entertainment centres - for instance, The Gate in Newcastle, which boasts restaurants, bars, clubs and a multiscreen cinema. POPtv has installed eight large-format screens (including holographic projection technology) in eight locations within the complex, featuring a programme mainly of pop music videos and advertising.

F is for football grounds. POPtv's Match Day Media transmits a news and updates television channel (with sound as well as visuals) to 17 Premiership football grounds. Forty-two-inch plasma screens - between 40 and 100 per stadium - are located in the concourse and bar areas behind spectator stands.

G is for GPs' surgeries, many of which offer POPtv's The Life Channel.

H is for hairdressers, courtesy of i-vu, and health clubs, courtesy of a number of companies. Avanti's MVN Gym is basically a high-energy music video channel with ad breaks featuring specialist health products, health foods, isotonic drinks and personal training services.

I is for i-vu. See hairdressers.

J is for JCDecaux, which has been selling in-store TV on behalf of Tesco.

K is for Kinetic's specialist digital planning and buying division, OneZeroOne, a part of its Destination Media group.

L is for leisure centres, which PH4 covers with a network of plasma screens. We'd like to tell you more but when we visited the PH4 site, a notice informed us that it was still under construction. As a consequence, this entry is, similarly, still under construction.

M is for motorway services and malls. Shopping malls have become a hugely important component of what's being called the retail channel - a way to package up a myriad of opportunities from the car-park (or bus stop) to the check-out till. Avanti Screenmedia and ScreenFX are the leading companies introducing giant plasma concourse screens to the country's shopping indoor centres.

N is for no entry.

O is for out-of-home TV, a term fashionable in many quarters until fairly recently but dropped by media owners when they realised it was misleading, raised advertiser expectations too much and was therefore counter-productive. Not all screens offer full video with sound - and even when they do, few can be used to run existing TV commercials. The term also fails to convey the increasing diversity of screen-based out-of-home media.

P is for petrol stations (sold by ATM:ad) and petrol station forecourt stores (via PH4). P is also for POPtv, one of the most active media owners in this sector.

Q is for Queue TV, the nickname for the screen-based advertising systems you see in post offices, courtesy of POPtv.

R is for the retail channel. See shopping malls.

S is for supermarkets. Tesco has led the way here with its much-hyped Tesco TV, which has been rolled out across 100 stores. Its original target, however, was 300 stores, tempting some observers to speculate that its enthusiasm for the project has waned. Advertiser demand was also poor in the initial stages. Meanwhile, other retailers have also been moving cautiously. Asda's trial has been modest, Sainsbury's Fresh TV is still in early trial stages and when Morrisons acquired Safeway, it ended an existing Safeway trial.

T is for thin-film transistor technology, a high-definition, more robust version of LCD technology that could see lightweight (and relatively inexpensive) LCD-type screens rivalling plasma in large-format locations. T is also for the Tube and in particular Tottenham Court Road, where Viacom has replaced its paper-and-paste escalator panels with digital panels, offering simple graphics, animation and continual copy rotation. In the next year or so, we're going to see all sorts of new screen formats being made available underground. And not forgetting Transvision, Titan's network of huge plasma screens in the concourses of the nation's main railway termini.

U is for universities, where the cash machine advertising company ATM:ad has built a network to target students.

V is for Virgin Active, one of the chains in POPtv's Health Club TV network.

W is for West Ham, West Brom and Wigan, three of the football clubs offering Match Day Media (see above).

X is for X-Ray Spex. These special glasses, which track and record head movement, were used by participants in the Outdoor Advertising Association's research into how people react to the presence of screens in different environments, including gyms, shopping malls, bars, the Tube, hair salons and railway stations.

Y is for yield - which, from the media owner point of view, is a central concept where screen-based out-of-home formats are concerned. Even the simplest static-picture digital panel offers improved yield prospects because it can be sold to different advertisers across different day-parts, with the copy switched remotely. So no need to pay bill-stickers either. Formats with graphics or full-video moving pictures can also command premium rates, for the simple reason that they attract more attention.

Z - Sorry,we have to admit that we have been unable to come up with any legitimate way of ending this piece on the letter Z.


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