April 14, 2016

Evolution of Digital Display Networks: Outdoor Displays

Digital display networks seem to appear everywhere. Every time you turn around there is a new series of video screens feeding a stream of information, whether they are in cafes, airports, office buildings, elevators and even in bathrooms. This sudden eruption of information is thanks, in part, to a perfect storm of technology and price that includes an ever decreasing price of hardware and network bandwidth, along with the omnipresence of personal devices and social media.

What we have today is more than just electronic billboards, but interactive networks that have the potential to truly interact with audiences. Today a café patron is not just a passive recipient of information, but an active participant in a public conversation.

Outdoor displays have many names, such as, place-based networks, digital out-of-home, narrowcasting, digital signage and many more. Most of these networks have a role in messaging, marketing, advertising or a combination. This blog series is meant to highlight the major milestones that lead to where the out-of-home marketing industry is today, as well as projecting where it may be heading.

While out-of-home advertising is a concept dating to the ancient Egyptians, the spark of the industry did not emerge until the invention of lithography in 1796. Lithography allowed the creation of reproducible, illustrated posters, similar to what we still see today. Originally, it was small businesses printing poster-sized advertisements targeted on a local-scale. It wasn’t until 1850 that larger, exterior advertisements started appearing on streets and railways around the U.S.

Due to the effectiveness of these techniques, the billboard industry erupted, with the first known lease taking place in 1867. By 1870, over 200 bill posting and painting companies existed nationwide leading towards the creation of the International Bill Posters’ Association of North America in 1872. More associations, such as the Associated Bill Posters’ Association of the US and Canada and other state-run bill posting associations started to be formed in order to create greater understanding of the possibilities of the medium.

Very soon, everyone realized that standardization was essential. In 1900, 8 years before Henry Ford used standardization to reduce the price of the Model T, a standard billboard structure was set, making possible the mass production of a single poster as that could be posted nationwide. When the Model-T was finally introduced in 1908, the increasing number of cars on the road, made large, roadside billboards even more desirable.