The New York Times has a timely story titled "Digital Billboards Up Ahead: New Age Sign or Hazard?" It goes onto explain:
"Billboard companies are adopting digital technology that rotates advertiser images every six or eight seconds — the better to catch the eye. The new billboards look like television screens, although the images do not move.
The problem, safety experts say, is that the new billboards may work too well, adding yet another distraction for drivers.
There are currently about 400 digital signs across the country. But within 10 years, about 4,000 billboards may be converted, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
The technology has excited both billboard companies, which can generate three to five times more money from the digital signs, and advertisers. Clear Channel Outdoor and Lamar Advertising, which has installed the majority of such billboards, promote the digital signs as more effective at getting consumers to pay attention."
This again is an example of technology racing ahead while we try and balance what's good for business with what's good for us.
And it's far, far bigger than just Billboards.
With wired and wireless broadband technologies, there's no reason why "Outdoor Advertising" has to be confined just to traditional billboards being converted to digital.
What we're really talking about is the emergence of the "fourth screen".
While today's media, technology and communications companies are totally focused on the third screen (mobile following the TV and the PC, TV), we're on the threshold of an exploding number of screens large and small, that can be displayed in outdoor environments far beyond mere billboards.
With the technology cost curves being what they are, there's no reason not expect even the most humble sign, neon or otherwise, over a local coffee shop, locksmith, or laundromat, as being a candidate for an outdoor digital display fully programmable remotely via wired and wireless broadband networks.
Already, you don't need a multi-million dollar outdoor display to display video on a wall outside your house. An ordinary, video projector that costs a few hundred dollars can be used to project any video from a PC onto any wall inside or out.
Why, electronics companies are already getting ready to release cell phones with video projectors built into them. See this story from Picturephoning for more.
Video of all types is going to be busting out of the neat categories of boxes we've got them in today, and it's going to be seeping into all sorts of places not just outdoors, but in all sorts of public places.
We've already got new companies organizing video content and advertising distribution on small screens in elevators in office buildings across the land, not to mention screens above the checkout aisles in supermarkets, or the local gas pump.
We're not talking about Bladerunner science fiction here, and we're not talking about "IF" it'll happen.
The question is "WHEN" and "WHAT" the business models will look like.
And of course, "HOW" much all this is going to get regulated by local, state, national and international entities that'll all have their own political forces driving them on.
Many folks will put these things outside their houses and apartments as a means of personal expression. Think about it as having your own personal broadcasting outlet. It'll be a whole new phase of "user-generated content".
Can you say "BillBlogs?"
And if media companies today are concerned about their content on services like YouTube, just wait until they see lots of kids displaying the latest video clip from SNL (Saturday Night Live) on an outdoor display and/or projection on a wall across from their bedrooms.
Of course they'll have to contend with neighborhood regulations that will emerge to try and regulate what can and cannot be shown on the public screens.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that the New York Times article was timely.
The reason for that is that the possibilities of the "Fourth Screen" have not escaped the attention companies like Google.
As this piece from Engadget notes, Google is planning a street advertising presence.
"In a patent filing Google has revealed that it is looking into entering the physical advertising industry.
The patent filing itself alludes to placing adverts on billboards, with the primary innovation being that they're interactive and connected to the internet -- what, you didn't really believe that Google would go in for static ads did you?
The system apparently works by only advertising products that are available and in stock within stores in the local area. Stores will be able to buy advertising on these local electronic billboards through a similar system to how AdSense currently works: by logging into a computer and buying them."
The Fourth screen is coming, at billboards large, small and really small everywhere.