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Signs of change

Digital displays allow much more flexible messaging

For as long as people have been driving, there have been billboards along the roadside. And while there have been changes in just about every aspect of our lives, billboards are essentially the same as they were a half century ago.

That is, until the arrival of digital billboards.

Action Media has introduced digital billboards to this region. The first two digital billboards to be built on Highway 11 went live in October, and more signs are in the planning process.

Rather than being printed on massive sheets of paper, the message on a digital billboard is created with an array of tiny LCD lights. The display changes regularly, allowing an array of messages to be seen.

This flexibility allows digital billboards to share messages that simply would not have been possible otherwise. Community groups, for example, can showcase upcoming events or provide regular updates on the progress of a fund-raising campaign – a level of dynamic communication that would be cost-prohibitive on a printed billboard.

Municipalities in other areas have found that digital displays are an effective way to inform the community about upcoming activities, such as a seasonal change to winter parking rules, or a significant planned road closure.

Businesses have been quick to seize on the opportunities a digital display allows. Realtors can feature a different property on their sign each week; restaurants can showcase breakfast in the morning and dinner in the evening; retailers can present limited-time promotions or highlight seasonal products. Car dealerships can promote SUVs one day and sports cars the next, and switch to showcasing the new models as soon as they arrive.

Of course, there are strict regulations to ensure the billboards are not distracting, rules which are usually put in place by the municipality or the provincial Ministry of Transportation. Video is not usually allowed, for example. Transitions between signs must be instantaneous, and there are defined maximum brightness levels for day and night, among other regulations.

Because the billboards are internally illuminated, light pollution is kept to a minimum – there are no bright spotlights pointing upward as are seen on some other forms of outdoor signage. And the highly-efficient LED bulbs keep electricity consumption low.

While the first two signs are located alongside Highway 11 – one on the northbound side, one on the southbound – future signs are being planned for urban areas as well, including Orillia, Barrie, Midland and Lindsay.

TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN

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