Commercial billboards, whether of the traditional or current digital variety, have long had a polarizing effect the eyeballs that view them.

To many, these brash and dazzling spectacles of conspicuous consumption are an urban blight. To others they are visual entertainment or even pieces of art.

Nestor Arellano

Astral Out-of-Home, one Canada’s leading advertising companies, believes that apart from advertising digital signage can also dabble in community support.

Working in partnership with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Astral plans to deliver AMBER Alert or child abduction emergency bulletins in all of the company’s 32 digital sign networks in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

In the event of an AMBER alert regular display ads will be interrupted to allow the urgent message to appear on the 14’x48’ or 10’x34’ screens that Astral operates in these three cities, according to Ron Hutchinson, senior vice president of real estate services for the company.

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Hutchinson said Astral is providing the OPP with a secure Website so that authorities can post alerts to the screens via Internet Protocol on real-time.

“This is an attempt to broaden the use of digital signage and expand the coverage of emergency public messages,” Hutchinson told ITBusiness.ca.

I believe this is brilliant concept, one of those “why hadn’t they thought of that before” things. Actually something of this sort is already being done in 42 states south of the border although the emphasis there is to show the faces of wanted criminals.

The strategy is an excellent way of putting to use the flexibility and exposure of digital signs and the power IP technology.

Digital signage has been a boon for marketers.  On average digital billboards can show six different messages or ads in a minute. Posted along major traffic routes they have a guaranteed viewership of consumers from a broad demographic.

Getting a spot on Astral screens in high traffic areas such as Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway may cost around $12, 00 to $14,000 for a four-week stretch, but Hutchinson says there are small and medium sized businesses advertsing on Astral screen in less expensive areas. Other ad companies are also offering smaller screens in various retail and restaurant locations across the country.

Another advantage of the technology is that advertisers can easily alter or update messages by simply uploading new content.

Digital signage proponents would also argue that the technology is greener than billboards using printed ads or neon lights. Consider the time, cost and resources it would take to take down and replace a printed billboard. On the other hand, there is theoretically an unending sequence of messages that can be played on a digital sign.

Primarily the technology has been used to sell products and services. The technology is also being used to display airline schedules and this to update messages on real-time make digital signage ideal for public service use.

Perhaps other government services can look into what the OPP and RCMP are doing and consider how they too can employ existing digital signs to broadcast vital or emergency messages.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBUsiness.ca. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nestorarellano on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.ca Blogs and join the ITBusiness.ca Facebook Page.

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