Digital signage finds room on the Rocket

As the Canadian government wrangles over how much to invest in transit systems, the Toronto Transit Commission is diversifying its revenue streams through a deal to create a private digital signage network showing ads on LCD screens installed on subway trains and platforms.

The network,

called OneStop, will cost neither the TTC nor the tax payer anything, according to Michael Girgis, president of Fourth Wall Media in Toronto, Ont. As part of Viacom Outdoor Canada’s seven-year advertising contract set to begin Jan. 1, 2005, Girgis’ firm will provide the information, entertainment news and public service messages to be displayed on the screens. Fourth Wall Media subsidiary OneStop Networks will supply all the software, hardware, network operations and maintenance. The TTC will get 10 per cent of the ad revenues under the agreement, but will not be managing the network, and executives refused comment for this story.

“”The TTC will be getting a communications infrastructure network that will provide commuters with TTC-specific information,”” said Girgis. “”The information will be specific to the location.””

According to Girgis, the deal will not only require 17-inch LCD screens to be installed aboard trains, but also require 40-inch LCD screens to be installed on platforms, replacing existing pixel boards. In the best case scenario, at least one of the platforms will be equipped before the holiday season, he continued, and trains will be equipped with the screens starting in late spring of next year, with completion slated for the third quarter of 2005.

“”This is an evolution of communications,”” he said, noting that an average of 850,000 persons use the TTC subway each day with an average trip time of 17 minutes. “”It’s about bringing the TTC communications system up to date. They don’t have anything like this. Every mass transit system in the world is going to go this route.””

Nick Arakgi, general manager of Viacom Outdoor Canada in Toronto, Ont., said bringing Fourth Wall Media aboard was simply a matter of offering the TTC the innovation it was looking for.

“”We started having conversations with Fourth Wall about 18 months ago,”” he said, adding that partner SideTrack Technologies in Winnipeg, Man., will be responsible for displaying static images on subway tunnel walls. “”In the world I live in, we have people coming to us all the time with the ‘next best idea.’ But the concept Fourth Wall presented was worth pursuing.””

Not having to pay for the IT infrastructure will be particularly beneficial to the cash-strapped TTC, said Warren Shiau, software analyst at IDC Canada in Toronto, Ont.

“”There’s the incentive for an organization like the TTC to get into an agreement like this,”” said Shiau. “”Technology is allowing advertisers to have new avenues to reach people. The reason most people use traditional advertising — print, magazines, newspapers, radio and television — is because it’s proven and it reaches audiences as is.””

While commending the TTC for finding another source of revenue, Roberta Fox, president and senior partner at Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont., said the 10 per cent of ad revenues the TTC stands to reap is a tad too low when one considers the captive audience that advertisers will have access to. Nonetheless, she said, advertisers will have to overcome some obstacles.

“”It doesn’t have audio,”” said Fox, commenting on the fact that the OneStop network will have no sound to accompany the images. “”Content is going to have to be done really well digitally.””

Looking at the possible long-term implications for the IT industry, Fox pondered whether the move toward new advertising avenues might ultimately call for new skills sets.

“”Is the whole digital display market going to drive a new wave of IT skills required?”” said Fox. “”This may lead to the creation of new types of jobs.””

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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