Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Digital Signage, Need to Know: Are LED Billboards Safe?

New technology is not instantly accepted and used, regardless of its value, effectiveness, cost, or efficiency. There are many reasons why it takes time for users to get "on board" with even the coolest innovation. LED technology adapted for use in LED sign, including billboards is one such innovation.

There is a statistical science to how new technology is accepted by society. This is called the "Technology Adoption Lifecycle" or diffusion model, and a simple summary from Wikipedia can be read here Summary.

What is says is that there are 5 categories of users of new technology within the standard bell curve with time on the "X" axis of the graph:

Category               Percentage
-------------------    -------------
Innovators               2.5%
Early Adopters         13.5%
Early Majority          34.0% 
Late Majority          34.0%
Laggard                 16.0%

Over time, the Innovators comprise 2.5% percent of the population- those were the people who perhaps rushed out to buy Apple 1s in June of 1977. Or maybe, in the LED sign industry, the Innovators were those customers who purchased something like a DCI message board that used relays and light bulbs insanely complex programming- before the introduction of today's RGB comparative "miracle".

The other user categories gradually catch on, and the product "takes off" and becomes accepted.

Where are we with the LED sign billboards? I don't think anyone can say for sure, but my guess is we are somewhere in the Early Majority. By the time the Innovators, Early Adopters, and the Early Majority have accepted LED sign billboards about half the market of people who will eventually buy LED sign billboard will have accepted them and will own one.

What's stopping the rest of the customers? Perhaps cost, waiting for even better technology, understanding the true cost versus financial return of the product and I think social acceptance, including the perceived safety of LED sign billboards by communities and "laggards", as referenced above, must be considered.

A recent study by the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration entitled "Driver Visual Behavior In The Presence of Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs" (Report), concluded that drivers did, in fact, take an instant longer to look at the LED sign messages than a static-message billboard. But the distraction time was well under two-second safety threshold established. The LED-message glance took  0.379 seconds, while glances at static billboards took 0.335 seconds. This was not statistically significant.
Digital billboards are referred to as Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS) within the study.

The study summarizes, “The results did not provide evidence indicating that CEVMS, as deployed and tested in the two selected cities, were associated with unacceptably long glances away from the road. When dwell times longer than the currently accepted threshold of 2,000 ms [milliseconds] occurred, the road ahead was still in the driver’s field of view. This was the case for both CEVMS and standard billboards.” 

Now that the safety objection has been surmounted we can move on to other objections to the roll-out of digital billboards. The digital billboards I see look a lot like static billboard with extended duration messages and intentionally understated graphics.

If you don't like billboards in general, that may be. But there must be a balance between commerce and a pristine right-of-way, it's not just a case of "all or nothing"

This digital billboard phenomenon is not a nefarious invasion. It's merely an easier and more profitable way to stage outdoor media. But, as they say, "You can overcome objections, but not excuses!"  What is the next excuse, uhh, objection?

These comments are my personal perspective and do not reflect the opinion of Vantage LED, Inc. or SignVine, Inc. or any other person or organization. If you have constructive feedback please email me at  - Mike Prongue

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