In the Union Station of the not-too-distant-future, a 55-inch high-res screen flashes bus times in parallel with today’s deals at a Thai restaurant across town. You tap into that deal with your smartphone, which beams back user data into a real-time marketing analytics system housed a continent away from the Windy City but offering a closer look into customers’ habits than ever before. En route to your newfound lunch destination, you take a transfer on a bus through a neighborhood made more familiar by a display that integrates the bus route with GPS data.
Those are some of the promises of the coming wave of digital signage for advertising in mass transportation hubs. While that may not seem alien in comparison to what has been on display outside of big city stores or in airport terminals of late, more and more operators of bus and rail systems are upgrading to savvy digital ad signage, with the hope of better returns on sales pitches all around. There are questions about the true reach and impact of these computerized sales avenues, but there’s no doubt that transit authorities are giving them a shot.
“Over the last two years, we’ve put it at 40 percent, the increase of installations at transit venues,” said Clark Brown, SVP for sales at NEC Display Solutions, a display hardware provider and content software advisory. “A lot of that has been in the airport sector, but now, all transit systems are taking it to the next level. This is a huge revenue opportunity that I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface.”
Gigital signage growth
Between 2010 and 2012, U.S. shipments of digital signage monitors and TVs to the transportation industry grew 48 percent to 101,607, according to a market analysis provided by IHS iSuppli Direct analyst Dragana Boras. A forecast from iSuppli transportation digital signage in the years ahead show steady growth through 2016, when the units are expected to top 156,000 units, a 54 percent boost from last year with a large chunk coming from the increased bus and rail advertising investment.
In a separate market analysis, Global Industry Analysts put transportation as one of the “emerging” categories among the digital signage horizontals, but still only a sliver in the larger overall $13.8 billion pie of sales anticipated by 2017. A prominent portion on the promise of the near future of digital hucksterism will be showcased in February at the annual Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas. While not relegated to transit alone — retail continues to rule the day with digital ads — there is a small but growing session track for mass transportation, including talks on network optimization, use of cutting-edge video walls and signage project planning basics. Wrinkles and ripples in software mean all kinds of possibilities with displays, but there are a few that stand to materialize in the next year or so in the transit sector, according to front-line vendors.
Nimrod Halfon, senior consultant with signage vendor Four Winds Interactive said as trains and buses are a few years behind their airport counterparts, their initial proposals for upgrades don’t always reflect current possibilities. That is quickly changing with system enhancements and Halfon predicts more interactive applications for self-service via digital ad displays, as well as a watershed of localized promotions that tend to do well with mass transit crowds.
Halfon said the most widespread enhancement might be “smarter” systems that integrate disparate information sources on the back end with the curious traveler on the front end.
“Providing as much information during a passenger’s travel experience will increase their satisfaction and decrease anxiety and frustration. Systems that can easily integrate a number of different data sources … will be necessary,” Halfon said.