Times Square’s biggest & most expensive billboard set to shine

By: |
November 18, 2014 12:43 PM

In an era when digital screens large and small proliferate but attention is increasingly scarce...

In the flashing, bustling advertising mecca that is Times Square, the screen is the biggest and the only one to cover an entire city block.In the flashing, bustling advertising mecca that is Times Square, the screen is the biggest and the only one to cover an entire city block.

In an era when digital screens large and small proliferate but attention is increasingly scarce, some marketers are making a huge bet that one of the biggest displays in the world will captivate audiences.

Their gamble: the largest and most expensive digital billboard in Times Square, which will light up on Tuesday night.

The new screen is eight-storey tall and is nearly as long as a football field, spanning the entire block from 45th Street to 46th Street on Broadway — the centre of the Times Square “bow tie”. Nearly 24 million LED pixels, each containing tiny red, blue and green lights, make up the display, giving it higher resolution than even the best of today’s top-of-the-line television sets.

At a going rate of more than $2.5 million for four weeks, the megascreen ranks as one of the most expensive pieces of outdoor ad real estate on the market, claims a marketing executives. A digital art exhibition by the critically acclaimed Universal Everything studio collective will animate the screen from Tuesday night until November 24, when Google will take over as the exclusive, debut advertiser with a campaign that runs through the New Year.

In the flashing, bustling advertising mecca that is Times Square, the screen is the biggest and the only one to cover an entire city block. “Size matters in Times Square,” said Harry Coghlan, president of Clear Channel Outdoor New York, which is selling the ad space.

Last week, as he stood on the corner of 46th Street and Broadway watching test images of skiers and fashion models illuminate the new display, tourists turned their heads to look at the sign, their jaws actually dropping.

“Sometimes it just comes down to wanting to stand out, and it comes down to ego,” he said. Both Clear Channel Outdoor and Google declined to comment on the terms of Google’s deal. Ad executives said that Google snapped up the display as soon as it went on the market for an exclusive, long-term commitment, so the negotiated rate could have been much lower than the $2.5-million price tag. Rates for Times Square billboards can vary widely, depending on location, size, duration and screen quality, among other factors, ad executives said.

Each day, more than 300,000 pedestrians are estimated to enter the Times Square “bow tie”, where Seventh Avenue intersects with Broadway between 42nd and 47th Streets.

While New Yorkers generally breeze through, their heads in their phones, the location is a tourist destination, and the billboards are a large part of the attraction. The locale receives even more views when it is broadcast across the world, especially during events like the New Year’s Eve celebration.

About eight in 10 people in Times Square reported that the signs and the advertisements add to its appeal, said a survey of 2,000 respondents in Times Square commissioned by Times Square Alliance and other groups. About half of the respondents reported taking photographs of the signs, and 60% said they spent more than five minutes looking at them. “People go to the Grand Canyon to see the most visually stunning natural canyon in the world. They come to Times Square to see the most digitally striking canyon in the world,” said Tim Topkins, president of Times Square Alliance.

The new sign, at 1535 Broadway, hangs on the Marriott Marquis hotel. Visitors might remember the destination as home to the giant Kodak sign that long beamed from the centre of the building, topped by a curved display and flanked by two rectangular displays.

Vornado Realty Trust built the new screen as part of a redevelopment project for new signs and retail components of the hotel. Vornado says it expects to lease a span of new retail space at the site to about a half dozen companies. It said in August 2012 that it would spend as much as $140 million on the project.

Vornado already owns the retail strip at 1540 Broadway directly across the street leased to the Forever 21 and Disney flagship stores. There, it discovered how important the digital sign is to the retailers. With the new project, Vornado decided to build a megasign and deploy the latest LED technology.

Steven Roth, CEO of Vornado, said the technological advantage will not last as other companies adopt similar bells and whistles. The two lasting advantages, he said, are the new display’s sheer size and location. “The signs really are part of the culture, part of the fabric of the excitement of this city,” Roth said. “And, by the way, we are in it for the money, and they are an interesting part of our business.”

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