NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Digital billboards have long been touted as the killer app that would revitalize the struggling traditional outdoor industry, but their widespread deployment by the top outdoor companies and use by marketers have taken years to catch up with the hype. A new digital campaign from E! Entertainment, MediaVest and Clear Channel Outdoor, however, is one of the first and largest indicators of digital billboards' promise.
Beginning this week on 125 billboards in nine of the top 20 markets, E! will use Clear Channel's electronic panels to plug its weeknight "E! News" with breaking news alerts that can be updated throughout the day from a centralized digital network. The panels will feature "E! News" hosts Giuliana Rancic and Ryan Seacrest, with dynamically inserted headlines and dates to keep the content fresh. Key markets for the eight-week campaign include Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Dallas.
"The ability to test different headlines in different ways is very interesting to us," said Annemarie Batur, VP-marketing and advertising, E! Entertainment. "E! News is all about what's happening in that moment. The fact that we will now have the ability to change out headlines as breaking news happens will be a great way to see how we drive traffic."
E! is not the first news brand to use digital billboards to test for breaking news. The Los Angeles Times partnered with Clear Channel in 2008 for a series of L.A.-based digital boards that featured its headlines. Tony Alwin, Clear Channel Outdoor's senior VP-creative, marketing and PR, said marketers such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola have also experimented with digital billboards, but those executions have been mostly pixilated versions of static campaigns. But with digital boards deployed in some of the country's largest markets, scale has arrived.
"It's finally come to the point where advertisers look at this as another broadcast media for outdoor," he said.
The pricing of these new digital panels is also favorable for the outdoor industry, which saw ad spending decline 14.9% in the first half of 2009.
Norm Chait, MediaVest's senior VP-director of out-of-home investment and activation, said digital campaigns typically cost the same as a static board, but since as many as five or six campaigns can run on the same digital billboard, the media company will net five to six times the revenue of a single static campaign.
"These campaigns are typically in the most convenient locations, so there's a strong opportunity that they'll be seen," Mr. Chait said, adding that sometimes advertisers will buy multiple panels on a digital billboard that hasn't sold out all its available inventory. "The higher rotation they get, the higher volume of units they'll get to really have a breakthrough presence."