The lifecycle of a digital billboard

Damien Rath and Paul Peters of APN Outdoor give us a sneak peek into the life of a digital outdoor site.

The process of bringing a digital billboard to life is complex and meticulous, from the initial idea to the go live date there are many boxes that must be ticked, parties involved and considerations to be made.

The Digital Outdoor Issue1. Strategic fit assessment

APN Outdoor places emphasis on ensuring every digital asset has a clear and concise strategic fit and purpose within the business.

Our cities, roads and freeways are dynamic and constantly changing, so careful consideration is given to the placement of digital assets and how they are expected to perform in the future.

Our digital signage generally needs to span a life cycle of time up to 15 years, so getting the fundamentals right is critical.

Our assessment of strategic fit will include the proximity of other digital assets to ensure an even distribution of our digital assets relative to forecast sales demand, demographics and proximity to the CBD or major hubs in which we can capture and measure our audiences.

Other considerations include traffic volumes and whether any planned freeways, tunnels or bypasses might affect traffic volumes in the future. Planned building developments or redevelopments can also block viewing of signs, so we also look at worst case scenarios.

At a macro level we ensure we have proportional distribution of digital assets across the cities in which we operate. This can be challenging as certain states are faster to embrace new technology.

2. Commercial feasibility

We spend a great deal of time making sure we have the right inputs into all business cases, which is often a delicate combination of historical data with careful predictions of how the sign is likely to perform in the short, medium and long terms.

Typically, each business case will include analysis around forecast sales, media rates, rotation and duration of ads and a detailed estimate of forecast capital and operational expenditure.

Each sign resides on a host property so in all cases the operator, such as APN Outdoor, will enter into a property-related lease or licence with the land concession holder. The level of rent becomes a critical aspect of commercial feasibility, as these agreements can span anywhere from five to 20 years.

3. Design, technology and vendor selection

APN Outdoor invests a significant amount of time to ensure we optimise the design, vendor and technology selection to maximise the effectiveness of our digital products.

We have developed a contemporary and flexible design palette to ensure a fit with the relevant surrounding architecture and landscape, but also to ensure that the visual display area clearly dominates the space for our clients.

APN Outdoor has a small number of carefully selected partners within our key supply chain segments: LCD and LED screens, design, engineering and construction.

The due diligence and selection process is extremely onerous, as we demand excellence in health, safety and environment (HSE), R&D, product and service quality, and responsive support frameworks.

In regards to LED screens, we have three partners with one each in Australia, the US, New Zealand and France, which ensures we are aware of and contribute to future global product developments. An example of this was XtrackTV, which was a world-first product innovation for APN Outdoor.

4. Planning, environment and building approval

Achieving town planning approval for outdoor advertising displays is extremely difficult and typically the most challenging element of a sign’s life cycle.

Since developing our first digital sign on the Young & Jackson building in Melbourne in 2008, much of our time has been spent researching and educating stakeholders, particularly myth-busting.

When we mention digital signage, some people mistakenly assume we want to run full motion or sound, or that the illumination will be too bright or distracting to drivers. All of these concerns can usually be allayed by demonstrating research and, in certain circumstances, by carrying out light simulation studies.

Town planning applications for digital signs will almost always include some reference to or description around control of light emission, particularly at night, and ensuring we have carefully addressed any safety requirements specific to the planned site.

While the town planning requirements continue to remain extremely rigorous, we are seeing an increased acceptance of roadside digital signage nationally, as more and more positive examples appear.

Aside from the enormous benefits, versatility and immediacy for advertisers, digital signs are starting to show government agencies that they can provide community and emergency messaging capabilities not previously available.

In many cases, the existence of digital signage also reduces the need for physical access, something we argue about with planning authorities. This further improves safety as signs can be changed anywhere in Australia from a desktop in Sydney!

5. Construction and ongoing quality and reliability optimisation

The success of the construction stage is based on three key objectives: HSE, quality and on-time completion. Our LED screen, engineering and construction partners work closely to install and optimise the screen prior to us scheduling live creative.

All APN Outdoor screens are supported by a 24/7 remote monitoring and diagnostic framework, which automatically identifies any variation to expected quality levels. These variations can normally be fixed remotely; otherwise, a service technician attends the site.

6. Technology research and development

Since commencing our drive to digital we have continued to increase our ‘thirst’ for knowledge and desire to continually improve what we do. We have established relationships with several suppliers in Australia and New Zealand, who have relationships back into the US and Europe where digital technology is mature, and in China, which is increasingly gaining ground in quality and pricing.

Since 2008 we have probably researched and stress tested as many as 50 suppliers to arrive at a handful of market-leaders.

Many firms can supply and sell LED or LCD digital technology, but we insist on establishing relationships that can service and maintain the technology for up to 10 years.

We have become increasingly interested in understanding the creation of our digital assets from components on a factory floor to their full construction on-site.

Understanding the entire process in great detail has led to numerous improvements in the technology we choose, pricing and on-time delivery of the products we purchase.

Equally, we continually scan the news on a daily basis, attend trade shows and regularly invite our key suppliers to provide updates on their innovation to find points of mutual benefit to grow and build upon our relationships. We think about the long-term and finding ways to fortify and build upon the relationships with our key suppliers, as it is in our interest that they succeed.


Damien Rath is general manager of digital media and Paul Peters is general manager of operations at APN Outdoor.