By Ted AYALA
In an age when consumers are more reluctant to part with their money, as well as becoming more adept at tuning out standard methods of advertising and commercials, advertisers are seeking ever more creative – or is that intrusive? – ways of gaining shoppers’ attention. Digital billboards, with their bright lights and eye-catching animations, have been hailed by advertisers as a way to draw attention to the products they’re selling.
Digital billboards have been making steady progress into public spaces, even on the side of buses. But they have met with strong opposition along the way. Residents and officials in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, among other cities, have expressed concern over the driving hazard they may present because of their distracting nature. Others decry what they see as the encroachment of visual pollution into public spaces.
Now Glendale may be dipping its toes into the digital billboard debate with a proposed revenue sharing plan offered to the city by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).
According to Hassan Haghani, the director of Community Development for the city of Glendale, Metro has approached the city with an offer to build digital billboards along city and Metro-owned property along San Fernando Road.
The signs, which would be operated by CBS and Clear Channel, and would be seen from the 134 and 5 freeways, could provide a source of much needed revenue for the city. Signs operated by the city would be used to promote public events and to disseminate community messages.
Haghani also made mention that Metro could go ahead with the placing of the signs, with or without city permission.
“[They] can put up the billboards without city permission and are not obligated to share their revenue with us,” he said. “But they would like our endorsement and cooperation.”
Councilmember Ara Najarian, who sits on the board of directors for Metro, added that it was part of a goodwill effort by the agency to maintain good relations with cities.
The options presented to council included options for the building of one to three signs, potentially occupying up to six sides. Projected revenue from the project ranges from $200,000 annually for the most unobtrusive option using only one sign, to $1.7 million for the option employing three signs.
Each option came with assurances from city staff to enforce high aesthetic quality in order to mitigate any visual impact. New digital signs would also be prevented from encroaching into the city.
Despite these assurances, some voiced their hesitation to embrace digital billboards, perceiving the move as a Trojan horse to allow more obtrusive advertising back into the city.
“I look at this as a backdoor to advertising,” said resident Mike Mohill. “The city spent a lot of time getting rid of advertising blight and every government agency is looking for money. This is a way to make money, but is this what the residents want? If we bring in [Clear Channel and CBS] it’s not going to stop. [They would] be getting a foothold in. Maybe in five years they put in two more signs. Then, before you know it, we’re back to where we were before, with signs up and down Glendale.”
Mayor Frank Quintero, before council voted to approve the option that allows for three digital signs with a total of six faces, related his views of digital signage in his recent trip to South Korea as an indication of the potential such signage could hold for the city.
“All I could talk about,” Mayor Quintero said about his experience upon returning home, “was the digital age in South Korea. They are super effective in terms of advertising and they’re super effective as art. They have a whole genre of digital art that we’re not exposed to or have any idea of. In addition to the community messages we can place, we can do so many things with these signs.
“This is a very good idea, it’s not going to be intrusive, and it’s going to add to the view – and I assume it’ll be seen by the millions of commuters on the 5 Freeway.”