Screens light up on Ontario Go Trains

April 23, 2007 by Dave Haynes

I spent about three years bouncing along the Lakeshore West Go Tranist line commuting by rail from my suburban home to downtown Toronto, looking now and then at the utterly useless LED scroller thing installed in the passenger compartments.

Some company tried for many years to sell that as an ad medium but had precious little success. The commuter rail operators have been open to proposals, for years now, to install a more sophisticated sign network in the system, but nothing really happened – likely owing to the high costs and lack of investment capital out there.

One of the proposal/investor decks I saw was absolute lunacy in terms of costs and revenue projections, which might explain why it never shook out.

Five years later, though, a company called United Mobile Broadcasting Corporation has rolled out 15 inch screens in 50 Go Train cars, which is a healthy chunk of the overall fleet of some 400 cars. All of the cars are supposed to be installed within a year.

On the surface, it seems like a great medium – as the majority of commuters are stuck on these rail cars for upwards of 45-60 minutes each way, five days a week. That’s a lot of eyeballs and a lot of opportunity to view time.

The content loop is 60 minutes, with ads playing in TV-like 2 or 2.5 minute chunks. The content is all from CanWest, so if you can’t stand the anchors and reports from Global News and ET Canada, you will slowly be going insane. There is audio, but you have to pick it up on an FM headset. The number of people who will actually do that, or even have FM receivers in a world of MP3 players, is questionable. However, the operators wisely handed out free earphones and receivers at launch.

I would have zippo interest in watching last night’s news at 7 in the morning, and somehow even less on the way home, so I am less than enthralled by the planned content mix. To use an old Internet term, it’s shovelware – media not tuned to the audience or space.

The ads are being sold by Exclusive Ads, which has long had media rights on the rail cars. There isn’t much information about UMBC, other than it has the somewhat rare “.us” domain name suffix (for US companies, typically) and a website that looks like it was put together by someone’s 12-year-old kid.

So what’s in it for Go Transit: a target $8 million in shared ad revenues over 10-years.

A couple of interesting things: all the screens appear to be standard aspect ratio, which is strange given how the world is moving to widescreen. And the media material needs to be in MPEG2, which suggests some sort of set-top box-like appliance in the rail cars. A full PC that could play more sophisticated media files would have to endure a lot of jostling, and likely would not last.

One other thing: these screens are hanging from the ceiling. Lord knows if they will still be hanging after a train load of kids take the 11:43 PM run home from a death metal concert downtown.

UPDATE – Did a little more digging and figured out UMBC is actually just another name for Korean Mobile Broadcasting Corporation, which does this sort of thing on the other side of the Pacific.

Leave a comment