Astral Media goes BIG into a digital network

February 10, 2009 by Dave Haynes

Montreal-based out of home company Astral Media Outdoor announced a milestone 10-board LED sign network on Tuesday, with plans to start setting up the massive screens along major roadways in the city starting in April.

The screens are all 14 feet tall by 48 feet wide – effectively the same shape as the standard billboards they will be replacing. Astral did not provide cost details, but boards this big do not come cheap, nor does the cost of installation on pylons and other superstructures. This is at least a $500K per site job.

The boards have 20 mm pixel pitches, which means up close the images don’t look so hot, but set up 40 feet on posts along highways, the images will be crisp and clean when seen from behind steering wheels. The deal went to Yesco, a well established LED board manufacturer that also has, according to Astral, bundled DS software they were happy with.

The board network will be the biggest organized deployment of LED screens in the country. While there have for many years been video boards along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and in Dundas Square, as well as a smattering of roadside LEDs in other Canuck markets, this is the first true digital billboard network. OBN has a national footprint of LED video boards, for example, but they are all different shapes and sizes and they are all motion graphics driven. 

The Astral network will stick with static images that can just be converted over from their regular print board campaigns, and will generate little stink from the “LED boards are dangerous to motorists” crowd.

It is significant for a few reasons:

1 – Astral is laying it down and spending the money in the middle of a recession

2 – Astral is making a statement that they are in this game and believe this is where outdoor is going

3 – Their competitors, like Pattison, ClearChannel, Titan and CBS Outdoor, will take notice and this may well trigger more activity

Until now, most of the big outdoor companies have been dabbling in digital, with mostly indoor projects in places like airports and malls.

Astral made the announcement at a big bash on the floor of the Bell Centre, where the Montreal Canadiens play hockey. There had to be 500 people from the agency world, a DJ, food and drinks. So it was a BIG deal. They went to the effort of having one of the Yesco boards suspended and operating, which certainly beats the hell out of dragging planners out to one of Montreal’s jammed highways come April.

I asked Arsenal Media’s Denys Lavigne if all media launches were like this, and he said, “yup.” Another reason why I love Montreal. 

I had a chance to talk with several Astral execs, including Astral Outdoor president Luc Sabbatini, who said it was easy to build an ROI model for a billboard that now supports six ads, not one, and can be dayparted and changed on the fly. The board will run six 10-second still images in a rotation.

However, Sabbatini said this was more than just a spreadsheet exercise and said it was also about innovation for the company.

Astral also highlighted a gesture controlled screen it has at Trudeau airport in an executive lounge, as well as the Aero TV screens it has in the regular departure lounges.

The company also showed off information centres that had backlit poster ads on two sides and a touch-screen wayfinding app on the third. There are 120 of these planned for Toronto for later this year. 

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