A look under the hood of the Vancouver rail transit screen network

September 22, 2009 by Dave Haynes

The writing is a little loopy in places and the assertions a bit of a stretch here and there, but something called IT Business.ca has nonetheless an interesting look at the details behind the 170-plus screen network running on the mostly above ground light rail transit/monorail/subway system in lovely Vancouver. The overall system has been supplemented with a new line just in time for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in that city.

The system uses Omnivex for software and 47-inch NEC panels, with four per station. Omnivex is a good fit for this because of their strong background in data-driven content. The system was bankrolled in part by Lamar.

Following a one-year pilot test of eight screens, the full implementation started at the end of 2008, the story reports

The pilot validated operability, the ability to deliver messaging consistently, the emergency functionality and – perhaps the most important measure after these three – revenue generation.

TransLink’s advertising licensee Lamar Advertising Co. provided the lion’s share of funding for the project, as the implementation provided a critical proof of concept for its Lamar Commuter Digital (LCD) network. Lamar currently operates over 150 outdoor advertising companies in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada.

The company that operates the LCD network for BC Transit, TransLink’s parent authority, is Burnaby-based Lamar Transit Advertising (LTA). LTA is in the fourth year of a contract that runs for 15 years, much longer than is typical in this business.

The company’s financial contribution to the implementation skews the TransLink ROI picture, but (TransLink’s) John Beaudoin is in no doubt about the long-term revenue upside.

“It doesn’t save us money, it actually makes us money. Once the system gets rolling, revenue for TransLink will be into the seven figures, he says.

“This is the biggest deployment of digital LCD screens in a subway system in Canada,” says Byron Montogomery, Lamar’s vice president and general manager.

Ummm, OneStop’s in Toronto has about 90 more screens and is in more stations. 

“When it’s fully finished across the subway/light rail system in Vancouver, it will be the biggest in North America. No matter what station you’re on, advertisers will have access to that commuter market on 21st century technology.” 

Biggest in North America??? Hmmm.

This is the first time I have seen images and descriptions of the content approach, which sadly is the usual goofy load-it-up with crap approach.

The screens are split into three sections, with a bar at the bottom constantly displaying transit information such as schedules, special rates and other system details.

The right-hand section of the main screen displays news, sports, weather and other information from broadcaster Global BC. The left-hand section is the ad space, and occasionally runs news headlines. The content is standard across all screens on the system.

For emergencies, the TransLink office, next to Metrotown Station, can initiate a “full screen takeover” for varying levels of emergency. 

The Global TV thing gives me shivers. I have seen that content partnership in action on the Go Transit system in Toronto, and it worked so well the screens went black and UMBC, the media company that bankrolled the thing, is out of business. There is waaaay too much happening at once on those screens, and jusging by the photo, you’ll need binoculars to read the double news headlines.

Why, oh why does everybody do this???

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