An ambitious project that was intended to generate new revenues for Denver’s airport, and showcase the innovative LED technology of Panasonic, has run into big problems less than two years after it was first switched on.
The $14.5 million art and ad media piece features 900 LED light poles in a 1,000 foot curving line along the median of Peña Boulevard, in view of an estimated 120,000 motorists heading from the airport, which is way, way, way east of the city.
The double-sided LED poles, each 18 feet tall, were designed to change colors in sync. There are three 18-foot-wide 16mm pitch digital LED billboards running booked digital OOH media campaigns. Here’s a post I did when it was lighting up.
The Denver Post reports that the project was launched in 2017, and that at that time, the lights pulsed smoothly from one color to another.
In recent months, though, the display has become increasingly erratic. At first, a handful of sticks would appear dark or discolored. More recently, a video captured by a Denver Post reader showed larger chunks of the display malfunctioning.
And on April 5 the luminous cylinders went completely dark. “The airport has chosen to turn off the sticks until Panasonic can fix the problems that are occurring,” wrote airport spokesperson Emily Williams in an email (to the Post).
Denver International Airport paid $11.5 million for Panasonic to build the sign and another $3 million for 12 years of maintenance. The money came from airport revenues, which are reserved for airport purposes, the Post reports.
This does not look particularly good for Panasonic, which has a big enterprise solutions and innovations presence in Denver, in the general orbit of the airport. Panasonic is working on a smart city project for Denver, again near the airport.
The Japanese commercial and consumer tech company says in an online profile of the Welcome Sign light piece:
Getting nearly 1,000 LED poles to talk to each other in perfect synchronicity is no easy task. Panasonic’s LED partner, Lighthouse, played a critical role in designing and developing these one-of-a-kind, weatherproofed components. The colors of LEDs are vibrant during daytime, but at night they provide an otherworldly, mesmerizing display.
Each LED pole had to be installed at just the right angle. Panasonic and DIA worked seamlessly together to light the project, as DIA built the underground power and Panasonic connected to it. The entire signage was recently tested, calibrated, and officially kicked off.
The Welcome Sign has been the subject of local controversy even before it was formally switched on – with questions about how it was funded and a shaky ROI model that right now sees Outfront – the media company with the ad concession – only providing an OOH media revenue share guarantee of $12,500/monthly.
From the description of the issue, this could be anything from software to wonky underground signal cabling or faulty power.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.