Taking LED’s on the Road
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Taking LED’s on the Road

The market for mobile LED displays is jumping forward again as sign companies take jumbo TV advertisements for a test drive.

By Jennifer LeClaire

LEDs have become the technology of choice for video display boards because they offer significant advantages in brightness, energy efficiency and product lifetime over traditional illumination choices. But until the advent of high-brightness LED display technology, few options existed for daytime videotext and motion displays.

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  • What’s 40 feet long, and has half a dozen wheels and carries a jumbo screen TV? Mobile LED displays and they are making their way across the country in growing numbers.

    Sure, large-format LED video displays are not exactly a new concept. They come second only to neon in lighting up Las Vegas and Times Square these days. But let’s be honest, it’s not often you see a semi-truck rolling down the road broadcasting what amounts to TV commercials on its roof.

    That could soon change. Sign companies are beginning to take this concept to the streets with new and improved technology and vehicles that can park at sporting events, political rallies, concerts, conventions and ­ you name it. These mobile LED units can set up shop almost anywhere and capture the attention of event-goers everywhere with high-resolution images and up to 16.7 million colors.

    A company with vision
    Launched in 2002 by mobile event industry veteran Chris Curtis, Keller, Texas-based GoVision is a company that aims to live up to its name.

    LEDs have become the technology of choice for video display boards because they offer significant advantages in brightness, energy efficiency and product lifetime over traditional illumination choices. But until the advent of high-brightness LED display technology, few options existed for daytime videotext and motion displays.

    “Until we achieved breakthroughs in technology, the cost was prohibitive to use LEDs for mobile advertising units,” says Curtis, president of GoVision, a national provider of mobile event services. “Now with the lower costs, we can make it more affordable for advertisers. It’s a new and different way to get a message to the people attending a convention, for example. Seeing a giant TV coming down the road gets a lot of attention.”

    GoVision’s custom-built GO BIG unit features a nine-foot by 16-foot LED screen that is visible in daylight or dark and can be operated while the truck is in motion. When parked at event sites, the screen can be raised 16 feet and rotated 360 degrees. The screen can also be removed and the size configured to meet the needs of event holders. The mobile units include a generator and on-board control room with switching, editing and playback capabilities. It also has a camera package that allows for turnkey production.

    Of course, there are some unique obstacles to casting the vision to the masses, namely design and transportation of the supersized LED displays. Engineers have to accommodate tons of weight in a small area while still offering the necessary mobility, says Curtis, and getting to, in and out of an event area can sometimes be a jumbo challenge. Educating the public about the value is also key since the technology, operating costs and labor are more expensive than other forms of mobile advertising. Mobile LED display rentals typically range from $3,000-$9,000 a day.

    But Curtis says the concept is catching on. One of GoVision’s two GO BIG units recently drove the streets of Boston displaying a video work as it drove. The company also broadcasts racing action at the Texas Motor Speedway and aired the inauguration of Texas governor Rick Perry from the steps of the Texas Capital Building.

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    YESCO says yes to mobile video displays
    Meanwhile, Young Electric Sign Co. (YESCO) in Las Vegas got into the mobile LED display business through a different route. The company built its first mobile LED in 1999 and has since established a fleet of trucks and partnered with Englewood, Co.-based Mobile View to take advantage of mobile jumbotron opportunities.

    “Take Chevy, for example,” says YESCO sales manager Neil Whitaker. “They’ll sponsor a downhill ski event, broadcast it on the screen and then have banner ads that go around the bottom promoting their cars and trucks. The real testimony to the effectiveness of the signage is repeat business from promoters because they see the value of it and are willing to pay the price.”

    While there are currently few regulatory issues surrounding temporary set ups of mobile LED displays, state ordinances could present a challenge down the road. Industry players suspect rules could be implemented that determine how frequently the images can change and sound could be eliminated for on-road usage. Some cities already have existing ordinances on the books that outlaw mobile promotional vehicles of any kind.

    Pushing the advertising piece
    Like GoVision, most of YESCO’s business is in event rentals, but the mobile advertising piece is growing. “Recent technological developments have resulted in a significant reduction in the cost of LED display systems, which are quickly becoming the most sought after advertising solution on the market,” says Steve Velte, director of research and development for OnScreen Technologies.

    One of their current units was designed for advertising at sporting and stadium events, store openings and any other events where the installation of a fixed screen is not feasible. Advertisers at a variety of professional sporting events and concerts have already used this unit at events like Daytona’s Bike Week, Jimmy Buffet concerts and Elvis Week and the company expects it to continue to generate significant revenues moving forward.

    New ideas for a new millennium
    The potential of the mobile LED display market is significant enought that many companies have made significant investments in development of LED Display technology.

    Seems like a wise bet, with the worldwide outdoor advertising market reaching nearly $19 billion and the U.S. market representing $5.2 billion in 2002, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. An increasing percentage of that figure is using the technologies of motion display advertising. That said, there are still barriers to explosive growth.

    “Energy consumption has become a limiting factor in the advancement of outdoor LED displays. Significant heat is generated when powering LEDs in outdoor displays that must compete with the sun,” says Velte. “It also means that a category of product with huge market potential - outdoor television and medium scale display advertising boards - has to this point been virtually technologically impossible.”

    There have been many advances in LED display technology in recent years that allow for very desireable display characteristics in direct sunlight, yet avoid many of the challenges associated with sun-loading, wind-loading and excessive weight, while still providing higher resolution images than what the market has seen recently.

    That’s good news for the various vendors touting the benefits of mobile LED displays for both advertising and event broadcasting. Curtis, for one, is thoroughly assured that his vision is a go.

    “This is a wave of the future. Video is becoming more and more prevalent in our society everywhere,” says Curtis. “We will see a proliferation of outdoor video display technology and it will be available in every major market in the country in the next five years.”

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