Picture this: You are whizzing down Washington Avenue and you stop at a red light, right next to a bus stop. You look over and tree is giant digital TV screen running commercials for Guess Jeans. Can you picture it?
Well, the Miami Beach Design Review Board cannot. They turned down a proposal from Clear Channel Outdoor who would like to cover Miami Beach with giant digital screens measuring almost 70 inches high and that change images every eight seconds.
So, you say no worries, it was turned down, so end of story. Not quite. Comcast is expected to pitch their proposal direct to City Commissioners at an upcoming commission meeting. But the Clear Channel Outdoor website clearchanneloutdoor.com is pitching Miami Beach as an already approved location for their digital billboard. They also include Downtown Miami, Downtown Ft. Lauderdale, Midtown Miami, Brickell, Coconut Grove, Las Olas, Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Aventura, Weston, Doral, Miramar, Miami Lakes and major malls like Dadeland, Aventura, Sawgrass Mills and Dolphin.
Possibly, Clear Channel’s confidence comes from the fact that they already have a deal in place with the city of Miami Beach. Their advertising already appears on current bus shelters. In fact, that advertising is what helped pay for the shelters city-wide.
Clear Channel has asked “to replace the existing advertising panels with digital panels in order to show advertising which would change every eight seconds,” according to a Miami Beach staff report. They also state that the digital displays provide a public good by offering commuter and tourist information, alongside the advertising. They also contend that the boards will not distract passing motorists.
All this is not a new issue for Miami Beach. The Deco District is hugely popular with marketers. New products are launched to the South Beach market weekly. Viable ways to advertise these products to hip SoBe residents is tantamount to a successful marketing campaign. Last year the City turned down a campaign to allow huge scale ads in empty storefronts all over South Beach. And of course Deco Bike sought approval to have ads on their bike kiosks. They were successful.
Commissioner Jerry Libben has a different perspective. While he did not actually see the Clear Channel Proposal, his thoughts are strictly based on business and the revenue that advertising brings to the party. And while he has not made a determination either way, on the digital screens, he thinks that possibly swapping out print ads already in place, for newer digital ads would benefit the city and the community financially.
Other U.S. cities have adopted these digital bus boards quite successfully. Cities like Tampa, San Antonio, Los Vegas and Los Angeles to name a few. But the bigger story comes out of London in the U.K. where Clear Channel collaborated with a British charity to convert a London bus shelter to an interactive digital signage advert with an altruistic twist. The installation, by global children’s charity Plan UK, features a touch-sensitive digital screen, audio speakers and facial recognition software designed, in this case, to determine whether the viewer of the ad is a man or a woman. The installation is programmed to show women an entire video spot on educating girls in the third world, while men are shown an incomplete version and directed to the Plan UK website.
Closer to home San Francisco installed digital screens in November 2010 to a positive response from the general public. Billboards allow waiting travelers to play touch-enabled social games across neighborhoods. They have realized significant public interaction with over 80,000 game plays since the campaign launch. Chicago and Washington D.C. boards give passengers bus schedules and other travel information.
But back to Miami Beach. City planning staff explored Clear Channel’s proposal thoroughly and took issue with several things including that the digital panels would not be restricted to residential neighborhoods; the screens could display full video; full electrical power would need to be put into all shelters, not just solar; and driver distraction was a key component to the staff ultimately rejecting the request.
Commissioner Deede Weithorn had the following to say on the digital screens: “The Design Review Board does their part in reviewing design, but the City Commission is tasked to look at the bigger picture. Can digital advertisements at bus shelters help us communicate better with tourists and residents? Is there the potential to provide instant updates on bus routes and transportation? How will these digital boards affect driver and pedestrian safety? These are some of the inquiries I have that go beyond the scope of design and which are important to ask when considering digital signs in Miami Beach’s bus shelters.”
Seconded by Vice Mayor Michael Gongora. “We appoint the members of the Design Review Board, Historic Preservation Board and Board of Adjustment, so I tend to respect their decisions. However, I always keep an open mind and will look into this in further detail and decide as always what is best for the community.”
So what’s next? Possibly a giant Milk Carton like one that resides on the streets of Montreal Canada or maybe a giant neon Coca Cola sign like they have installed in Istanbul, Turkey (see images at right).
Charles Urstadt of the MDPL and the newly elected chairman of the Planning Board is very concerned about the possibility of digital billboards being installed on bus shelters in Miami Beach for several reasons including that they are a serious safety hazard.
“These bright billboards are designed to distract drivers and the glare will make it hard for drivers eyes to adjust. The Clear Channel lobbyists say they have all sorts of studies that show the digital billboards are not safety hazards but be sure to ask who pays for their studies. ” He went on to say, “And let’s face it, they are tacky. The garish nature of digital billboards is not appropriate for our historic districts. But even outside of our historic districts, Miami Beach has a world-wide reputation that puts us on the cutting edge of design and detail. These ugly, bright billboards will detract from what we are woking so hard to maintain.”
What Beach Residents Say:
Miami Beach residents have come out strong for and against the digital shelters. Peter Ehrlich, of Scenic Miami, the group that has been fighting the overuse of billboards and large ads throughout Miami-Dade County posted his thoughts on the Belle Isle Blog:
“No residents and no tourists are asking to be bombarded by ads changing every eight seconds. Who wants to be pummeled from LED billboards placed on bus stop shelters? The City of Miami Beach is absolutely correct to keep outdoor advertising from proliferating.”
Craig Chester of MiamiUrbanist has a positive spin:
“Would be very useful if used primarily for displaying bus arrival times, maps, tourist info and other things done in most of the developed world. If they have to share a screen with an ad periodically it’s worth it. The ad revenue could fund the GPS technology. This only works in the rest of the modern world, which SoBe NIMBY’s choose not to become a part of. Say, why not ban cars from Miami Beach and Belle Isle too then?”
As does Beach resident Michael de Filippi:
Unfortunate decision. As the beach continues to evolve this would spruce up the ugly bus shelters. I’ve seen these in California and they look great. Look at home many bus shelters now have outdated and in accurate displays.
Mid Beach homeowner Leslie Santos is vehemently against:
“It is bad enough that the city commissioners sold us out to Coke and now this. I understand that the city needs to make money, but giant screens all over the place is ridiculous and an eyesore. We are not Chicago or New York, we are a small city with the most beautiful architecture in the world. Do you think German tourists want to come to South beach to see massive screens advertising hair dye? I think not. They can get that kind of commercialism at home. They want to see Art Deco, Period.