Welcome to 2011 -- still no flying cars. But gigantic screens broadcasting nonstop from New York's Times Square to Tokyo's Ginza District? They're here.
The 1982 film "Blade Runner" was set in 2019, but that massive wall of glowing video got here a lot sooner than anyone probably expected.
It's all around us. Digital Out-of-Home video, or DOOH, is everything from CNN news reports in the elevator, to building-sized advertising in Miami, to snippets of Fox's "House" at the local gas pump.
On a milder scale, it's that tiny video box in the supermarket soup aisle, the silent loop of loan application info on the screen behind your teller at PNC Bank.
"People are accepting that there is advertising everywhere now, and it is our job to make it interesting," said David Leider, CEO of Birmingham, Mich.-based Gas Station TV (motto: "It's always Primetime at the Pump.")
It's not just advertising. Gas Station TV boasts more than 27 million at-the-pump viewers each month. Its chief competitor, Los Angeles-based Outcast, which teamed with rival PumpTop in 2009, reports more than 23 million on-the-go consumers.
In Pittsburgh's Cultural District, it's the wraparound video projections near the O'Reilly Theater and the screens at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12.
Increasingly, the DOOH model is looking a lot like that of Gas Station TV, whose programming is a quick mix of news, weather, sports, classic TV show clips and, of course, commercials. Mr. Leider said Gas Station TV tinkered with the format and found that 60-second bursts of content were actually too long for anyone spending those five to eight minutes at the pump.
"We honed our experience," he said. "We found that shorter bursts, maybe 15 to 30 seconds of content, worked best."
Advertising makes up roughly 30 to 35 percent of these bursts, he said, adding that the captive audience is ready-made for DOOH: "You're bored, you've got nothing to do for that five minutes you're there."
There are five Sunoco stations in the Pittsburgh market with Gas Station TV programming, and more on the way.
Already a presence in the Northeast, Outcast will be arriving here at Shell stations at the end of January, according to CEO Matthew Stoudt.
Its website posts a video of typical advertising/informational programming. The four-minute clip kicks off with a short segment on making "healthy" vegan Twinkies. At the screen's left is an ad for Red Bull Cola. At the bottom are "fast facts" ranging from a blurb about the length of a giraffe's tongue to "An earthquake on Dec. 16, 1811, caused parts of the Mississippi River to flow backward."
There also are weather reports, traffic updates and, naturally, a lot of promotion for cars, tires and car services.
Digital Out-of-Home is location-based, and the screens at the gas pump have their own IP addresses. That means an advertisement for an Italian restaurant in Verona would not play on screens in Bridgeville.
It also can be interactive. Touch screens entertain at shopping malls, allow kids to play games at museums and let you print a coupon for cereal discounts.
Smart DOOH ties together elements such as text messages and social media to raise consumer awareness of the product and eventually drive him or her to the advertiser's website.
Gfk MRI, a German company that measures consumer data, estimates that 29.6 percent of U.S. adults, or 67.4 million people, noticed place-based video ads during a 30-day period this past fall.
Young men and women (ages 18-34) were most likely to notice the ads, which is a boon to advertisers.
"These consumers are particularly difficult to reach via traditional media options, given their extremely active lifestyles. Markets are embracing the digital place-based opportunities to intercept these active, young consumers where they work and play all day long," said Susan Danaher, president of the Digital Place-based Advertising Association.
Gross Rating Points, or GRP, helps indicate the combined audience percentage reach and exposure frequency. Outcast at the gas pumps, Mr. Stoudt said, is matching a traditional television of 5 GRP, or roughly the audience that watches ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" every week.
The Outdoor Advertising Association of America said DOOH brought in $1.1 billion in advertising revenue in 2009. And PQ Media, a leading provider of alternative advertising and marketing research, recently released a report that shows that DOOH was on track to grow an estimated 14.8 percent in 2010.
If anything, tough economic times that began in 2008 has helped spur DOOH's growth.
"In a perverse way, the best thing for alternative media was the recession," Outcast's Mr. Stoudt said. "Before, it was just the easy buy [for advertisers] and there was no incentive for the agencies to change. No one was asking 'Is the buying we're doing right now the smart buying?' "
Traditional print and even television advertising dollars have waned, he said, "because the idea of the guy or the woman at home on the couch watching television is no longer valid. You have this on-the-go consumer, but if you can reach them when they're on the go and in the decision-making mode ... ."
Advertising recall rates, according to services such as Nielsen and Arbitron, are much higher when there is no fast-forward button on a remote to push. If you're pumping gas or eating in a mall food court, you tend to notice and remember what's on the screen.
But it's all just noise and motion if there isn't that level of personal engagement. That's where new ideas come into play.
Akoo is one of them. It describes itself as "the world's largest social music television network."
Akoo has deals with companies such as Universal Music Group, EMI and Sony Music Entertainment to provide interactive digital video on college campuses and at mall food courts nationwide.
In Pennsylvania, six malls -- including South Hills Village, which straddles Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair -- feature a ring of mounted video screens in the food court, where music videos are played in a loop, alongside advertisements.
On a recent afternoon, Taylor Swift and Duffy were among the choices listed on little cardboard signs on the tables. Diners -- who spend an average of 33 minutes at the food court -- could study the choices, then text the access code to a localized number. There is also a free app for mobile devices.
The variety of videos and artists aren't limited to those listed on the card; access codes can also be found at www.myakoo.com. Like a sort of digital jukebox, Akoo's system responds to music requests by pinging the mobile device. Coupons for food or merchandise also can be sent to that mobile device.
"We are calling ourselves a social television network," said Andy Stankiewicz, Akoo chief marketing officer. "Right now we are primarily a music experience, but we are developing beyond that."
Akoo developed this interactive technology and has a patent in the U.S. as well as in other countries such as Australia and China.
Mr. Stankiewicz noted that the largest demographic (the 18-to-24-year-olds coveted by advertisers) is tech-savvy and comfortable interacting with video displays.
"First and foremost, we consider this a consumer experience, not an advertising experience," he added.
Jennifer Carroll, marketing director for South Hills Village, said Akoo "is helping Simon [Property Group Inc.] create a nice, social, community-based experience in their mall.
"It's such a family mall, there are such great communities around us. ... We have even talked about creating events around certain types of music."
Akoo's sound system reacts to ambient noise. When the food court is empty, the audio plays at a lower volume. When it's full of shoppers, the volume rises.
In the future, it's possible that screens in the movie cineplex might be watching you, a la the 2002 movie "Minority Report."
A recent report out of Great Britain notes that a company is working on a technique called photometric stereo, which was developed as part of a face recognition project at the University of the West of England.
Employing both 3-D and 2-D imaging, it could be possible to scan moviegoers as they view advertising or the film itself, and determine if and when viewers are reacting positively to the content. All the better to enhance marketing data.
One of the most spectacular examples of DOOH technology is employed by Boston-based A2aMedia. Its Mediamesh installations combine large-scale, flexible stainless steel panels embedded with tiny LED displays.
Mediamesh can be draped over large structures such as buildings and bridges, and allows natural light to pass through.
"It's almost like it's washing over the front of the building," said Brian Schuvart, A2aMedia's senior vice president for sales and marketing.
The American Airlines Arena in Miami, home of the NBA Heat, has a large Mediamesh installment over the building's glass atrium. Using one-sixth the power of conventional LED boards, Mediamesh also can use solar power.
Not all video display is big or loud, or particularly in your face. At Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Strip District, owner David Sunseri installed two 50-inch flat-screen TVs during the World Cup last summer.
"Being that I have a European and Italian clientele, I knew they'd be interested," Mr. Sunseri said.
Two years ago, Penn Mac began staying open on Sundays, so having the televisions on for Steelers games was a natural progression. On non-game weekends, the TVs are tuned to Italian DISH Network programming that includes cooking and other shows.
Mr. Sunseri said one customer complained the screens "took away from the ethnic look of Penn Mac," but "everyone else said they really like it."
Correction/Clarification: (Published January 13, 2011) David Leider is CEO of Gas Station TV, which is based in Birmingham, Mich. Mr. Leider's title, the company name and its location were given incorrectly in a story Sunday about digital out-of-home media.
Maria Sciullo: email@example.com or 412-263-1478.