Northern lights

AUTHOR: Inavate

Europe’s largest multi-advertiser screen, Manchester Gateway, has just set up home in the city’s premier location at Manchester Piccadilly Station. This 68.4m2 ‘super portrait’ format Lighthouse Technologies LED billboard is the brainchild of creative company City Gateway Media and offers something just a bit different from the norm.

The skyscraper screen introduces a new concept that pushes the boundaries of traditional outdoor media. Its super portrait design uses Lighthouse’s 12.5mm enhanced resolution panels, measures 3.6m wide by 19m high (the height of five double decker busses) and allows advertisers to broadcast content in any number of formats. It is positioned on an architecturally stunning structure in one of the UK’s fastest growing cities and boasts annual audiences in excess of 83 million, of which 72% are quoted as being ABC1: a fantastic proposition for potential advertisers.

The initial concept for the screen was the work of the founders of City Gateway Media, David Lamey and James Porter, who saw an opportunity to offer advertisers a unique proposition for broadcasting their message. More specifically, the founders were aware that the explosion of web-based advertising in portrait formats lends itself perfectly to the Manchester screen. Content is updated remotely from the City Gateway Media London office and, as well as advertising, time and temperature information is also displayed on the bottom portion of the screen.

“We considered traditional outdoor media formats,” says Porter, who is Financial Director for the company, “but were looking for something different, something that really pushes the envelope in that arena. We believe we have found the solution: a new format that gives advertisers the opportunity to do something unique, whilst not overburdening them with additional production costs.” The company has an in-house creative team that can take advertisers’ existing ads, whether they be posters, TV or web-based to create a new advertisement within an existing campaign, or advise a clients’ agency during pre-production of a new ad.

The screen was installed by system integrator GB Management under the direction of David Reading, who saw the project through from conception to delivery. “My brief was to fill an aperture of 4m wide by 19m high as closely as possible, with the base of the screen being about 15m up from the ground,” explains Reading. “City Gateway Media asked my opinion on lots of LED screens around the world, both in terms of architecture and the content they were showing. In my opinion a lot have lost revenue potential because they are becoming very stagnant and boring. They need high quality, regularly updated imagery to keep people’s interest.

“From the information I gathered, I was almost able to brief myself: what they needed was a screen that was as flexible as possible, with content that was also as fresh and flexible as possible. The shape of the aperture – and therefore the screen - immediately lent itself to being something different and eye-catching.”

Reading’s choice of product was, in large part, dictated by viewing distance and angles. “The Lighthouse screen fullfills this brief, is versatile and has good picture quality for both images and text,” he continues. “But vertical viewing angles were critical, as the screen is sited above street level. This is a half-million pound-plus project and I had to be totally confident that I had the right product.”

“Lighthouse was involved in the lengthy analysis of the viewing environment, the content and the budget,” adds its Northern European sales manager, Simon Taylor. “We were confident that the 12.5mm panels would provide an excellent solution. The result is incredibly attractive and we all feel it successfully demonstrates that unconventional advertising formats can be easily created with LED and have enormous financial potential.”

The screen can be used in its entirety, or separated into four individual screens, each showing different content. Processing is via the Lighthouse LIP-KX unit. “I’m the first person in the world to use the new processor, which I chose for maximum flexibility,” says Reading. “What you see is three separate images matching up, so the LIP-KX ensures there’s no bleed or overlap, which is critical. We’ve made the system integration very flexible, so whatever is asked for can be delivered. We have a webcam on the Malmaison hotel opposite the site, so the screen can be monitored via a wireless laptop at any time.”

Given the high costs associated with such a project, how do the figures stack up? “The Company’s expected ROI for the Manchester screen is within 24 months from commissioning,” Porter states. “Advertising on digital screens in the UK rose 15.8% in 2006 to £29.7m on a very limited number of sites. Only the growth in online advertising can match those levels.”

The Company says prospects for the Manchester screen are extremely encouraging and is actively seeking additional sites in major UK cities to expand and develop a network of digital advertising screens. “We are confident that the super portrait format will become a market leader in outdoor global advertising within 5 years,” says Porter. “And in using Lighthouse products we have the confidence that we can deliver.”