AV on the move

After recently looking into the use of AV systems in the transportation venues sector it seemed only natural to take things one step further and look at how audiovisual technologies are being used on the vehicles themselves. Steve Montgomery reports.

With the massive expansion of digital signage providing out-of-home advertising and information that we have seen over the past few years in high streets, retail centres, transport terminals and entertainment venues, it is somewhat surprising that there are so few mobile systems. There have been some, basic installations on trains, trams, buses and taxis and one or two that appear to be well established, but none that have created as much impact and been as long lasting as some of those in the busier locations in city centres. Those that have been installed have been largely pilot systems that are used for short periods before being removed or replaced; or at best struggling to find a good business case and justification. However, it appears that this situation is likely to change, with the introduction of some reasonably sized bus and train installations and the growth of taxi systems in major cities.

The statistics are impressive. One in depth independent study undertaken to establish the business case for a taxi system found that the average length of trip in Edinburgh is 5 to 15 minutes, half have more than one passenger, 90% watched the screen for most of the time, 90% are between 18 and 54 years old and 40% have incomes exceeding £30,000 per year. In London, not surprisingly, journey times are longer, and each cab carries nearly 20,000 passengers each year, half of them professionals travelling on business journeys. Strikingly, the same research showed that unprompted recall of pilot advertising showed phenomenal response: viewers remembered 7 out of 12 adverts. Similarly, bus travel in London takes on average 34 minutes per trip, and. Lets face it, there isn’t a great deal to see when you are moving slowly along congested roads, so any distraction or point of focus is a welcome one.

Until recently, the major constraint to installation of these types of system was the inability to provide up to date content whilst on the move. However with the advent of 3G network transmission it is now possible to download fresh content on a regular basis. Motional Media has begun the roll out of such a system, installing pairs of screens on buses in London and Birmingham and are currently completing the first stage of what is to be a nationwide system with up to 9000 screens in Britain’s major cities. Ian Scott, the company’s Marketing Director: “We currently have installations on 300 buses in London and a further 200 in Birmingham. Each screen displays a 15 minute rolling sequence from a media player installed in the bus that is updated every time the bus returns to the depot by means of a wireless LAN. The content has been developed to offer a community channel feel, with a mixture of national and local news, weather and entertainment. Advertising takes up 25 to 30% of the time. Crucially the system offers interactivity to get active involvement from passengers, rather than just passive observation; for example, we have advertising from local shops that invite passengers to text for money saving offers, recruitment advertising aimed at passengers and locations, as well as the chance to blog messages onto the screens, although these are vetted at our central location before being displayed.” Given that Avanti Screen Media, one of the country’s largest media sales agencies, is involved, it is highly likely that this system will succeed and grow rapidly.

LEDs are used on the outside of buses for impact and communication. Jon Lewen of CBS Outdoor is responsible for installing LED lighting and matrix displays on a fleet of 30 buses in London: “Discrete LED lamps were used to publicise the Mission Impossible 3 film tracing the outline of an advert and the Mission Impossible 3 logo. They were also used to provide a twinkling effect for the film Nanny McPhee. There are also LED panels with messaging capability to support static logos that have been used successfully to advertise Virgin Media, Thomson Holidays, Lastminute and Yell. They are linked to GPS systems so that the message can be coordinated with the bus’s actual location to run adverts for restaurants in a specific area for example.” The screens themselves are developed by production company Hive Associates in association with their technology partner Light Logic. Marc Edmunds explains the reason: “We have designed the LED matrix using specially designed LEDs with superior viewing angles in a unit that is only 19mm thick, driven from a PC source using flash and animated GIF. There was no suitable available product at the time we started on the project five years ago.”

Audio is not provided on buses due to its intrusive nature, however in the closed and equally captive environment of city cabs it is. Two competing companies currently offer black cab infotainment systems in the UK: Cabvision in London, but with plans for a nationwide rollout and Cabtivate in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and elsewhere. Both offer a mixture of news, sport, weather and advertising. Cabvision has user selectable multichannel entertainment interspersed with 3 minute advertising clips. News and information is downloaded via DAB within the M25 area. Nigel West, Cabvision’s Managing Director: “We pioneered this system starting four years ago and it is achieving acceptance from both advertisers and viewers, mainly due to the general growth of digital signage and in particular the investment in digital specific departments in the large advertising agencies, which has generated a large volume of repeat business. Advertising costs between £10,000 and £100,000 and there is an opportunity to have spot adverts or your own dedicated channel, which two of our clients currently do. We can also produce and tailor the technology and content for special events; for example in the summer we showed live scores from Wimbledon , coupled with an IBM’s channel showing IBM's business innovations, aimed at an ABC1 audience .”

Cabtivate is an information, entertainment and advertising system updated through GPRS and WLAN networks. Mark Greenhalgh, Management Consultant to Cabtivate Networks: “There are around 35000 black cabs in the UK, carrying mainly social and business passengers, each interested in information and news during a boring taxi ride. The model is to fund the displays through advertising and to pay cab owners a fee to carry the unit.” Mark is also MD of Tapinto who will make this concept available to network operators globally to provide local passengers with local information, services and offers: Updated using 3G the system is completely scaleable. “Tapinto allows passengers via Bluetooth communication to download to their mobile phones; map information, free games and special offers. It has been successfully deployed in Edinburgh with a central operations centre to download content and collate passenger responses.”

There are several examples of established train borne AV systems. Heathrow Express which carries in excess of 5 million passengers per year between Paddington and Heathrow has an exclusive Express TV service, featuring BBC World News and weather, with all content, including entertainment, customer information and advertorials updated twice daily. Graeme Hay, Commercial Manager explains: “We originally developed Express TV as part of the overall passenger experience and brand to provide a calming, informative environment with a level of entertainment, for which it has been very successful. Customers tell us that the 15 minutes spent on the trains is enjoyable, rather than a travel experience that has to be endured. So it is proving to be a element that differentiates our product offering. We have spent a lot of time establishing the mixture and type of content that is effective, and that is, I believe, one of the reasons why other operators have failed to make it successful. In 1998 when the system was devised, we were the only operator with onboard TV and it has grown and developed over the intervening period to what it is today. It is very useful as a platform for the addition of other features and facilities; such as service and safety announcements, although it justifies itself on entertainment and brand promotion grounds alone.”

An important aspect of the provision of audiovisual systems on transport vehicles is the requirement and legislation to provide accessibility, particularly through audio systems to passengers who may be hard of hearing. Julian Pieters, MD of Ampetronic: "Accessibility on transport is required by legislation as it is in public buildings; wherever it is reasonable to provide it. The benefit to the hard of hearing is often even greater, due to the high level of background noise, and the important nature of the audio announcements. It is simple to provide through use of induction loops and Ampetronic has installed systems in taxis, trams, buses and boats. Several countries are engaged in projects to roll out induction loop systems in their public transport networks over the next couple of years, and we will see this becoming increasingly standard. Visual indications have been widely adopted but are only capable of communicating scheduled, predictable information. Use of visual indicators still excludes hard of hearing people from access to PA announcements, safety information, and any two way communications such as passenger - driver communications."

Mitron Oy in Finland supplies a whole range of vehicle and station display systems to the transportation industry. The company’s approach is to combine announcement, display, entertainment and video surveillance systems into a single system, linked to GPS navigation so that passenger information can be presented in real time, based on the actual location of the train and using GPRS and wireless LAN to update it. Utilising Ethernet, UIC, RS 485 and fibre optic communication networks, the system is able to deliver material from different sources including DVD, CD, announcements, generally using MPEG2 format within and between coaches. A system has been installed in Finnish railways to provide entertainment through a total of 1700 TFT displays on over 130 carriages.

In Germany, passenger TV is provided by Stroer, including non-stop ‘infotainment’ on 1,008 single monitors in the Hamburg underground system and on 864 double monitors in Hanover’s urban railways. Passengers can watch the latest news, weather forecasts, culture tips and passenger information plus 25% advertisements on the high-resolution, computer-controlled flat-screen monitors. Bernd Hoedtke: "Because of the current cost of equipment, financing by marketing income alone is not economical. The Ströer-Group is acting with local transport services in Hamburg and Hannover as collective public-private-partnership and has been able to collect wide experience in operation and marketing of such systems within the last years. The equipment is financed by the transport services, marketing and content is the responsibility of the public-private-partnerships. Data transmission into the vehicles is made by W-LAN, DAB or UMTS. We believe that current LED information displays will be replaced by LCDs in the next few years, providing all short-distance public transport vehicles with marketing, information and entertainment for the passengers”.

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