The Wall Street Journal recently went shopping to see what it costs to ‘buy’ a sign in Times Square. What they found was that advertising on a Times Square sign is governed by real estate rules that preside everywhere else – location is key in the pricing hierarchy. Sign owners rent the space annually from the owners of buildings where the signs are physically attached. They pay hefty annual fees for the privilege of operating their signs in the priciest ad neighborhood in the world. Check out the costs:


image: Wall Street Journal

Forget Something Important?

Unfortunately, the WSJ numbers are only part of the cost of having a sign in Times Square. Those big published numbers can be a distraction when trying to list all the important stuff – the line items which are arguably the more critical factors in a digital signs success. The other key costs are:

– The Actual LED Sign itself (and installation)
– Content Design and Production
– Operations, Maintenance and Support

The price of these items can vary widely, but they are at the very least a significant percentage of the overall cost of operating a sign in Times Square. At Show+Tell, we’ve worked on projects where the cost of the LED sign hardware ranged from $200,000 up to many millions. Believe it or not, we’ve seen low cost (small, low quality or low resolution) screens create wonderful impressions. On the other hand, we’ve seen very expensive, large, high-resolution screens fall flat with uninspiring execution. The cost of the display hardware is in no way directly connected to the success of the final effect.

Content, the single most important factor in the attractiveness of a display, demands budgets from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of the content on the signs shown in the WSJ article really attract no more eyeballs than if the images were static, printed billboards – a real waste of the owners’ money – not to mention the missed opportunity costs. The best signs use great, eye-catching content to warrant their high-rent status. Great images and messages can overcome poor display location, size or quality.

Finally, there’s no replacement for a crack operations squad. Sign owners need their technology to ‘just work’, and in reality, no mission-critical technology ‘just works’ without some TLC. This care doesn’t have to be expensive, but unless sign owners want to learn about lots of computery-networking stuff, they sleep much better knowing this is taken care of by the pros.

Big Screens, Little Screens – Universal Truths

When looking for budget guidance, don’t forget the important stuff. We believe that a great display – no matter if it’s a Jumbotron in Times Square or a video screen in a shopping mall in Denver – can overcome a less-than-primary position with attractive, relevant and engaging content. My advice: go right ahead and buy the latest holographic 4D smell-o-vision video screen, just make sure you save some money for the video program. Your audience will appreciate it.


Read the WSJ article here.