Click Here


  Click on a tab below to view
  articles within channel topics

Banners and Stands


Digital Printing





Grand Format


Inks and Media


Wide Format


Upcoming Events

Signage in the City

Print and Digital Signage Shape Times Square

By Thomas Franklin

Before Faisal Shahzad’s botched fireworks thrust New York City’s Times Square onto the front pages, the teeming metropolitan crossroad was famous for its theaters and, of course, its wall-to-wall graphics.


It’s no secret why advertisers throng to the square. Roughly 364,000 visitors a day—or 728,000 wandering eyeballs—squeeze through its crowded streets, a number that’s grown 15 percent since 2008, according to the Times Square Alliance. Between 1982 and 2030, the volume of pedestrian traffic during peak hours is expected to grow an outstanding 500 percent.


In this rush of humanity, marketers are constantly muscling for eyeballs, making Times Square a hot spot in the out-of-home advertising market. It’s also a showcase for the display industry’s continuous evolution, as print and digital signs crowd the landscape.


The Digital Dawn

Digital signage is not new, least of all in Times Square. But this unique space provides new opportunity for continued innovation and experimentation for brand managers and marketers alike as they press towards the limits of what the digital signage medium can offer, says Harry Coghlan, president, Clear Channel Spectacolor. “It’s an environment that allows for experimentation. Times Square really is the laboratory for the out-of-home industry,” he continues.


Indeed, some of the same factors that attract marketers to digital signs—the ability to “day part” your message and make quick changes to key in on timely promotional messages, and the opportunity for multiple messages in a single platform—join with new opportunities afforded by this one-of-a-kind landscape.


First among the benefits of digital advertising in Times Square is full motion video, which is not permitted to be displayed by many roads or other locales. New digital signs in Times Square increasingly experiment with interactivity, observes Coghlan.


Digital signs also draw in onlookers with texting contests, polls, and games. “All of these features enhance the interactivity of the sign,” he says. Radio stations, for instance, began to leverage instant communications by streaming a rolling, “now playing” update to digital signs.


With the rise of digital, has print lost its edge? Absolutely not, shares Coghlan. “It is viable. Whether an advertiser chooses print or digital is going to depend on client preference and the nature of the statement. There are statements that need a 24/7 static presence.”

The growth of digital signage has not pushed aside print because in many instances the two formats are combined. “Every campaign in Times Square is customizable. If you’re looking for short term—where short is a few hours—go digital. If you wanted a few weeks, consider print,” notes Coghlan.


While agencies are comfortable with print, they’re still grappling with the digital medium. Many find themselves repurposing content for the digital format and end up taking more time and devoting more resources to digital signage, giving print a financial allure.


“Now we’re seeing agencies starting to take digital on from the planning stage of a campaign,” observes Coghlan. As for print displays, their effectiveness “really comes down to the content, it’s what you put into the creative.” A well-conceived concept is just as effective in print as it is in digital.


What does the future hold for Times Square and digital growth? Coghlan sees a happy co-existence. “I would not want to see Times Square fully digital. I think it needs the mix—whether it’s print or neon. I’m a bit of a traditionalist. You need a balanced landscape,” he admits.


In the overall print industry, one must consider the client. Providing different options—between print and digital—is a necessity to stay viable.


Print Heritage

If anyone is qualified to discuss trends in Times Square display advertising, it would be Wayne Sapper, owner, King Displays. Founded by his grandfather in 1938, the firm produced hand-painted signs for NY burlesque houses, cut outs for Madison Square Garden, and B&W airbrushed photographs.


Things clearly evolved from those days. Paint brushes were traded in for a wide range of large format digital printers including an EFI VUTEk QS3200, a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex XL1500—formerly the XL Jet, the latex-based HP Designjet L65500, the HP Designjet L25500, a trio of HP Designjet Z6100s, and an HP Designjet Z3100, among others.


But some things haven’t changed, explains Sapper, and that is the company’s commitment to New York City. A commitment he believes is critical to success in the bustling and hyper-competitive Times Square market. Today, the firm’s 8,000 square foot production facility sits on 52nd Street.

Even post-recession, real estate in one of the world’s largest cities isn’t cheap. But Sapper maintains staying put was worth it. “A lot of sign shops left Manhattan over the years, but we made the decision to stay. At the end of the day we’re a service business and the base of our clientele is here, it just made sense.”


One of King Displays’ mainstays is signage for the Broadway theater business—the company does 80 percent of the displays. Collaborating with some of Broadway’s powerhouse theaters is demanding work. “They work on a production for six months, but then hand us the graphics files on Thursday and want final prints—marquees, banners, under-slings, house boards, everything—by Monday,” he says.


One of the trickier aspects inherent in producing signs for the theater business is the duration of a show—flops can be tossed from a theater in a few weeks, while hit productions stretch out for years. Most customers expect the signage to last at least a year. But, Sapper says if the show is popular, the theater orders new signs anyway—to tour favorable press. Award season also brings the company a fresh opportunity to create signage to advertise nominations and later, actual awards.


In addition to the theater business, the company offers a range of services including vehicle wraps; electrical, magnetic, and dimensional signs; cut vinyl; window clings; aluminum signs; retail point of purchase displays; fine art reproduction; and archival-grade canvas prints. The company built and sustained its business based on a reputation for being cutting edge. “We print on anything—Duratrans, fabrics, wool, wood, Plexiglas, aluminum, and steel.”

The EFI VUTEk QS3200 is used for marquees, especially backlet. The key with backlit signage for Times Square is to make it look as good in the day as it does illuminated at night. "The QS3200 places three layers of ink, we lay down 60 percent in the first layer, a diffusing white in the middle, and 80 percent on the top. During the day, you see the first layer and at night you get the effect," explains Sapper.


This reputation for pushing the boundaries and staying ahead of the curve has lead the company into exploring PVC-free media, HP’s recyclable media, biodegradable products from Ultraflex Systems, Inc., and sustainable media and materials from a range of suppliers. The company now touts “green” solutions on its Web site. “People want to go green, if the green you’re talking about is the money they’re saving.” It’s not something that customers are banging down the door for, he admits.


Digital signs and new display technologies continue to extend into the outdoor display market, but Sapper believes print will always have a place. “A lot of digital signs have brands rotating in and out, but my clients only want to promote their show. Plus, the quality of a digitally printed image—the vibrancy and illumination—you can’t match that on an electronic display. You can’t get the detail.”



As much as New York City is a swirling mix of cultures and communities and Times Square a hub of national and international tourism, the graphics used to attract and hold attention reflect the evolution of the outdoor signage industry.


Even as marketers and agencies experiment with new interactive capabilities provided by digital signage, there remains a healthy appetite for the quality, value, and consistency of traditional signage. 

Jul2010, Digital Output

Home  |  Buyers Guide  |  Privacy  |  Reprints
Rockport Custom Publishing, LLC © 2003 - 2014