As a new digital advertising network launches, bringing commercial messages in full motion HD to London Underground commuters, Will Strauss wonders how far the technology can go.

Keen-eyed London-based readers of this column will have noticed new digital signage boards (flat-panel TVs connected via the internet, telephone lines, broadcast or satellite) appearing around the Underground this week.

If you've missed them, you're not based in the capital or you have the good sense to not use the tube, they are giant cross-track screens - the equivalent of 14 ft TV screens - that beam soundless commercial content in HD quality at 23 sites inside five of the busiest stations in the capital: Piccadilly Circus, Bank, Liverpool Street, Euston and Bond Street. The Euston site has been there as a test site for a while. But the other four are brand, spanking new.

This Cross-track Projection (XTP) project is being run by CBS Outdoor. It's a “revolutionary digital media opportunity” (apparently) and is a world first in terms of its screen size and sophistication (again, I cannot prove otherwise so we'll take their word for it).

What we do know is that the tube stations have been fitted with projectors and giant flat-panel screens, each linked to a new digital advertising network so that the advertisers can remotely update their messages on a 120' loop, at the ‘touch of a button.'

Coffee and TV

Nestle, Sky, Magners, Paramount, InBev and Dewynters have all signed up and will have their ads/promos shown at various times of the day. As an example, Sky News will use the morning slot to ‘advertise' to commuters at the time when “they are most keen to stay on top of the news agenda”.

I don't know much about marketing so I have no idea what the success rate of this form of advertising is - I imagine it's pretty good though - but from a technology point of view, it's a really interesting proposition.

Basically, the digital signage has created a new line of business for companies involved in broadcast technology. So much so that there is even a Digital Signage Zone at IBC this year.

According to IBC: “The market for Digital Signage is set to grow rapidly over the next few years. New research by NSR predicts that the number of Digital Signage sites (average 3 to 4 screens per site) will grow from 210,000 in 2007 to 850,000 by 2010, attracting advertising revenues of $2.7 billion.”

Tim Bleakley, who is the managing director sales and marketing at CBS Outdoor, is pretty convinced that this is a major development. He said: “The introduction of XTP is a landmark event for London media - I have no doubt in my mind that it is the single most significant media launch since Channel Five.” By that I presume he means for the advertising community. But it also offers new opportunities for content creators, application developers and equipment makers.

Interactive and three dimensions

I already know of several post facilities and multi-media production companies that do work for digital signage. It may well be that this new(ish) form of advertising becomes a big revenue generator for companies with content creation skills that usually do television advertising or programming. And, it could also be just as interesting on a creative level.

Why stop at HD, regular updates and a clever message? I think the screens could be interactive* so that the public can seek out further information about a product/service. And they could be in stereo 3D. Imagine walking up an escalator and seeing the advert coming out of the wall? That would grab my attention.

I am pretty sure technology will allow this. And producers and advertisers will definitely be able to come up with content that suits it. There's a whole new market out there. And it's literally staring you right in the face.

Got an opinion on Digital Signage? Have your say below.

*OK, maybe not the screens on the walls of tube tracks like in the picture as they're huge and far away and you'd break your neck trying to ‘interact' with them.