Outdoor ads: Scrolling along safely

B&T Weekly

July 26 2002



DRIVE or walk through the centre of Sydney and you will be sure to see the new 100 new street furniture offerings from JC Decaux-scrolling billboards.

The technology is not strictly new, with scrolling ads introduced into European markets as long as a decade ago, but they are the first of their kind in Australia.

The new billboards need to provide a commercial return for JC Decaux-which is believed to have paid $20m over 20 years for the tender for the street furniture in the City of Sydney jurisdiction.

While JC Decaux would not comment on the commercial specifics of the agreement with the City of Sydney for the new street furniture, B&T Weekly understands the additional revenue for the sites will be shared between the council and JC Decaux.

So it's a win/win situation for outdoor advertising and councils alike, right?

Not according to the CEO and chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia (PCA), Harold Scruby who is convinced the new sites-currently residing on city phone booths-will cost a pedestrian's life.

Scruby says the very effectiveness of the billboards illustrates their potential to distract drivers and kill pedestrians.

“I've never seen anything so dangerous,” he says of the positioning of some of the billboards near traffic lights.

“Do you have to be Einstein to believe it will cause an accident?”

Scruby is not new to voicing safety concerns over outdoor advertising in heavily pedestrianised areas of Australia's cities. A vocal critic of outdoor advertising, Scruby says the PCA is not against the medium per se, but has serious concerns about where ads are placed where ads are placed if they could endanger pedestrians.

The council, however, is seemingly unconcerned.

A City of Sydney spokesperson said it “had not been presented with any evidence” that the new scrolling billboards posed any threat to pedestrian safety.

“Mr Scruby said the same things about [street furniture] in
1999. We think he is speaking hypothetically. We see [street furniture advertising] as part of the cityscape these days,” the spokesman said.

A spokesperson for the Outdoor Advertising Association told B&T that research into the safety of outdoor advertising it had commissioned in the past showed “no nexus between road accidents and [outdoor ads]”.

For JC Decaux's part, managing director Angela Clark says she is not aware of any other concerns being raised over the new street furniture. She also says where evidence was presented to support safety claims, street furniture has been moved in the past to ameliorate concerns.
Clark says she fails to “see the logic” in Scruby's claims and says she is not aware of any safety issues arising out of scrolling technology used in Europe for the past decade.

“[Scruby's claims] are an attack on JC Decaux by a particular lobby group.
“I don't see how [the scrolling street furniture] is any different to anything else on the street,” Clark says.
“Drivers face a myriad of visual impacts. This is infinitesimal compared with what else is going on [on the street].”

Safety guidelines for outdoor advertising and street furniture are currently the responsibility of individual councils and Clark says JC Decaux works closely with the various councils to ensure its street furniture does not obstruct driver visibility, to the extent where the company inspects each site with a council safety committee to ensure the safety of each installation.

Outdoor advertising company AdShel is also planning to roll out scrolling billboards and says it is mindful of these safety concerns.

Marketing manager Anthony Xydis says it plans to roll out a total of 30 scrolling ad boxes in pedestrian railway locations in the CBD over the next two months.

But the question of research into the safety of the new format remains a vexed one. Scruby says there was a safety report commissioned two years ago by the RTA at the behest of the PCA by consultants Ove Arup. He claimed that while the RTA would not release the findings to the PCA, neither had it created guidelines for outdoor advertising as a result of the safety report.

A spokesperson for the RTA confirmed to B&T there were no plans to release the report and said there “wasn't anything relevant” to scrolling billboards in the report to warrant its release to the public.

There is little doubt that if scrolling billboards increase the yield of outdoor inventories, they're likely to become a common fixture of our cityscapes.