Founded in 1902, Lamar has over 70 transit franchises that reach audiences across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico through billboards, digital billboards, bus shelters, benches and buses. Lamar operates over 150 outdoor advertising companies in more than 40 states and Puerto Rico. The company is also a leader in the highway logo sign business, with operations in 19 states and Canada.
In Vancouver, Lamar established Lamar Transit Advertising Canada to manage digital signage networks throughout the metro area. Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the fastest growing regions in North America, featuring an extensive public transit system called TransLink (officially recognized as the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority). The system includes ferries, buses, trains and subways and is used by over 562,000 average combined weekly commuters. Lamar Transit Advertising Canada entered a contract with TransLink which gives them the rights to handle all transit advertising for TransLink buses, trains, Seabuses and SkyTrain stations until July 2015, with an option for an additional five year extension on the contract.
The SkyTrain is already the longest automated rapid transit system in the world. In addition to the large number of residents in the metro Vancouver area who use the TransLink system on a daily basis, Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, adding a huge influx of passengers using the system. The TransLink public transit system was the main form of transportation for most visitors as it links the international airport to the city centre, local attractions, Olympic Village and sporting venues. The Games have been described as the ultimate test of a region's transportation planning and operations. More than 250,000 people, including athletes, officials, workers and spectators, were expected to attend the Olympics each day. Most of these people would ride the CanadaLine branch of the SkyTrain, which links downtown Vancouver with Richmond and Vancouver International Airport.
To meet the challenge, TransLink worked with all involved partner organizations to ensure an extraordinary transportation experience for residents and visitors during the Games. TransLink added the CanadaLine, 48 new SkyTrain cars, a third SeaBus, additional buses and many other improvements in anticipation of the increased traffic on the public transportation system. Part of the improvement plan included the addition of a digital signage system to:
- Aid in the efficient movement of a large number of people from one point to another
- Entertain passengers to reduce perceived wait times
- Inform passengers by delivering news, weather, sports, and other helpful content to passengers
- Provide viewers with access to real time transit rider information such as schedules or next arriving train, bus or ferry
- Display service announcements or security hazards that could interrupt or delay their travel plans
- Immediately deliver messages to all commuters in the event of a security threat or emergency situation
- Generate revenue through advertising to help offset the cost of the signage network
The digital signage provides commuters with information and entertaining content to help give them the best possible experience while using the public transit systems. The network includes over 170 46-inch LCD displays, in over 40 different stations. Screens are mounted in enclosures located both in and outdoors, on platforms and in terminals.
Omnivex Certified Partner, Conti, a full service audio visual system integrator, has been involved with the implementation of the network since it first began in 2007. Conti installed the digital signage hardware in the 16 new CanadaLine stations, as well as the retrofit to install digital signage in the 34 older stations on the Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines. At completion, the digital signage system included 160 46-inch LCD screens. "We were contacted by Lamar early on to provide a turnkey digital signage solution including hardware, software, system design, installation and services," said Colby Harder, president of Conti. "We felt that Omnivex software was the only platform capable of meeting Lamar's needs associated with managing such a large advertising network," said Harder.
Omnivex Display software was chosen for its ability to easily manage a very large network of screens in remote locations. The network operators have the ability to easily manage a very large network of screens from a remote location, with one unified content management system. The screens are divided into three segments in order to share all this information at the same time. Every screen in every station receives the same content from the head-end in Burnaby, BC. "The transit authority uses it to make wide area broadcasts of information," Harder clarified, adding that it's not broadcasting station-specific information. A separate LED lets commuters know expected arrival times for specific trains at that station. In addition to sharing news, sports, weather, transit information and advertising, the digital signage network also fulfills a very important function, one that those who built and run the system hope not to see in use very often. The network provides Amber Alerts and Red Alerts for abduction- and security-related situations, as needed. "That was a big motivator for the transit authority to install the systems, and it was also a big motivator in terms of getting federal funding for the project," Harder said.
In addition, Omnivex software provides Lamar with the tools to generate proof of play logs for their advertisers. A public FTP server is used so that advertising companies and other third parties can upload files to be displayed. These files are then vetted and moved to the Display Director servers and integrated into a layout. Lamar required a software platform that could prove when, where and how often ads are shown on their network. An important part of managing an advertising network is the ability to show advertisers when and where their ads play. Omnivex software provides Lamar with this functionality through proof of play logs for their advertisers.
The system is built on an advertising model, but using Omnivex it is possible to include space on the screens allocated to other pertinent information related to travel. Using Omnivex, Lamar has the ability to permission certain user groups to have access to post messages and alerts on certain parts of certain screens. A unique feature of the system is that it has real-time emergency messaging capabilities to instantly notify passengers should a problem arise. While Lamar manages the regularly scheduled content on the screens, various operational departments within the transit authority have the ability to post alerts and service announcements to desired screens. Using Omnivex software, different levels of notifications can be sent to any of the screens remotely by these groups, such as the police and fire departments, without Lamar's involvement. Depending on the type of alert (blue, amber or red), either a part of the screen or the entire screen will display the emergency/security information. Specific individuals have the ability to instantly update select screens on the digital signage network with emergency messages and service alerts on the different transit lines. This meant that either those select individuals had to be able to access the designer console from anywhere to update the content, or some other content-triggering mechanism was needed to update the content from anywhere and at anytime. Lamar did not want various groups having access to potentially cause problems with their regularly scheduled content, so they looked to Omnivex for an alternative solution.
Using Omnivex WebPad Lamar is able to provide specific user groups with restricted access to update content messages within the system. These messages can be deployed system-wide or to specific screens at specific stations, depending on the user's status within the system. A message can also pass through an approval process, being rejected or accepted by an intermediate staff member, who will ultimately decide what appears on the screen.
Omnivex software allows Lamar to utilize the built-in diagnostics of the hardware devices on the network to provide status feedback. Omnivex Control manages all available device functions for remote screens and computers from a central location with real time status information. Daily routines can be automated and the system can be configured to automatically react to any information received from any device. By using Omnivex Control software, the network operator is able to monitor the health of their entire digital signage system and be alerted should a failure occur with any of the related hardware. For example, if a screen were turned off by someone, the software would automatically turn the screen back on, but if it was unable to do so, it would send an alert to the network operator to make them aware of the problem. This feature saves the operator hours of time because they have a clear indication that all of the hardware at all of the stations is on and working properly without manually monitoring it. In addition, the software can turn the hardware off during certain times of day, and then power it back on, prolonging the life of the equipment. Great content will not have any impact on potential viewers if the device to be displaying it is turned off or malfunctioning. Omnivex Control also gives Lamar's advertisers peace of mind that their ads are actually being shown when and where the proof-of-play logs say they are playing.
Phase 1 of the Lamar Commuter Digital Network digital signage system has been in place since 2007. The final phase of the project was completed in August 2009, three months ahead of schedule, leaving more than enough time for test runs and troubleshooting before the Olympics began. The complete system will be in place with Lamar managing it for a minimum of 11 years. Lamar has continued to expand the system, with the newest phase being deployed on the recently completed CanadaLine. Omnivex software is fully scalable, allowing it to expand as Lamar's Vancouver network was rolled out in different phases. "We now have Canada's only full system rapid transit network, the Lamar Commuter Digital Network," said Byron Montgomery, Lamar's vice president and general manager. The digital signage network is a captivating medium that grabs the attention of viewers through relevant and visually stimulating content, which is constantly updating.
The digital signage system was an invaluable resource in communicating with the thousands of visitors to the Olympic Games as they moved throughout the region on the public transit systems. The signage helped to guide passengers to ensure an efficient flow of well informed people throughout the transit system. It also helped to reduce the need for additional people to be located throughout the transit system to guide passengers to the correct buses, trains, subways and ferries. The system proved to reduce confusion and possible anxiety of the visitors moving throughout the Vancouver area, thus giving them a better overall experience while in Canada.
Lamar, in conjunction with the help of the BC Transit Authority, funded the initial deployment of the digital signage network. Lamar is able to maintain the network by selling advertising space on the screens in 3 - 10 second ad placements. Ads run network wide every 6 minutes, up to 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. With an average of 562,000 combined weekly passenger boardings, the screens receive an enormous number of impressions. Selling advertising space on this reliable network has been a huge success for Lamar. Of the over 50 current advertisers, there has been a 100% advertiser renewal rate after 2 years of the system being in place. Lamar even has a waiting list of many more advertisers who would like to participate.
Byron Montgomery summed up the project and its future implications, by saying: "I strongly believe this project was a huge success. The digital signage technology reaches out to the commuters in an innovative and contemporary fashion. We look forward to using more digital signage applications in the future."