High-Tech Video Displays Put Denver Int'l at Forefront of Digital Advertising

Ken Wysocky
Published in: 

A new digital video advertising program at Denver International Airport (DEN) is expected to boost the airport's ad revenue by about 40%, grossing $95 to $100 million over the next 10 years. A blend of advertising and custom content is displayed on an eye-catching array of large, high-definition monitors - the largest digital footprint of any North American airport, say DEN officials.

"Our new state-of-the-art advertising program gives businesses the opportunity to showcase their brands in new and creative ways to more than 50 million passengers a year," says John Ackerman, DEN's chief commercial officer. "We pump that advertising revenue right back into the airport."

Under the terms of a 10-year contract, Clear Channel Airports paid for the $8 million digital-platform installation and will receive 32.5% of the ad revenue it helps create. DEN retains the remaining 67.5% of ad revenue.

"We can essentially raise revenue three ways: borrow money, charge the airlines higher fees to land here and lease gates, and earn money from parking, advertising, food and beverage concessions," Ackerman explains. "We're trying to shift as much as possible into that last bucket and optimize revenue from non-airline sources.

"That, in turn, reduces the need to borrow money, and we don't have to charge airlines - which are very cost sensitive - as much. And if we charge airlines less, they may respond by adding more flights, which is good for the city, the region and our customers."


Project: Digital Advertising Program

Location: Denver Int'l Airport

Cost: $8 million

Funding: Clear Channel Airports

Components: Four 26-foot video tower displays,
100+ LCD screens, 8 ultra-thin bezel video walls

Projected Ad Revenue: $95 to $100 million
over next 10 years

Ad Revenue Split: 67.5% airport; 32.5% Clear Channel

Equipment Manufacturers: Mitsubishi; Planar Systems

Timeline: Early 2012 - April 2013

Extreme Advertising Makeover

The new equipment adds a Times Square-like visual flourish to America's fifth-busiest airport. Four 26-foot, high-definition Mitsubishi LED screens are mounted in the central Great Hall and nearly 120 LCD screens, made by Planar Systems, are spread through the airport. Four of the LCDs are 70-inch, freestanding units located throughout Level Six of the Jeppesen Terminal. Eight ultra-thin, bezel-video walls hang overhead on soffits - two each in the post-security areas of concourses A, B and C, and two more in the main terminal.

In baggage claim areas, 42-inch touch screens, made by Meridian Zero Degrees, replace older phone boards. Now, passengers can connect with restaurants, hotels and car rental companies with the touch of a finger. They can also send information from the system to their mobile devices. The new displays replace about 250 individual media locations - primarily signs, banners, posters and the like.

Planning for the digital makeover began more than a year ago, as Clear Channel's advertising concessionaire contract with DEN neared the end of its 10-year term. The last significant upgrade to the airport's advertising program occurred in 1995, and officials wanted an upgraded ad platform to complement the facility's distinctive, award-winning architecture and design, Ackerman explains.
"Clear Channel wanted all their best technology in one place ... to make it a showcase," he adds.

Ryan Kovalchick, director of digital media at Clear Channel, stresses the importance of attracting the attention of airline travelers and other airport guests. Just as sports fans expect bigger and better high-definition scoreboards at stadiums and other venues, tech-savvy passengers expect state-of-the-art, razzle-dazzle visuals at large airports, he explains.

"Entertaining passengers is important," says Kovalchick. "Digital advertising is more attractive to advertisers and more interesting for consumers - especially large-format advertising."

The four giant video screens in DEN's Great Hall serve as the centerpiece of the airport's new digital program and are the largest digital displays in any American airport, he notes. Each weighs about 3 tons, and is attached by custom-made 3/8-inch steel mounting brackets, bolted on through the 6-inch-square steel tubing that supports the elevator infrastructure. The bottom edges of the giant screens are 20 feet above the hall floor.

Each of the towering screens is actually comprised of 120 smaller high-definition monitors; sleek, beveled edges on each monitor create the visual impression that the collection is one giant screen, explains Leah Older, DEN's director of commercial operations and analysis.

Similarly, the ultra-thin, bezel-video displays that hang on soffits are formed, puzzle-like, from smaller LCD screens. The number of screens varies according to the size of the soffit.

While the four tower screens display the same content simultaneously, other screens scattered throughout the airport can broadcast different content at the same time. The four tower screens run one-minute loops of advertising that contains six 10-second spots, followed by 30 seconds of visually soothing video art, such as scenic landscapes and experimental videography, Kovalchick explains.

"We've commissioned art by blue-chip video artists, and we also display public-service announcements and tourism information," Ackerman adds. "People are reacting well to it, because it's not just static advertising messages. It's dynamic and active."

Before the new digital displays were installed, about 98% of DEN's advertising was static, he relates. "The newer approach is more interesting for consumers, and it catches their eyes and delivers messages more effectively, which is the whole point of advertising."

Non-advertising content can be customized to individual markets, notes Kovalchick. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, for example, features segments about Louisiana cuisine. At Dallas Love Field, messages highlight the area's western history.

"This approach gives airports something of their own - helps them feel invested in the program," he explains. "And as an added benefit, it turns passengers into tourists by motivating them to go out and explore the community."

Clear Channel recommends using positive programming in between ads, so passengers aren't bombarded with negative messages, such as newscasts that often contain downbeat information.
"We wanted programming that enhances the aesthetics of the facility - digital art that creates a soothing, ambient feel in between the advertising," Kovalchick says.

Less Ads, More Revenue

In designing the new advertising approach, DEN and Clear Channel took care not to overwhelm passengers with a dizzying volume of messages. In fact, the airport reduced its advertising locations by 30%, reports Ackerman.

"The whole point of ads is to get people to absorb a message," he explains. "We didn't want visual clutter, so we reduced the amount of advertising. What's left is more valuable to advertisers, so we can charge a higher price. It's basically quality versus quantity."

The less-is-more strategy appears to be working. Although DEN is running fewer overall messages, advertising revenue for the first half of this year is running ahead of last year - and the program isn't fully implemented, Ackerman notes.

The new digital format also allows advertisers dramatically more latitude to adjust their messages. Previously, with printed banners and posters, it took a month or two to change a campaign. But with digital media, it can occur much more quickly - "with the click of a computer key," is how Ackerman describes it. The new speed allows advertisers to be nimble and offer fresh, new messages that are more immediately relevant to consumers, he explains. And eliminating the printing of vinyl posters and banners allows the airport to offer advertisers a more eco-friendly medium.

"We also can create a dominant ad package for a specific portion of the airport," Older adds. "For example, if Southwest Airlines wants ads in a specific security area, we can do that. It's very easy with a digital platform."

Hassle-free Project

Although DEN's massive makeover left virtually no part of the airport untouched, officials say it progressed smoothly without any major setbacks. Much of the work required installation of additional data cables throughout the airport, so Clear Channel coordinated contractors and scheduled work to occur in stages to minimize loss of concession revenue and reduce passenger inconvenience, Older notes.

DEN engineering teams worked closely with Clear Channel, particularly on the details of attaching the four large LED screens to the Great Hall elevator towers. "It wasn't just a matter of using four drywall anchors," Ackerman quips. "A lot of engineering went into that."

At the mid-point of its new 10-year contract, Clear Channel is required to pay for refurbishing the digital program's hardware, which has a useful life expectancy of five years, Kovalchick notes.
"We believe we'll see more of these (digital advertising platforms)," he says, noting that the company is talking with other major airports about upgraded programs. "It makes a lot of sense for airports. We see it as a trend."

Free Phone Service

Getting caught with a dead cellphone battery, or traveling without a phone, can be a formidable challenge - except for passengers at Denver International Airport (DEN). Under the terms of a 10-year digital advertising agreement with the airport, Clear Channel Airports and its partner RMES Communications installed about 280 landlines that provide free domestic and international phone service.

There's no time limit on local and national calls. International calls are free for the first 10 minutes, and then cost 25 cents per minute, plus a 15% tax. The program is supported by 15-second advertisements that run on 17-inch LCD video screens on a panel above the dialing pad of the corded telephones. 

"Passengers can literally pick up a phone and dial France or Egypt - more than 190 countries around the world," explains John Ackerman, DEN's chief commercial officer. "While you make a call, you're watching ads on a video screen. We think it's really unique and novel."

While Ackerman acknowledges the ubiquitous use of cellphones, he considers the free landline service a valuable perk for customers who do not have a mobile phone, are traveling abroad or simply need to recharge their phone's battery.

"This is another example of how we continuously look for ways to enhance the customer experience and provide world-class service," he adds. "This service offers travelers the ability to call most areas of the world for free, connecting customers with loved ones and business partners around the globe."



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