How does that digital billboard work?

May 2, 2012

On the south side of I-94 between Highway 16 and Pewaukee Road, a digital billboard stands near the office of its owner, Clear Channel Communications. Every eight seconds, a new ad flashes up on the board, advertising a local or national business, product or service.

The billboard on I-94 is one of 39 digital billboards owned by Clear Channel in southeastern Wisconsin, according to Joe Stribl, digital media manager. It's 14-feet tall by 48-feet wide, and contains close to four million light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which display a rotation of up to eight different ads each day.

The I-94 billboard was installed in November 2006. Ads shown on Clear Channel digital boards cost between $150 and $400 per day, Stribl said.

Each digital billboard is connected to space satellites, which send signals to the boards that control which ads are shown. The satellite connections enable the boards to perform some nifty tricks, like showing which song is currently playing on a specific radio station. A few seconds before a song is played, a feed from the radio station is sent up to the satellite, which sends the information to the board.

The billboards also receive temperature data, so ads can be programmed to change automatically based on what the weather is doing. Taco Bell, for example, could start a hot summer morning advertising its Frutista Freezes, then switch to a warmer food item if a cold front moves in.

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