Digital billboards, or signs constantly displaying electronic messages rotating every few seconds, have recently burst onto the advertising scene.
Since 2010, the number of digital billboards hoisted alongside U.S. roadways have boomed from 1,800 to 4,000, according to industry group Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
An unscientific Register poll determined there’s about 50 signs with electronic capabilities in Sandusky and Perkins Township. Gas price signs weren’t counted.
The signs — take, for instance, the one located at Kalahari Resort — project crystal-clear images by infusing parallel technology found in high-definition TVs.
But without a remote or off switch, these messages basically loop commercials that drivers have no choice but to glance at.
“Moving messages get noticed,” said Mark Morehart, an operations manager at Sandusky-based Brady Sign Co.
Morehart — who helps install, fix and communicate with companies making the signs — has worked with digital billboards for about 26 years.
Morehart estimates most local digital billboards cost anywhere from $15,000 to $300,000.
There’s also a $225 registration fee in Perkins Township to install such a sign, no matter the size. Most electronic signs are located on Milan Road, including Comfort Inn, Sonic and the Sandusky Mall.
But executives usually receive good value for the money spent on these “TVs on sticks.”
“It helps give you more exposure,” Morehart said.
Most digital billboards transmit messages to inform commuters about sales or products offered. But some agencies, such as Lake Erie Shores & Islands, advertise community events tourists might be interested in.
But many entrepreneurs also purchase electronic billboards because they’re convenient.
“We really enjoy the part about not having to go out in the winter time to change the letters by hand and climbing up ladders,” said Brenda Denman, owner of Lake Erie Gifts & Decor on Cleveland Road in Sandusky.
Critics contend there’s two main setbacks with digital billboards:
• They create an unwelcome big-city feel in small towns. Some people want to preserve the look and atmosphere of smaller communities.
Digital billboards just take away from a area’s uniqueness, much the way McDonald’s and Walmart do.
“Sometimes, I’ll hear people say ‘I don’t want my community to look like Las Vegas,’” Morehart said. “There is a place to have them and a place not to have them. But many people think that a 6-foot sign is the same as a 60-foot sign, and that is not the case.”
• They pose severe traffic risks by distracting drivers.
True, the signs can distract drivers — but not more than talking on a handheld device or snacking on a tasty treat while driving, Morehart argues.
“Regardless of whether you’re looking at an electronic billboard, dialing a phone or eating a sandwich, you owe it to the person next to you to be responsible,” Morehart said. “All of us want to drive to our destination safe.”