New Study Vindicates Use of Digital Place-based Media

published: 05/27/2010 Arbitron’s new research report not only describes the reach of digital place-based displays but also who’s viewing those screens. By Richard Lebovitz

Though hundreds of thousands of digital screens now exist in thousands of venues around the U.S., digital signage network operators have long strived to establish a common set of metrics to prove to prospective advertisers that 1. People are viewing the screens and 2. They are taking some action — usually buying something — as a result. Thanks to Arbitron Inc., we can now add to the growing library of digital signage effectiveness studies that research firm’s latest report: the Arbitron Digital Place-Based Video Study 2010.

In a nutshell, this significant new study reports that 70 percent of U.S. residents aged 12 or older have viewed a digital video display at one of 18 measured venues during the past month. That translates to approximately 181 million people.

From another perspective, 52 percent of the population, or 135 million people, have viewed a digital video display during the past week.

Moreover, 47 percent of those who noticed a digital place-based video display during the past month also recalled seeing an advertisement on the screen.

But even more supportive of the advertising impact of digital signage is that 19 percent of those who saw an ad have made an unplanned purchase after seeing an item featured on the screen.

Additionally, in one of the study’s more surprising findings, digital place-based video screens dominate the most prominent forms of new media and marketing platforms. For example, more American teens and adults have seen a digital video screen at a public venue during the past month (70 percent) than have watched online video (43 percent), and that includes such sites as YouTube and Hulu, according to Arbitron (
Figure 1).

What makes the new Arbitron study even more interesting, however, is the comparative information it provides for each of the 18 measured venues. This information especially argues for the concept known as “life pattern marketing.”

As described by Monte Zweben, chairman and co-founder of SeeSaw Networks, in his “Life Pattern Marketing White Paper,” life pattern marketing is the practice of placing companies’ brand messages on digital displays located where people are out and about, living their daily lives. They could be filling their tank at the gas station, dining out at a restaurant, shopping for groceries or participating in some other activity along the path they travel while outside their homes.

What the Arbitron study shows is that not all place-based locations are equal. For example, if an advertiser wanted to target the largest possible numbers of viewers, he would most likely find them in one of the top five ranked venues, which range from grocery stores to movie theaters (
Figure 2). But then he’d also need to determine whether the intended advertising fits the demographic profile of the viewers in that venue.

In grocery stores, for instance, there’s a high concentration of teens and young adults and people with children living in the household, as indexed against the general population. By comparison, stadiums and arenas, according to Arbitron, deliver a high concentration of men, affluent consumers, teens and adults, and people with college degrees.

Beyond its deep dive into digital place-based media viewership, the Arbitron study also provides a glimpse into the untapped potential for digital signage deployment. “When a new TV channel launches, it doesn’t increase the number of viewers,” said Diane Williams, senior media research analyst at Arbitron Inc., during the webcast in which she presented the new study. The reason, Williams explained, is that television now has a penetration of about 98 percent of the population. In constrast, “when venues install new video screens, they have the potential to increase the audience overall,” she said.

In other words, the deployment of more screens should actually increase the viewing audience from its current size, which translates into considerable upside potential for the medium. Using the grocery store example once again, only 31 percent of the 232 million monthly visitors indicated that they had viewed a digital video display (
Figure 3). Therefore, deploying screens in stores where digital signage currently doesn’t exist should increase the viewing audience.

Likewise, if one wants to read between the lines, the findings suggest other opportunities for growth from stores with existing deployments, including the addition of more screens, more optimum placement of screens, the use of different size screens for different applications (i.e., checkout, end cap, shelf, etc.), and last but not least, the use of compelling and relevant content.

Also, because the survey only took place during the first quarter of 2010, it doesn’t account for seasonality, which might affect the size of the viewing audience in such locations as transportation hubs or entertainment venues, where traffic surges during the summer, Williams said. Also, as the survey only covers 18 types of venues, the actual place-based media audience can probably be assumed to be larger than reported.

Conducted in partnership with Edison Research as part of an initiative that began in 1998 to research the impact of new media, the research firms launched the current study via telephone interviews between Jan. 25 and Feb. 22, 2010. According to Williams, the 1,753 completed surveys were nationally projectable to the full U.S. population aged 12 or older, as reflected in the data.

As previously stated, the report adds to the growing body of knowledge about digital signage effectiveness. While it provides advertisers and network operators much of the information they need to support the use of digital place-based screens as an advertising vehicle, it also may point the way for technology providers trying to identify the next best installation opportunity.

Richard Lebovitz is the editorial director for To contact him, email:

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