Digital Billboards: Buying Beyond Price

Back in 2006, when I was preparing for my first digital billboard deployment, I read every piece of marketing material, industry report and product description that I could get. Putting up one of these billboards was a big investment for my small company and I wanted to get it right. As with many business-related purchases, price was a big issue, but there were other issues that I felt were very important.

Since that first purchase, I have learned that the price of two digital billboards can be very different. With a purchase like this, you really need to understand the value of what you are buying in relation to its price. There are three factors that should take priority over price as you consider your purchase: reliability, image quality (not just from day one, but over time) and software usability.

Here is why I think each should be investigated carefully when you consider which digital billboard manufacturer to partner with.


Nothing makes me more upset than having to write credits to angry advertisers. In the billboard business, all we have to sell is time and space. If the advertiser’s ad is not displayed, that is billable time you will never get back. Because of this, reducing down-time on a digital billboard is extremely important. I have seen operators who saved $30,000 on the front end by purchasing a cheaper product only to write $50,000 in credits over the course of the first 24 months due to chronic display malfunction. If you are not sure of the reliability of the product line, be aware of the high risks.  

Image Quality

Often when a digital billboard is delivered and installed, it looks great. It is bright and crisp.  There are a number of manufacturers that can deliver on that.  However, the real test on image quality lies a few years down the road. Your digital billboard investment needs to display great images for 11-15 years. If the boards look tiled, quilted or dull after the first year or two, just imagine how bad they will look after 5-7 years. Take some time before you buy to look at units that have been in use for more than year to see how they look. 

Software Usability

One thing I did not consider when I purchased my first digital board was how the software worked.  I wrongly assumed that all companies had roughly the same software. I didn’t put that much value on this part of my decision. It turns out the software has become very important to me because I value my time. My time is best spent selling ads or finding additional site locations, not sitting in front of a computer fumbling through confusing uploads, day parts and scheduling. One company’s software can take 2 minutes to schedule a day-parted campaign where another company’s could take 20 minutes. Also, not all company’s software have the same capabilities. Make sure that you can deliver on the functionality that advertisers demand from digital by making sure the software can handle it.

See how other Watchfire digital billboard owners are making their mark in our industry guide to growing your billboard business. Download the story of three digital outdoor "Mad Men" as they make their fortune in digital outdoor.

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