A billboard just for you.
December 23, 2002 10:52 AM   Subscribe

A billboard just for you. A new technology is being implemented in billboards that will pick up what radio station drivers are listening to and calculate what product to advertise. Is this a good thing, like Tivo, or should we call Adbusters? Some people thought the day would never come. What's the next step for marketers? Space Advertising??
posted by Espoo2 (22 comments total)
I wonder what they do if you're listening to a CD instead of the radio.

Hey, if it's a burned CD maybe they can be programmed to contact the RIAA!
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2002

If you're listening to a CD, they just flash ads that appeal to the "edgy, disaffected radio expatriots" market. Huge dollars there, HUGE.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:09 AM on December 23, 2002

One thing I don't understand about this program is that a typical freeway billboard has something like 100,000 cars pass by per day. How can they possibly customize the billboard considering that amount of traffic? This would only work on roads that are barely travelled, and would that really be worth it to the advertiser?
posted by cell divide at 11:16 AM on December 23, 2002

The system will assess the most popular radio station during a given hour and target the ads to those drivers.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:22 AM on December 23, 2002

cell divide - It seems like they would try to cater to what the majority of the drivers are listening to - i.e. if most people who pass the signs listen to country music stations, the ads will be for, ummm, beer and grits, while if the majority of people listen to conservative right wing AM talk radio, they'll advertise Lexus....
posted by CountZero at 11:25 AM on December 23, 2002

with 400 cars per minute at 70mph, that billboard is going to be trippy looking.
posted by quonsar at 11:29 AM on December 23, 2002

How can you pick out what channel a radio receiver is tuned to? The article refers to "radio waves 'leaked' from the antennas" but that doesn't really enlighten me. Anyone else understand the physics a little better?
posted by nickmark at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2002

all receiver's internal osscillators "leak" a bit.
posted by quonsar at 11:33 AM on December 23, 2002

with 400 cars per minute at 70mph, that billboard is going to be trippy looking

Well if its in LA, it's 700 cars per minute at 1mph.
posted by owillis at 12:06 PM on December 23, 2002

If I see ads for Coors Light on those billboards, I will pull off the road for my own safety. I imagine we'll still see the same old ad campaigns from the companies that will be able to afford to place ads on these things. They might be targeting the largest percentage of radio listeners, but that will probably be only a small percentage of overall drivers, given those who listen to CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, etc. Maybe radio djs will occasionally scream, "Hey, look at that billboard for product X!" just to freak people out.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:14 PM on December 23, 2002

I don't think these Billboards are going to be as interactive as some people posting seem to think. ; )
posted by stifford at 12:17 PM on December 23, 2002

well would you rather see billboards you care nothing absolutely nothing about or billboard that you only slightly don't care about?

that said, I'll be glad to shoot paintballs at the first one that springs up in my area.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:42 PM on December 23, 2002

They'll be pulled as soon as the first litigious person claims the billboard caused them to have an accident, heart attack, seizure or post-traumatic stress disorder.
posted by sillygit at 12:56 PM on December 23, 2002

Well, I was curious (and somewhat incredulous) about it, too. But apparently they really are monitoring the oscillators in the cars' radios. I didn't think their outputs would be strong enough to measure (they're not supposed to be broadcasting anything), but it appears the technology works and has been around for a while.

MOBILTRAK is the company that makes the monitoring devices. Their site has a list of articles about it in the left frame. This one talks briefly about the system, and it focuses on another application - placing the devices in shopping center parking lots. There's an interesting tidbit in there about 25-40 yr old white females listening to a hip-hop and hard rap station, but not admitting to it, while the station didn't even know they were reaching that market. This article (warning - ugly scanned GIF) gives a good overview of the technology. It helps to know how an FM receiver works, but it's not necessary.
posted by whatnotever at 1:37 PM on December 23, 2002

I'm not sure what the point is if you live in a Clear Channel city. They may as well just synch all their media and leave off the expensive technical doodads.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:38 PM on December 23, 2002

Yeah right, because the ad messages on radio or SO targeted (Hey - why are they playing a rap jingle on this country station?). Let's introduce a technical solution to enable a level of selective targeting most media buyers seem to flub even when they have a fairly good idea of who I am.

This is just dumb. Look at the Arbitron books, and figure that any given road is likely to be reflective of that. I don't believe that the taste/demographic breakdown on any given road is ever going to change enough to be worth it. You might get some fluctuation on various roads due to a correlation of where you live and work as a measure of relative affluence to taste. But, it certainly wouldn't change enough on a specific road to make sampling it across some small period of time worthwhile.
posted by willnot at 1:55 PM on December 23, 2002

I thought someone tried this before to calculate radio station ratings and it was ruled an illegal intrusion of privacy. The story says the users would remain anonymous. What's the difference between this and monitoring radio stations for ratings at traffic intersections?
posted by stevefromsparks at 2:01 PM on December 23, 2002

Paintballs?? So heated has been the response to convetional electronic billboards in Portland OR that on July 5, 1999, some vigilante pumped two shotgun rounds into the "StoreyBoard" at Northeast Broadway and 28th Avenue.
posted by marvin at 2:01 PM on December 23, 2002

Yeesh, as if those billboards that flip over every few seconds to display a new advertisement aren't distracting enough.
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 9:32 PM on December 23, 2002

I've heard that the technology used to detect what frequency your FM radio is tuned to is also used by the police in radar detector detectors.

For those who don't understand why your radio needs oscillators of its own, here's my understanding. I invite experts to correct me--I'm a computer scientist!

FM radio represents the vibrations of sound by taking a radio frequency (e.g. the 88.3 MHz of WRCT FM Pittsburgh) and slightly jittering it to match the sound wave. This is the frequency modulation FM stands for. To recover the sound from the broadcast signal, the radio in principle compares its frequency with a constant 88.3 MHz signal in our example and sends the residual jitter to the speakers as sound. Comparison signals are generated by a local oscillator in your radio (beware--simplification!).

Yes, it gets more complicated: usually instead of comparing the broadcast signal directly, the broadcast signal is combined with a signal generated by your tuner to generate an FM signal at a fixed intermediate frequency of 10.7 MHz (according to whatnotever's last link). This is called heterodyning and I'm sure there must be a good reason for it; anyway, the signal generated by the tuner (and then seeping out of your set) is the one the detectors will be looking for. The 10.7 MHz signal is finally the one that gets compared and converted into sound.

Interestingly, the tuner frequency is always higher than the tuned radio station's frequency, but not so high that the lower part of its range evades interference from the higher part of the FM band (ibid). This means that snooty listeners like me tuning into NPR, independent, and college stations will be harder to detect. Oh well, marginalization is our lifeblood.
posted by tss at 12:24 AM on December 24, 2002

thanks whatnotever for the great link, one thing that did catch my eye:

MobilTrak executives say that a car driving around a shopping center parking lot could potentially be counted by the device several times.

Sounds like it'd be fun to get a whole bunch of fm radios go out to a snooty mall and drive around for a few hours playing rap and changing the advertisers demographic really quick.
posted by NGnerd at 8:23 AM on December 24, 2002

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