The A.M.-P.M. Billboard
By Jeanette Borzo

(Business 2.0) – In 2002, Cincinnati's WCPO-TV was a ratings blip; now it's the No. 3 ABC affiliate in the nation. One big reason? A digital billboard on a local freeway. In a groundbreaking trial with Lamar Advertising in 2003, WCPO promoted different programming depending on the time of day. When early-evening news was plugged during the afternoon, ratings often spiked.

Now Clear Channel and Viacom are joining Lamar in selling digital signs in Cleveland, New York, and other cities. Made from LEDs, the signs let several companies share one space and target messages based on "dayparts." In the morning a department store could advertise a sale, and in the afternoon a bar might promote happy-hour specials. "We're moving from selling space to selling time," says Michael Hudes, executive VP for corporate development at Clear Channel Outdoor.

Lamar has converted 24 of its existing billboards to digital signs. By this summer Clear Channel hopes to have seven digital billboards up in Cleveland, and Viacom plans to unveil two in San Francisco this winter. Though the signs are sold in monthly increments, eventually the companies could sell space by the hour or minute. Breaking up the billboard's day should bring in big bucks. Clear Channel, for example, will charge advertisers $40,000 to share time on seven billboards for four weeks, compared with $10,000 for one standard billboard. Spending like that could revitalize the $5.8 billion outdoor market, now less than 3 percent of all ad spending. Watch this space. -- JEANETTE BORZO