New York City has many well-deserved nicknames—NYC, The Big Apple, Gotham, The Capital of the World—because it’s a global crossroads, a metallic monument of human achievement and the center of the universe as modern civilization knows it. That said, what better place is there to begin the largest unified rollout of digital displays in history?
The project is called LinkNYC, and it’s the result of a public-private partnership between the City of New York and CityBridge, a NYC–based consortium of leading experts in technology, media, connectivity and user experience that includes Intersection, Qualcomm and CIVIQ Smartscapes. LinkNYC will replace 7,500 obsolete payphones with interactive and durable structures known as Links over the next few years. These gray, black and white monoliths provide information services, phone charging, fast and free Wi-Fi up to 100 times faster than your average public network with a range of up to 150 feet and vibrant screens for a mix of public service messaging and advertising.
CityBridge was awarded the franchise by the De Blasio Administration from a myriad of competitive RFPs in 2014. Since its official launch in January 2016, the collaborating parties have installed 330 links between Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens and will be expanding to other boroughs soon.
Digital Signage Connection caught up with Dave Etherington, Intersection’s Chief Strategy Officer, to get a progress report of sorts as the companies tabulate the feedback they’ve received from the beta phase of LinkNYC’s initial rollout.
“It’s been a fast-paced year,” said Etherington, “And we’re in a great place. There were more than one million Wi-Fi sessions in the last week, and there’s a tablet that runs on a secure Android operating system in each link that accounts for more than 50,000 sessions per week … about half of which are phone calls. Right now, in the beta phase, we can experiment with the right brightness at different times of the day as well as with the volume of the speakers above the tablet’s audio jack.”
As this gigantic undertaking develops, LinkNYC is expected to generate more than half a billion dollars in digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising revenue for New York City and will provide the freedom for CityBridge to continually update the Links.
“This is mostly about urban equalization,” Etherington explained, “LinkNYC is the largest rollout of digital displays anywhere in the world, so it is an investment—a service not unlike YouTube or Google Maps that quite literally levels the playing field of New York City, and can afford to do so because of the money from advertising. But, beyond revenue, the objective is to make metropolitan areas more egalitarian and easier to live in. Wi-Fi is the first example that springs to mind, because it’s literally there now for people who can’t afford Internet.”
Another fascinating repercussion of leveling the playing field with LinkNYC is that the kiosks essentially reflect back what the community is feeling as a whole. For example, a recent campaign came from the MillerCoors’ Coors Light brand, which used location-based Shazam data to populate top-10 playlists on the LinkNYC platform for each neighborhood. This campaign became extraordinarily revealing the day after David Bowie unexpectedly passed away from liver cancer. In addition to being a beloved pop/rock icon and androgynous shapeshifter for almost five decades, Bowie and Somali-born model wife Iman were New York locals for nearly 20 years. Shortly after news of his death circulated, playlists on many of the Link kiosks lit up with the greatest hits of the Thin White Duke. For any corporate observer, it’s fairly easy to see how this kind of location-specific consumer data functions as a fantastic blueprint for ad programming down the road. So what does the future look like for LinkNYC?
“We’re in the process of determining what the next steps are in terms of hardware and software upgrades,” said Etherington. “For instance, what role will sensors and voice activation play in the future? Other ideas include video calls and even outfitting the Link kiosks with a polling capability.”
At the moment, LinkNYC boasts more than 350,000 registered users. Seeing the initial benefits of the official launch, almost every major city around the globe has been banging down the door to receive a similar technological makeover, but news about where the Links will actually arrive next has yet to come down the pipeline.