Electronic screens: New media or electronic reality

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov
Deputy chief editor - Michael Nikulichev

Sooner or later forecasts of science fiction writers come true. Orwell’s Big Brother invades personal life of citizens through pervasive TV screens that are interactive and capable of immediate feedback. We are not here to judge whether this is good or bad. But we can state a fact of life: the influence of mass media on the general population grows exponentially. People wake up with the radio alarm clock, gulp breakfast while watching early morning TV shows, drive to work listening to various FM stations, stay glued to PC screens at work while occasionally venturing into Internet, spend quiet family evenings watching TV non-stop etc. As if this were not enough, the aggressive commercial advertising attacks people outdoors demanding that they buy, attend, subscribe…

It may seem strange but people managed to ideally adapt to this incessant flow of mostly meaningless information, and ask for more. We are scared of silence, we hate emptiness. A broken TV or radio at home is equivalent to a little tragedy. And the fire at Ostankino TV tower in Moscow is a real tragedy of a huge megapolis. People in Russia do not know want to do with their time: long lines have disappeared together with the socialism, people confined themselves to city apartments, and TV became the only alternative to interpersonal communication. People are disgusted with long commercials but in fact are ready to watch anything until they fall asleep in front of a TV screen. The same is outside: a wall of a building without advertising seems strange and empty.

Meanwhile, salesmen know about it or guess right and continue to invent new ways of informational attack on our senses. It was calculated that up to 91 percent of all information people receive via visual channel, i.e. through eyes. So, if every day we are bound to spend part of our time outdoors, advertisers strive to “load” our visual channel to its full capacity.

Our magazine is devoted to electronic screens and displays. Naturally, this issue deals with them, too. Electronic screens are more effective than all other types of outdoor static advertising. They gradually spread throughout the world and throw bright commercial offers in our faces. You cannot miss them; dynamic bright animation hypnotizes and attracts our attention even from far away. A recent opinion poll in San Paulo (Brazil) revealed that 64 percent of respondents regularly and attentively watch information on outdoor electronic screens and practically disregard all other advertisements.

But advertising screen operators are never satisfied. They have a new task in mind: to merge separate advertising screens in a network. Naturally, networks provide new advertising opportunities. Outdoor electronic advertising is gradually getting more efficient, even comparable in efficiency with TV programs. However, at home people tend to resent commercials, while outdoors they welcome them as a necessary diversion. We watch the screen and feel satisfied. Because we are not wasting time, we absorb information, learn something new while waiting for the bus, or while waiting in a traffic jam.

From the point of view of advertisers or operators of electronic screens, a network of screens has one key advantage – reliability. Unlike traditional TV broadcasting, the network of screens is practically invincible. The recent tragic events at Ostankino TV center demonstrated this once again. This is what a popular Russian magazine “Dengi” (“Money”) wrote on 6 September 2000: according to the President of the Advertising council of Russia “last week many advertisers have changed their attitude to television as an advertising media”.

On the one hand, each advertising screen is a part of a network. But each screen remains independent, on the other. The network is constructed after the Internet principle: a separate screen and a group of screens (sub-network) operate autonomously. Thus, if the broadcasting control center goes out of operation, it does not affect operation of individual advertising screens that automatically shift into the local broadcasting mode.

Walk along the central streets of the European and North American cities. Practically all space 2 meters above ground is bathed in bright lights of the electronic advertising. Beautiful, bright, informative. This is new reality – reality of informational saturation.

Merged into networks, advertising screens become a new informational mass media that covers huge audiences. Initially screens were installed at busy traffic intersections. Today there is a new tendency towards placing advertising screens on crowded squares that are traditional meeting places for townsfolk. During holidays and festivities outdoor electronic screens turn into an important source of socially meaningful information when pure commercials give way to information provided by city authorities.

Russia is one of the few countries where outdoor advertising consists of commercials but is complemented with informative and reference video materials. The presence of socially valid information during advertising broadcasts affects the viewers and subconsciously increases their interest in watching the screen and perception of what they see. As a result, large electronic screens spread around the city become focal points for hundreds of thousands of people both during day- and nighttime.

For example, walking around Moscow one can see on the electronic screens the advertising of commercial goods and services as well as the news of popular Web-sites, schedule of performances in theatres and casinos, addresses of colleges and language schools, additions and novelties in the menu of popular restaurants and cafes, etc. As you see, lots of useful information in the on-line mode – both from the real world of business and from the virtual world of Internet. And all this information is readily available for every person walking or driving by.

The new informational reality is gradually saturating the life of our cities. More and more companies find resources for the installation of large advertising screens; the number of cities on the world map that can boast lively electronic advertising is steadily growing. Russia was traditionally behind the Western fashion. It is still behind the West as far as fashionable electronic screens are concerned. However, the tendency is unstoppable. The global Internet network weaves around the world with no respect for state borders or political orientation. The global networks of advertising screens are a matter of the near future. However, this future is advancing. We cannot afford to stay behind.