Web Feature | Billboard Confidential

Behind the Billboards

Karen Foshay, producer of "Billboard Confidential," shares a few thoughts about her segment — and the state of LA's public advertising.

Having been born and raised in LA, I never gave much attention to billboards. They were always just there, like traffic and smog. A few years ago I was working with a photographer who had just moved to Los Angeles from Virginia. When I asked him how he liked LA, he said, “I just can’t get used to all of the billboards everywhere.” I chalked his comments up to that of a lifelong country boy who is now living in the big city. But then I thought about it some more… So many of the great cities and towns in America aren’t blanketed in billboards — so what happened to LA? Why can’t someone stop it?

Back in April, the LA Weekly did a fantastic piece on the billboard industry in LA. Why weren’t people talking about it? What could I do to advance the story? When I got hired at Socal Connected, the first story I pitched was an investigation into the billboard industry. Frankly, there is a part of me that regrets pitching the story. I can no longer drive down the street without noticing billboards. They are everywhere - big ones, small ones, bright ones, ugly ones. I catch myself wondering what a café might look like if it didn’t have three billboards on its roof. My boss thinks I need a 12 step program for billboard detox.

Los Angeles wouldn’t be the billboard capitol of the country if it weren’t for some key decisions by the City Council. In the fall of 2006, the City Council approved a massive settlement with three billboard companies: Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor and Regency.
In a major exception to the 2002 billboard ban, the council allowed for these three companies to convert 877 billboards to LEDs, or digital billboards. With one stroke of the pen, the city council nearly doubled the amount of digital signs in the entire country!
What really baffles me is that the city agreed to cut the permit fee from $314 bucks to $186 while the sign itself generates up to $150,000 a month! At a time when the city is operating in the red, kids don’t have books for schools and our roads are falling part, why is the city CUTTING fees paid by the billboard companies? I pay more to register my car than clear channel pays to permit a billboard!!!

RELATED RESOURCES:

Outdoor Advertising Association of America
The John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History at Duke University