Boston Company Adorns Basketball Stadium, Sees Bright Future in Giant LED Displays

1/12/09Follow @wroush

A Boston startup called A2aMedia announced today that it has been selected by the Miami Heat basketball team to install a giant LED video display, some 3,400 square feet in area, on the side of the team’s arena in Miami. Consisting of a new kind of see-through, woven metal mesh invented by German architectural supply firm GKD, it will be the largest LED display in the southeastern United States, according to the company.

Because the mesh design is more efficient than other large LED displays and doesn’t block views from inside the buildings where the displays are hung, the technology could lead to broader use of large-scale, outdoor video advertising.

The Heat, the 2006 NBA champions, chose the so-called “Mediamesh” technology for its American Airlines Arena because it wanted to provide visitors with “the most dynamic and exciting entertainment experience possible,” said Eric Woolworth, president of HEAT Group Business Operations, in a statement today. The new display, scheduled to be installed this spring, will “establish a more interactive relationship between the Arena and the people and tourists of South Florida” and will “solidify the American Airlines Arena as a trendsetting landmark,” Woolworth said.

Computer simulation of finished Mediamesh displayA2aMedia is the exclusive North American distributor for GKD’s technology, and the Miami stadium is its first installation. (See a video showing how the display will look in Miami here.)

While anyone who has been to New York’s Times Square or Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district is familiar with large LED video boards, what’s new about the Mediamesh design is that it fits over an existing building like a curtain, resembling the mesh security curtains rolled down each night by mall retailers. Every fourth horizontal rod in the stainless-steel curtain is a tube containing red, green, and blue LED nodes, which function as the pixels in giant video animations driven by computers. From inside a building, the mesh blocks only 30 percent of outdoor light; from the outside, it looks like a solid screen.

“We offer the only media façade that can be installed on a glass surface without obstructing the view,” says Brian Schuvart, senior vice president of sales and marketing at A2aMedia. “This opens up a huge range of exciting installation possibilities that cannot be offered by any other media company.” Indeed, the technology could allow builders to plaster nearly every available surface of a building with an animated display—a special boon in districts like Times Square or the Las Vegas Strip where zoning regulations actually encourage the installation of ever-larger electronic signs.

Schuvart also says that the Mediamesh displays are “environmentally friendly.” That claim is based on the mesh’s open weave design, which allows air to circulate through the display, eliminating the need for cooling, even on hot days. Mediamesh displays use one-sixth as much electricity as traditional LED displays with the same surface area, Schuvart says.

Mediamesh close-upTo make the Mediamesh design work, GKD had to figure how to run the circuitry for the LED nodes through the metal rods, which are only three-quarters of an inch thick, and how to build looms capable of weaving the metal mesh. The company also put a lot of work into the software that ties together all the LEDs, driving animations “in sizes ranging from hundreds of square feet to hundreds of thousands of square feet,” says Schuvart. The first Mediamesh display was installed on GKD’s building in Duren, Germany in 2007, and A2aMedia is helping clients plan new installations in New England and other regions, with a focus on large venues like sports stadiums, casinos, malls, airports, and parking garages.

I asked Schuvart whether 2009 is a good time to be rolling out the Mediamesh technology in the United States, given that the advertising industry is being hit hard by the economic downturn. “The outdoor media industry is doing better than most segments of the market,” he replied. “Although advertising budgets are smaller in 2009, a higher percentage of these budgets is going to outdoor advertising. Mediamesh is so unique and exciting, we are finding plenty of companies and advertisers who are excited about teaming up with us.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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