(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The perennially strapped New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is exploring new ways to boost annual ad revenue, including selling wall space in the tunnels between subway stations. Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority has already solicited bids from companies to manage the new account. "Anywhere there’s a dark tunnel, you could do it," he said.
Surfaces in subway tunnels have been marketed by other transit agencies, like the NY-NJ PATH train and Boston's T system. But this would be a first for the MTA in New York.
It's part of the authority's push to wring more money out of advertising after two flat years of sales. The NYC MTA earned $109 million during the recession years of 2009 and 2010, down from a high of $118 million in 2008. But the MTA is projecting a comeback in 2011 with sales of $120 million.
The tunnel ads would show a string of varied images that, when viewed from a passing train, would move like a flip book. A similar effect is visible in a subway artwork called Masstransiscope between the Manhattan Bridge and the DeKalb Avenue station in Brooklyn. As the D train glides by an unused station at Myrtle Avenue, painted images flash behind vertical slits and appear to morph and writhe. (A video of it can be seen here or at the end of this article.)
Donovan said most ideas for non-traditional ad placement come from advertisers themselves. In recent years, the MTA has permitted video on the outside of buses and ads that wrap entire train cars, like the 6 train that became a long rolling ad for Target last fall, when the company opened a store in Harlem -- which is served by the 6.
Then there is a program called "station domination," in which a single company plasters ads on multiple surfaces--columns, stairwells, turnstiles--throughout a subway station. Ads at Union Square Station have even been projected onto floors and walls. And now, perhaps inevitably, the MTA website displays ads for free credit checks and the Crate & Barrel wedding registry.
Gene Russianoff of The Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group, says he's of two minds about the spread of ads not only in the subway and on buses but on billboards outside stations and the exterior of commuter trains. (The New York City Department of Transportation gets the money from ads on bus shelters.)
"My view is informed by the very tough times we’re in and the pressure the MTA is under to make money," Russianoff said. But he said he draws the line at selling naming rights to stations--like the agreement by Barclays Bank to pay the MTA $200,000 over 20 years to puts its name on the Atlantic Avenue station in Downtown Brooklyn. "That's making a public space private and subordinating the public’s right to know where it’s going," Russianoff objected.
Still, the MTA faces pressure to cut costs and pump up sources of non-tax revenue.
The authority has an agreement with CBS Outdoor, a media-buying company, for the company to sell at least $580 million in ads on the subway from 2006 to 2016 and $346.5 million in ads on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines from 2010 to 2016. The MTA is also in the midst of a 10-year contract with Van Wagner, another media-buying firm, to sell at least $58 million in billboard ads on transit authority property. In December, ad space became available on five pages of the MTA's website. Donovan said that initiative has earned $10,000 over three months.
What is the most lucrative spot for ads in the region's transit system?
The answer is not temporary tattoos on the foreheads of train conductors. At least not yet. It's the Times Square Shuttle, with its packed cars and constant turnover of passengers. If an advertiser has an idea for a new kind of ad, like a train wrap or video, it's likely to be tried out on the shuttle. So be warned that in the future, if you're riding that train and decide to take a rest from all the ads by looking out the window...you could see more ads.
Click here to see the subway tunnel artwork Masstransiscope. Be sure to click "Launch Movie" to see it in action.