There’s a scene in the Steven Spielberg-directed science fiction classic, “Minority Report,” where Tom Cruise’s character, a “pre-crime officer” in futuristic Washington D.C., flees from his colleagues in a crowded shopping mall. As he passes by a series of digital billboards, a scanner recognizes his identity and uses it to display targeted advertisements that he might like. The only problem is that Cruise’s eyes are not his own – in an attempt to hide his movements, he had them replaced earlier in the film (it’s a long story). The ads he sees are actually intended for a middle-aged Asian man, thus presenting one of the only laughs in this otherwise somber adventure.
It’s a comedy beat, to be sure – but that doesn’t make the technology on display any less fascinating. It also appears that we may be moving closer to this “Minority Report”-inspired future all the time, especially if Piccadilly Circus has anything to say about it. New billboard technology has recently been installed that, using a series of hidden cameras, actually targets ads to people in the area based on a number of their own unique traits.
Piccadilly Circus and Hidden Cameras: What’s Happening
After nine solid months of renovations, an incredible new billboard has been installed in Piccadilly Circus. It is one that is not only running at a stunning 4K resolution, but that is also 8,400 square feet in size – making it the largest such screen in all of Europe.
But the truly amazing thing about all of this is that the content displayed on the billboard is “influenced by the characteristics of the crowd around it.” The ads being played will vary depending on the actual makeup of the group – factors like gender, age and even emotions will all be taken into consideration.
Land Securities, also sometimes referred to as Landsec, is the company at the heart of this digital revolution. They say that the billboard uses a series of powerful hidden cameras to scan the people passing by, though they have been clear that absolutely no data will be stored.
It is estimated that about 100 million people pass by this particular billboard every year. Space on the screen currently sells for £4 million per year – a number that is almost certainly going to rise as this new hidden camera technology proves its value.
Landsec says that six advertisers are currently sharing space on the billboard, though more have already expressed interest. Interestingly, the content being displayed on the ad won’t just respond to the people who are viewing it – it will also take the environment into consideration.
If there are a bunch of happy people looking at the billboard during the summer, for example, they’ll probably see ads for vacation getaways and beach-related items. If the hidden cameras and other sensors reveal that the temperature has dropped below a certain level, on the other hand, the ads will switch to those for winter clothes.
The new 4K billboard in Piccadilly Circus may be the largest application of this type of technology happening anywhere in Europe today, but it certainly won’t be the last. It’s easy to see not only how this type of targeted advertising would be right at home in a place like New York City, but also how it could be adapted on a smaller scale as well. How far away are we, really, from having the commercials that play during your favorite show vary, depending on which member of your family is watching at the time? If you’re watching a particularly sad show, are you going to be served an ad for tissues?
“Minority Report” first hit theaters in 2002, but the actual book that it is based on was published decades earlier. It certainly makes you want to dive back into the other works of Phillip K. Dick to see just what the next few years might hold.