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What is the Environmental Impact of Times Square Billboards?
Blog...What is the Environmental Impact of Times Square Billboards?

What is the Environmental Impact of Times Square Billboards?

Green News
view of times square
In this article, we’ll recap what Times Square billboards are, why they are energy intensive, and some potential solutions.
Green News
view of times square

Something every artist, writer, singer, comedian, actor, or even social media influencer could ever hope for in their career is to be featured on the Times Square Billboards in New York City.

An area spanning several blocks in midtown with an incessant stimulation, the billboards in Times Square are often considered the highest and most honored form of advertising – often symbolizing to creators that they've “made it”. 

However, how many of us have stopped to think about the amount of power it takes to keep those advertisements running 24/7?

In this article, we’ll recap what Times Square billboards are, why they are energy intensive, and some potential solutions.

What are the Times Square Billboards?

One of the most sought-after places to visit when traveling to New York City, the billboards in Times Square are the massive screens spanning for several blocks in midtown Manhattan – depicting the energy of the city while also serving as one of the highest forms of advertising on Earth.

Many artists will aspire to have their album, book, or T.V. show featured on a Times Square Billboard – often sharing their feature on social media for further exposure and promotion.
times square live
Many artists will aspire to have their album, book, or T.V. show featured on a Times Square Billboard – often sharing their feature on social media for further exposure and promotion.

Similar to the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo or Sunset & Vine in Los Angeles, the Times Square billboards are one of the most famous commercial spots for advertising – often being the first of the three examples to come to mind.

Some more characteristics of a Times Square Billboard include:

  • Massive Size – Times Square billboards are known for their astronomic size, with people being able to make out the advertisement from blocks away – seeing as many of the billboards are situated on par with New York skyscrapers to allow for better viewership. 
  • Vivid Colors – Times Square billboards are known for their bright LED lights, creating a vivid light show and residue of colors in Times Square itself.
  • Various Content – From advertisements for new movies, albums, art pieces, to new beauty products – the billboards in Times Square don’t skimp on variety, which helps to create the dynamic atmosphere many tourists seek in midtown.
  • Crisp Images – Times Square billboards are never difficult to read thanks to high-resolution displays. This helps people be able to read advertisements, even when standing a few blocks away. 
  • Prime Time Advertisements – There’s a reason why so many artists, actresses, writers, and content creators dream of having an advertisement on a Times Square billboard – and that’s because major brands will compete for a billboard themselves. This is because advertisements in Times Square are seen by at least 300,000 people every day – making them an exceptionally desired slot for advertising. 
  • Global Exposure – Times Square billboards aren’t seen by just people in New York City, but also by the world – seeing as many public figures will share their Times Square billboard on social media for their followers all around the world to see.

👉 Overall, Times Square billboards are characterized by their immense size, brightness, dynamic content, interactivity, and global visibility, making them a quintessential feature of the New York City landscape and a symbol of modern advertising and commercialism.

view of times square near the ball drop

How did the Times Square Billboards start?

Times Square wasn’t always the incessant stimulation powerhouse it is today, seeing as the first electronic advertisement didn’t go up in Times Square until 1904 – but the concept for Times Square billboards dates back to the 1880s.

💡Did you know that you could pay to have your advertisement featured on one of Times Square’s biggest billboards – starting at $40?

Times Square Billboards first started as large, hand painted displays – with the modern version of the Times Square billboards we know today starting in the 20th century.

However, the billboards in Times Square became as popular as they are today as a result of theaters moving to midtown in Manhattan during World War I. As these vivacious productions made their way up-town, so did hotels and restaurants – all of which helped to create the lively dynamic found in midtown today. 

Overtime, Times Square became a highly desirable place in the city – which is what helped to spur the movement of creating the Times Square billboards we see today.

👉As of today, Times Square draws in around 50 million visitors each year.

times square colorful and crowded at night

What are some other examples of billboards besides the Times Square Billboards?

Times Square billboards may be the most desired billboard to have your book, T.V. show, or album plastered on – but it isn’t the only billboard in the United States or the rest of the world, seeing as many will aim for a billboard in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, or even during the Super Bowl in the United States. 

Billboards in highly congested areas, tourist destinations, or telecast on sporting events with high viewership are sought-after billboards due to the potential to promote the brand or artist.
guy pointing to break the fourth wall

In fact, the Super Bowl may be making its way to be on par with a Times Square billboard. The Super Bowl LVII, which aired on February 12, 2023, drew in a massive 123.4 million people – making it the most watched broadcast in the United States since the 1969 moon landing. It is important to note that while many tuned in to watch Usher’s halftime performance and Taylor Swift’s relationship with Travis Kelce in real time on-screen – a whopping 42% of Americans will tune into the Super Bowl just for the commercials. 

The Super Bowl is infamous for airing new and specialized commercials during the final football game of the season, often featuring celebrities or other well-known public figures. 

Here are a few other examples of famous billboards besides the ones in Times Square:

  • Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles – Known for advertising new movies for major Hollywood stars, these billboards are most popular for film, television, and music.
  • Piccadilly Circus in London – Essentially the British version of Times Square, this is a great place to advertise future shows seeing as this is where many Londoners will go to see a musical or theatrical performance.
  • Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo – Known as the busiest crosswalk in the world, Shibuya Crossing is similar to Times Square with its massive billboards and bright color schemes – often helping to advertise Japanese movies, music videos, and pop culture. 

👉All of these iconic landmarks with billboards go to show how physical advertisements have not slowed down even whilst in the age of digital media.

shibuya crossing in tokyo

Why are advertisements like the Times Square Billboards bad for the environment?

Even in the age of social media and incessant technology usage, many industries still rely on billboard advertisements to get their product or service out there, and yet – we often fail to acknowledge the environmental impact of these drastic advertisements. 

Billboards, especially the ones in Times Square that run on a constant basis, require copious amounts of energy to remain visible to tourists 24/7.

The amount of energy it takes to keep the Times Square billboards is likely to scare some people – seeing as it takes a massive 161 megawatts per day to keep the advertisements on. To put this massive energy consumption into perspective, that’s around the same amount of energy it takes to power 160,000 houses.

Other ways in which Times Square Billboards impact the environment include:

  • Trash From Tourists – Seeing as Times Square Billboards attracts so many tourists and contributes to the congested nature of midtown, there is a considerable amount of trash in Times Square due to the crowds and inability to reach a trash or recycling can whilst on the go sightseeing.
  • Contributes to Excess Consumption – Advertisements in Times Square may encourage people to purchase additional clothes, albums, or other trendy items they don’t need which will eventually contribute to landfill.
  • Maintenance for Times Square Billboards – The billboards in Times Square billboards aren’t a “set-it-and-forget-it” form of advertisement – but rather will require resources such as metals, plastics, and other technological equipment to ensure the physical billboards remain in top shape. This can further contribute to carbon emissions and even water pollution. 
  • Light Pollution – Did you know that the bright lights in Times Square can actually cause harm to various ecosystems and wildlife? Many will find this irrelevant seeing as New York City is a concrete jungle and far from these ecosystems or species – but it could still have an impact on the migration patterns of birds and therefore the rest of the food chain. In addition to this, consistent exposure to the lights in Times Square can have an effect on sleep – in a similar way too much remote work could contribute to visual fatigue and headaches.  

👉Times Square billboards aren’t going to go anywhere, meaning that it’s imperative we find a way to make their presence more sustainable moving forward.

billboards in picadilly circus

How can we decrease the environmental impact of Times Square Billboards?

Times Square’s billboards are an iconic part of the New York experience, meaning we shouldn’t get rid of them – but find ways to make them more eco-friendly in the midst of climate change.

New York City is very vocal about climate change, even displaying a “climate clock” in Union Square which demonstrates how many years we have left before the effects of climate change become irreversible.

Here some ideas to help reduce the environmental impact of Times Square billboards:

  • Turn Off Times Square Billboards at Off-Peak Hours – New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t take a nap. Times Square Billboards could but shut off at odd hours, such as from 1AM to 5AM in the morning. Even so, if shutting off every single Times Square billboard is out of the question – at least some of the screens could be shut off during off-peak hours. This is reasonable seeing as Times Square is primarily a tourist attraction, and native New Yorkers aren’t likely to care when walking home through midtown from a night out if some of the Times Square Billboards are turned off.
  • Turn Down Advertisements & Promote Online –  Times Square billboards have made it easier than ever before for people to gain access to billboard time, but this contributes to the excessive carbon footprint created. Therefore, Times Square billboards shouldn’t be so quick to accept any advertisement – which can allow for some “unplugged” time. Instead, Times Square billboards can guide potential billboard customers to social media outlets to promote their product.
  • Revive Older & Non-Electronic Billboards – Retro style always finds a way to come around again: from scrunchies to record players – meaning it isn’t out of the question to replace some of the electronic billboards in Times Square with some old fashioned painted advertisements.  

💡Did you know that the Eiffel Tower in France has also practiced energy conservation? As of recently, the Eiffel Tower started shutting off its lights and infamous “sparkle show” an hour earlier than usual to preserve power. 

Ultimately, the billboards in Times Square and midtown itself will remain one of the most visited places in the world – meaning it’s imperative we find ways to decarbonize this famous landmark.

What About Greenly?

If reading this article about the impact of the Times Square billboards has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

It can be challenging to determine the best solutions to determine the best advertising for your business, such as the Times Square billboards, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can help you find ways to effectively implement and utilize green finance. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.
Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint.

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