Pier straight ahead: New digital wayfinding kiosks, like the mock-up shown above, will point visitors toward local landmarks and share emergency information when needed. Submitted image

Santa Monica is moving forward with a plan to install digital signposts in high-traffic pedestrian areas around town that could feature interactive information, emergency notices and revenue-generating advertisements. 

Officially known as the Digital Wayfinding and Out-of-Home Advertising Kiosk Program, the initiative was first introduced in early 2020, shortly before the pandemic took hold. In the years that followed, the proposal was temporarily shelved, but last week City Council took a big step forward and selected a company to install, operate and maintain the network of kiosks.

The City envisions approximately 50 of the tall, illuminated wayfinding signposts will be installed in various neighborhoods around the city to help visitors navigate shopping and tourist areas while receiving timely emergency alerts as necessary. Because advertisements placed on the digital kiosks will provide income, the program will not cost the City any money; a third-party operator will design, construct and maintain the signposts, splitting revenue with the City of Santa Monica. 

Last week, City Council selected BIG Outdoor to be that operator.

During the Tuesday, Nov. 15, Santa Monica City Council meeting, seven council members voted unanimously to approve staff’s recommendation for BIG Outdoor to secure the contract. 

“BIG Outdoor offered the City a 50% share of adjusted gross revenues, which it estimates would be an approximate average of more than $14 million annually over the franchise term, assuming a total of 50 kiosks are installed,” according to the staff report prepared for last Tuesday’s council meeting. “City staff inquired into the viability of BIG Outdoor’s revenue projections, given that they were considerably higher than all other bidders. Staff learned BIG Outdoor has existing relationships with many notable high-profile companies that heavily invest in advertising to grow and maintain their market share, including American Express, Apple, Facebook, and Uber, among others.” BIG Outdoor also offered a $4 million signing bonus for the program.

In addition, BIG Outdoor has an existing footprint in Santa Monica, since it is responsible for the digital signs at Santa Monica Place.

The Nov. 15 Santa Monica City Council meeting was not properly broadcast or recorded, since City audio and video equipment failed; therefore, there is no record of precisely what statements were made regarding the project. However, draft minutes for the meeting show council members made several inquiries about the staff report, including the criteria staff used to select BIG Outdoor as the most experienced vendor.

According to Santa Monica spokesperson Constance Farrell, staff’s recommendation was based on the background of key personnel based on resumes; the firm’s ability and experience in assembling a highly qualified team; and the firm’s demonstrated record in terms of efficiency and prior success with similar projects.

The digital kiosks could be coming soon.

An additional public hearing on the project is set for Dec. 13, 2022, at which point any protests will be heard. Then, the second reading and award of the franchise would follow at the Jan. 10, 2023, council meeting.

The first 25 kiosks could be on city streets by the end of 2023 or early 2024. Farrell wrote: “The City is confident that the first phase of 25 kiosks can be deployed within 12 months, including community engagement, kiosk design, software development, entitlement/permitting processes, and construction.”