Buyer’s Guide to Electronic Signage: 6 Key Differences Between EMCs and Digital Billboards

Buyer’s Guide to Electronic Signage: 6 Key Differences Between EMCs and Digital Billboards


Researching electronic signage? Today’s post highlights six key differences between digital billboards and electronic message centers (EMCs) to make sure you find what’s best for your unique needs and budget.

Top-6 Differences Between Emcs And Digital Billboards

1.  Sign Usage and Location

EMCs are used to advertise the goods or services of a business operating on the property where the sign is located. In contrast, digital billboards are generally used as off-premise or off-site signage, which advertise goods and services for local businesses. For instance, digital billboards might appear on the margins of highways, freeways, and other thoroughfares, whereas EMCs will not.

2.  Sign Regulation, Permits, and Allowances

Most EMCs are regulated entirely on the local level of government, whereas digital billboards fall under the purview of different local, state, and federal governments (e.g. the Highway Beautification Act). Though local government ordinances vary state-to-state and county-to-county, EMCs often make for easier compliance and permit acquisition, since you don’t need to research multiple levels of government regulation to get approved.

And while EMCs are completely banned in certain jurisdictions, most cities allow them, unlike digital billboards, which are currently only available in a small but growing number of cities.

Finally, EMCs are simpler in that they generally require a one-time permit application and fee prior to installation, whereas digital billboards require annual permit fees.

3.  Sign Spacing Requirements

Generally speaking, EMCs are not subjected to any spacing requirements, which means you can display them right next to other signs as desired. This opens up a lot of sign system design possibilities with EMCs. In contrast, digital billboards are subject to strict spacing requirements.

4.  Sign Sizes

With EMCs, buyers have a wide range of sizes and shapes to choose from, though certain jurisdictions will place restrictions on allowable height and size. In contrast, digital billboards usually have standardized rectangular dimensions (14’ x 48’ or 672 square feet).

5.  Ownership and Revenue Generation

Generally speaking, business or property owners buy EMCs outright. In contrast, digital billboards are typically owned by independent billboard operators who make money leasing the space out to different advertisers. Thus, while EMCs will indirectly increase business owner revenues via advertising, audience engagement, and branding, digital billboards are used to generate direct rental revenue for owners. Consider what best suits your sign goals.

6.  Display Capabilities

An easy way to wrap your head around EMC display capabilities is to think of them like giant computers. EMCs can be programmed to display scrolling messages, animation, and video. Though digital billboard content can be programmed to change instantaneously, it does so without any animation or movement, making it more “slideshow” than dynamic video display.

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