Does Piccadilly's revamp signal a Blade Runner future?

Framestore Labs' global head of creative argues the new Piccadilly Circus ad screen could turn Blade Runner prophecies into a reality.

If you go down to Piccadilly today, you’re sure of a big surprise. When an iconic and time-honoured landmark like the Piccadilly Lights is turned off, as they were during WWII, it feels like an apocalyptic warning. But the current switch-off signals something more positive: digital signage is about to get interesting. When Piccadilly’s new 4K LED screen – all 790 square-metres of it – is up and running later this year, it could herald a bold new era that turns Blade Runner prophecies into a reality.  

The revamped site will be the largest single screen in Europe and no other location on the planet will rival its almighty tech spec. By replacing ye olde six illuminated screens with one giant "state of the art" curved screen, the new Lights could transform out of home from intrusive messaging into bleeding-edge public art that marries data, technology and creativity.  

This next-gen breed of screen will be capable of displaying complex, hi-res imagery that can potentially be rendered in real-time. Although this may sound like techie guff, it signals two step-changes that create a sum greater than its parts:

Running at a whopping 4K resolution, the new screen can host stunning visual effects more commonly seen in Oscar-winning movies. This means we finally have an outdoor space that’s capable of communicating our aesthetic dreams and desires.

So farewell to the bog-standard spinning graphics of yesteryear; and hello to breathtaking visuals that stop people in their tracks. Echoing the evolution from Pac-Man to Call of Duty, this giant leap in picture potential will nurture OOH that’s dramatically more aesthetic and visually engaging.

But the impending screen revolution isn’t merely about enhanced aesthetics. For me, the really exciting bit comes from tapping into third party APIs and throwing live data into the mix.

Forget plonking a tickertape over the content. When next-gen screens are coupled with a bit of extra thought and tech to create real-time rendering, we can integrate live information – weather reports, public transport updates, football results – into the actual imagery itself. Bloomberg and Morgan Stanley’s Times Square installation is an early example of eschewing tickertapes in favour of live data shaping beautiful imagery.

It’s unlikely the Piccadilly Lights will re-launch with a wildly new genre of OOH. But conditions for being ultra creative will be firmly in place, especially if advertisers go a step further by investing in bespoke software to support the new aesthetics.

Using real-time rendering to augment sophisticated visuals in line with live data updates can create OOH that’s both practically informative and visually engaging. So we’re on the brink of more meaningful and effective OOH. Maybe we’re even starting to create a Blade Runner world where epic digital signage is all around us.

Thirty-five years ago, Ridley Scott had a neon-saturated vision of 2019 that saw daily lives engulfed by giant hi-res advertising screens. We’ll have to wait until October to see what’s in store for 2049. But I do know that digital signage is about to be freed from small, low-res, unconnected screens. It’s up to us to use this newfound creative potential in a way that steers clear of Blade Runner’s dystopian prophecies. 

Robin Carlisle is the global head of creative at Framestore Labs

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