Neon lights likely to be replaced by giant LED screens in next few years Hong Kong's neon signs have been lighting up the skyline for decades. But that may change in the next few years with the rising popularity of electronic video walls made up of giant light-emitting diode (LED) screens across buildings in major shopping districts, industry players forecast. 'Reviving economic growth in Hong Kong has intensified competition among shopping malls over the past two years. What we've seen is a growing number of real estate owners trying to lure tenants and boost traffic flow by creating a focal point for their malls using large electronic displays,' said Jimmy Lo Chi-ming, director and co-founder of LED display maker Lighthouse Technologies. From Times Square in Causeway Bay to Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, more than 17 large outdoor LED screens have been put up over the past five years. Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency deputy leasing manager Maureen Fung Sau-yim said: 'Neon lights appear to be relatively outdated now. Static outdoor advertisements may not catch the attention of Hong Kong people, who are always too busy to look at them. Humans, by nature, are more sensitive to dynamic objects.' She said that because video screens could attract the attention of more shoppers, Sun Hung Kai Properties, the biggest developer in Hong Kong, is in talks with outdoor display manufacturers to explore the possibilities of installing displays on its properties. On May 1, the developer added an additional projection TV to broadcast the final episode of the popular Korean drama Jewel In The Palace in its recently opened APM mall in Kwun Tung. More than 1,000 shoppers watched the live broadcast there, helping to boost the mall's traffic flow to a high of 280,000 a day from the usual 240,000. Lighthouse managing director Mark Chan Mun-keong said: 'Outdoor advertising is no longer about flashing logos. 'There is an emerging trend of using LED screens that offer information and entertainment to draw people's attention.' Lighthouse recently installed Hong Kong's biggest LED screen in the new-look Chungking Mansions. The 19.2x4.8-metre flat screen, which broadcasts advertisements and live news, had helped clean up the image of this Nathan Road landmark, once described as a 'towering inferno waiting to happen' because of its poor safety image. LED screens can now offer many true colours compared with limited ones with neon signs and with a brightness 10 times higher than all other display technologies, including plasma and LCD displays. LED is the only display technology that is visible outdoors under bright sunlight. The reason it has taken so long to become popular in Hong Kong is that until Chek Lap Kok Airport came into use in 1998, the law prohibited the use of flashing signs because they might distract pilots. Advertisers and developers were cautious about putting up video walls because of the lengthy government approval process. Applicants would have to obtain approval from at least four government departments - aviation, transport, marine and the buildings department. The government shortened the approval process to 30 days from 60 in 2003 by providing a one-stop approval procedure. While the technology is not at the stage depicted in the film Minority Report, where advertisements would greet passers-by by name, Mr Chan said he expected LED screens to project digitally interactive advertisements. However, Convey Advertising chief executive Mak Siu-tong, a 30-year veteran in the outdoor advertising industry, said it would take some time before digital outdoor advertising took off. 'Watching a big screen in the street is different from sitting on the couch at home,' Mr Mak said. 'It is difficult to calculate shoppers' recall rates from electronic video walls.' Mr Mak said LED screens would have more of a decorative function for shopping malls. Of the roughly 220,000 advertising signs in Hong Kong, about 70 per cent were billboards with electronic screens accounting for less than 1 per cent, Mr Mak said, adding that cost was a big factor. An average 30mm-pitch LED screen would cost US$12,000 per square metre, compared with about $10 per sqft for a billboard. However, he said LED display panels would become more popular on buildings to promote high-end brand names, similar to those used in New York's Times Square or London's Piccadilly Circus. But he did not believe LED advertising would completely replace Hong Kong's iconic neon lights. 'Advertising is like a fashion cycle which repeats itself further down the road,' Mr Mak said. 'There were times when spotlights were trendy and there were times neon lights were.'