Like them or loathe them, taxi ad screens are here to stay

Do the screens in the back of red Hong Kong taxis offer an interesting service or annoy passengers?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 5:51pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 5:55pm

A pilot programme has been approved in New York to replace taxi TV screens with less invasive technology. But those in Hong Kong’s red taxis are here to stay, says the company operating them.

China’s leading in-taxi interactive media company, Touchmedia, has 50,000 screens in taxis in seven cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Qingdao and Hong Kong, and says 70 million passengers a month view them.

Touchmedia’s chief strategy officer in Hong Kong, Neil Ducray, says the systems in New York were obsolete and different to the ones in Hong Kong.

“It’s about time they were replaced – the system was very outdated. And they are not the same as what we have in Hong Kong. New York is replacing screens that are eight or nine years old with a newer, more modern system. Our screens are newer and more sophisticated, with directional speakers, are better positioned, have higher resolution, an on/off button for passengers, and more interactivity.”

Ducray says most screens in Hong Kong were installed in 2012 or 2013. They provide video content from partners such as fashion channel  Elle and National Geographic.

They provide public service material such as weather reports, horoscopes, games and surveys on topical issues. They also show advertising, promotional and charity material.

“We pay the taxi drivers each month to have them in their cars and we take the system out if the owner asks us to remove it, but that is quite rare,” says Ducray. He says the screens reach 5.6 million backseat passengers a month in Hong Kong. He said one new game was played by 285,000 passengers in a single month.

“With our survey of topical issues we average 50,000-plus answers to the three questions in one week. In our most recent research, 84 per cent of taxi passengers said they watch the screen and 85 per cent said they find the content interesting.

“There is an on/off button for passengers – currently it is turned off during only a tiny percentage of rides – about 2 per cent to 3 per cent,”he says

Passengers have mixed feelings about the screens.

Part-time musician Brian Yau says he is forced to get a taxi if he plays gigs on weekends and finish late, especially if he has a lot of heavy equipment. “If the screen’s not off when I get in then I turn it off as soon as I sit down. The last thing I want at 3am is ads blasting in my ears.”

 Sam Withers says he gets a taxi to and from the office, about a 10-minute commute each way. “I’m in advertising and I don’t think there was much thought put into the research of TV taxis … It seems the people who detest them most are the target audience.”

Withers says the televisions are also redundant as most people have a mobile device.

Samantha Mak says while she’s never used the screens she’s not bothered by them, although she says passengers should not be constantly exposed to advertising. “When I get a taxi I want peace and quiet, not advertising shoved in my face.”

Taxi diver William Chan says he has had a  screen installed in his  taxi for a year and does not find it intrusive. “I don’t notice if people are watching it or not …  I’ve only had a few passengers ask for help on how to turn them off but that’s it.”