California license plates may go electronic, feature advertising

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A bill by a southern California lawmaker may be the first step toward a new wave of advertising: electronic license plates on cars. Senator Curren Price, D-Inglewood, introduced Senate Bill 1453, which has already passed the Senate.  If passed by the Assembly, the new law would commission a study of electronic license plates as a viable means for advertising and other communication.


SB 1453 requires the DMV to report to the Legislature on the feasibility of a digital license-plate program by Jan. 1, 2013.

“We’re giving the Department of Motor Vehicles the leeway to investigate the technology, conduct some tests, and come back with a recommendation to the legislature,” said Price.

Under the bill, the California DMV would examine the emergence of digital electronic license plate technology, possibly working with Smart Plate, a start-up company with three employees based in San Francisco.

The electronic plate would only show the ads after sitting motionless for four seconds. 

Companies would pay to advertise on license plates, potentially generating another source of state revenue.

“The license number is always visible in the corner,” said Price.  “Even when it’s advertising about an event coming up, or a non-profit organization, or a public service activity, the numbers are still visible (on the license plate).”

“Whoever the company is that’s engaged in the research would pay for it,” said Price.

The bill goes up for review by the State Assembly Transportation Committee Monday, reports News10 Sacramento.

RBR-TVBR observation: California is so strapped for cash, this could potentially help. However, if you look at the comments section from the News10 story, it is overwhelmingly against. Issues like accidents seem to be the top concern. Powering these plates is also a curiosity—they would most likely have to be wired into the car’s electrical system. Along with ads, these plates will also be able to scroll important messages like Amber Alerts. Bottom line though, the state would be taking more ad dollars out of the pockets of “traditional” media.


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.