Albany Wants to Keelhaul Advertising Barges
State Lawmakers Bark ‘Belay That’ to Water-Borne Marketing Messages
The ubiquitous advertising barges that have become anathema for Lower Manhattan residents over the past year have attracted hostile attention from members of the State Senate and Assembly. Bills were enacted in the closing days of the legislative session that would ban the 60-foot catamaran — bearing an electronic sign capable of rendering high-definition, full-motion video, similar to the “jumbo-tron” panels that adorn multiple buildings in Times Square — from continuing to conduct its business in New York’s waters.
The new law mandates that, “all vessels shall be prohibited from operating, anchoring or mooring in the navigable waters of the State while equipped with a digital billboard that uses flashing, intermittent or moving lights.” The measure defines “digital billboard” as, “a one or two-sided outdoor advertising sign that displays digital images which are changed by a computer in intervals and are used for either advertising or public service purposes.” The same legislation makes violation of these rules a misdemeanor, “subject to a civil penalty of one thousand dollars for the first violation, and five thousand dollars for all subsequent violations.”
After passing both houses of the State legislature, the bill goes to Governor Cuomo’s desk, for his signature or veto.
If the Governor decides to approve the measure, it could mean the end of a lucrative business for Ballyhoo Media, which began several years ago by operating a fleet of advertising vessels in Miami, where it has inspired a similar response from the public and elected officials.
In 2018, the company set up shop in New York, where the service appears to have met a significant demand among marketers and carved out a lucrative niche for itself. According to Digiday, an online trade magazine for online media, Ballyhoo charges clients as much as $55,000 to insert a 30-second video message into a two-minute loop and keep it in rotation for one month.
When City officials filed suit in federal court in April, seeking in injunction that would bar Ballyhoo from continuing to conduct its business in New York’s waters, the firm responded by arguing in a brief that, “New York State has jurisdiction relative to the lands under the East and Hudson rivers,” and thus, “State legislation is required in order to authorize local legislative bodies to adopt and enforce laws that apply to these bodies of water. We are aware of no such legislation that would allow the City to apply its Zoning Resolution to these State-owned navigable waters.”
The measure recently passed by the State Senate and Assembly is exactly the sort of law that Ballyhoo’s attorneys were arguing would be needed to restrain them.
The April lawsuit followed a related development in January, in which the City’s Law Department served Ballyhoo with notice that it was violating several laws that ban marketing signage along New York’s waterfronts or within line of sight of a major highway. The notice from the City gave the firm two weeks to comply with the relevant statutes, but the barge remained in operation.
The company’s vessels travel a continuous circuit from the West Side of Midtown, past Hudson Yards, Chelsea, Tribeca, and Battery Park City, before turning into the East River and passing the Financial District, Brooklyn Heights, and Williamsburg.
If Governor Cuomo signs the measure, it may come just in time to head off a planned expansion by Ballyhoo, which has been mulling plans to add local beaches to its route this summer.