In its three short weeks in New York Harbor, a digital advertising boat has received a lot of attention, but not the kind its clients are paying for. The boat belongs to Ballyhoo Media, which has one catamaran with a large digital billboard that roams up and down the Hudson and East Rivers for about ten hours a day, offering advertisements for Jimmy Kimmel Live, the New York Nets, AMC, Netflix and many other big companies. Ballyhoo is still researching how many viewers the billboard gets, but the number can’t be small to set off the kind of complaints heard throughout Lower Manhattan alone.
According to its website, Ballyhoo “believes in creativity, technology, community, and environment,” saying, “we strive to be a platform our community loves.” So far, this attempt has fallen flat with Lower Manhattan residents and businesspeople. Ballyhoo’s catamaran has been called “pollution of the eyes and soul” by one local who fears this billboard boat is the first of many.
As for its environmental impact, CEO Adam Shapiro says the business has partnered with Surfrider Foundation and Oceana, two non-profits committed to preserving oceans. Shapiro told the Broadsheet the catamaran is “like a Prius on water,” reasoning that the catamaran burns less fuel traveling at 7 knots than ferries that travel faster.
View of ad from Rockefeller Park
At the moment, Ballyhoo’s biggest appeal to clients is that they stand out as the only billboard on the water. The hardest part of business operations is the effect of weather on visibility, Shapiro says.
The company got its start in Florida, where its catamaran patrolling Miami Beach was not well received. Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez tried to ban floating billboards from ocean waters but found the city did not have legislative authority over the ocean.
On the Hudson and East Rivers, the law is clear, but enforcement is not.
As Mary Habstritt, Museum Director and President of the Lilac Preservation Project, pointed out, the Ballyhoo vehicle is in violation of zoning resolution 22-35 of the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP), which begins:”No moving or stationary ‘advertising sign’ shall be displayed on a vessel plying waterways adjacent to residence districts and within view from an arterial highway…” The same applies to commercial, manufacturing, and parkland districts which border the city’s waterways.
Snippet of New York City Zoning and Land Use Map. RED – residential, YELLOW – commercial, PURPLE – manufacturing, GREEN – parks. BPC is a “special district” composed of residential and commercial zones.
“I would like to know how this visual clutter, which commoditizes our views, made it around all the regulations. It is visual pollution. Money, money, money – it’s all about making money for someone else at the people’s expense,” said Debra Inwald, a FiDi resident and business owner who has seen the billboard from both home and office.
Habstritt said the problem is an inability to enforce the zoning resolution. Zoning violations are dealt with not by the DCP but by the Department of Buildings. The fact that the Ballyhoo digital billboard is moving on the waterways, which are under various levels of city, state and federal jurisdictions, complicates matters. The possible hazard of the billboard’s bright and changing display to river and land traffic alike could be most effective in motivating the city to act.