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As We See It

[The Incidental Tourist]

Evolution of the marquee: Big, bright, vertical screens are taking over the Strip

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Signs of the times: David Copperfield is watching you.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Neon is dead. Welcome to the era of the vertical video marquee.

MGM Grand just finished refurbishing its 254-foot-tall, 94-foot-wide sign on Las Vegas Boulevard, retrofitting the big “MGM” letters with more than 13,000 custom-made LED pucks and replacing the massive video screens with full-color, high-resolution vertical LED displays. The new boards are 50 feet by 114 feet, creating 5,700 square feet of active digital area per side—crazy-huge, bright and fast imagery bombarding the eyes of everyone on the Strip.

And this is only the second-largest vertical LED display on the Strip; the king, of course, is just up the street at sister property Aria. Jammed in front of CityCenter’s Crystals shopping center and finished in April 2013, this $19 million monument is 260 feet tall and 65 feet wide, creating nearly 11,000 square feet of impossible-to-miss artvertising glory on each side. Pedestrians can walk through the legs of the marquee, which is visible from much farther south on Las Vegas Boulevard.

At 260 feet tall and 65 feet wide, Aria's $19 million marquee sign has 11,000 square feet of impossible-to-miss advertising glory. On both sides.

Carl Cohen, Aria’s vice president of marketing, says that was the point—to communicate the resort’s offerings to pedestrians and drivers from a considerable distance (not necessarily to alter the Strip’s iconic skyline). “We wanted to do something really dramatic and take advantage of the technology, and now we have a lot of work to do to make sure it works from a communication standpoint,” he says. “It’s kind of a first, to be creating messaging on a 260-foot vertical LED sign, so it’s forcing some creative thinking and pushing things in a direction we hadn’t necessarily thought about before.”

The Cosmopolitan may have kicked off this video sign trend with its Strip-front marquee, which sometimes broadcasts live concerts from its Boulevard Pool. Then came the football-field-sized LED screen atop the Harmon Corner, adjacent to Planet Hollywood. Though striking, its curved screen serves as a gigantic version of a digital billboard—27 times the size of the average highway advertisement, to be exact. These new vertically oriented, seemingly narrow marquees are something else, something more unique.

“It’s funny to say something 20 feet wide is narrow, but compared to 130 feet tall, that’s how it looks,” explains Jon Gray, vice president and general manager of the Linq, which boasts a Strip-front sign with those dimensions at the opening to its alleyway of fun. “You can’t just slap some B-roll footage up on this thing. It’s got to be customized with very unique content.”

Since it doesn’t have a casino or hotel to promote, the Linq’s sign has gone beyond hyping up its restaurants, bars and attractions. Recent messaging has been built around the Winter Olympics and the Chinese New Year. “We treat it like a cool opportunity to create art,” Gray says. “We didn’t want it to be viewed as just an advertising board.” Eventually, some of the sign’s messaging will be coordinated with the Vortex, an outdoor LED installation on an upper level of the Quad casino just a few feet away.

Perhaps ironically, the Linq leads directly into the Flamingo, an aging resort that still has some of the Strip’s best and most recognizable neon signage. Both are owned by Caesars Entertainment.

Gray says there’s space to appreciate new and old on the Strip. “I’m a big fan of maintaining that iconic and amazing older imagery, and a lot of our signs along the Linq are like that. We kept the original O’Sheas sign. I like the combination of the two, and I hope there’s a way to keep both intact.”

Considering the communication possibilities with these magnificent LED marquees are almost endless, it’s likely we’ll see more big video boards in Las Vegas soon. Cohen, who has a replica of Aria’s sign on his desk to keep an eye on everything that’s being blasted out over the Strip, thinks the trend will slow down, for now. “It’s a big expense. But Las Vegas is always looking at new ideas. New properties may look at new, different vehicles like this, but I don’t think there will be more right away. But you never know.”

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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