Digital Displays Hacked-The Story Behind Times Square
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Sep 15, 2012

Digital Displays Hacked-The Story Behind Times Square

If you have ever been to Times Square in New York City—or if you’ve ever seen a picture or video of the popular location—you know that there are giant digital displays located throughout the area.

These digital signs are used to showcase advertisements, movie trailers and share any other pertinent information with those in the area. Since these digital signs make it easy to share information with millions of people, some people have decided to get inside the signs for their own pleasure.

The first hack.

Last year, this video went viral, claiming to teach the world how to hack into the digital signage. In the video, two people are depicting how you can send your own videos to the large screens in Times Square. One of the individuals is using an iPhone and carrying a “video transmitter” while the other is holding a “video repeater”. Together, the two show how these two devices can hijack the nearest digital signage. On the video, you see the digital signage change to show the image that is currently being shown on the iPhone, making users believe that the digital signs in Times Square can truly be hacked.
To be even more convincing, at the end of the video, the “video repeater” is attached to a balloon and floated up into the air so that it can hijack a taller digital sign.
If you were skeptical of the validity of this video, give yourself a high five. It turns out that the digital signs in Times Square cannot be hacked, and that this video was a marketing ploy used to advertise the movie Limitless.

The second hack.

Recently, another video of hackers taking over the Times Square digital signs found its way onto YouTube. In this video, people in the back of a cab use their phone to gain access to all the digital signs in Times Square and black them out. Shortly thereafter, a creepy image is placed on all of the signs, and the video then shows how people on the streets of New York are all staring at the signs and pointing to the image.
If you’re thinking this hack is also fake, give yourself a double high five. This time, the fake hacker video was used to promote a new A&E TV series called “Coma”.

What’s the purpose?

YouTube videos are extremely popular, and they’re easy to push out virally, giving them a large range in a short amount of time. By “hacking” the digital signs in Times Square, these companies are not only reaching the wide audience over the Internet, but they’re also bringing awareness to those individuals who are actually in Times Square during the time these “hacks” take place.
There’s really no way to tell if the success of Limitless had anything to do with the hacking video, and we’ll have to wait and see if the second hack has any effect on the success of Coma. Either way, these two videos used a truly unique approach to create awareness, and that alone should be commended.

This story was redacted with the help of the Icon Company.