I’m often asked about where my passion lies – is it advertising or solar lighting? It’s something that I find hard to answer. To be honest Solar AdTek is the perfect marriage of both for me. But where did it all start? Here’s a little bit about how my first foray into large screen digital advertising.

Over Christmas, while going through some old files (I’d been told to declutter!), I came across some research I had conducted in 1997. It had been prompted by the U2 Popmart Tour. This elaborate production and its lavish stage design had a 150-foot-wide (50 m) LED screen, a 100-foot-high (30 m) golden arch, and a large mirror-ball lemon. The band had commissioned the “largest LED screen in the world”. At 150 ft x 50 ft it was a Guiness World record.

What happened next?

Having a background in the signage and display industry, this mega screen tweaked my interest. I felt that there may be something in it for the Outdoor Advertising industry. After some research, a little Government funding and a private investor, I set up a company called AdScreen, and set about a full feasibility study.

In 1997, there was the only one company in the world that was producing large full colour LED screens. After a lot of research (no internet in those days), I tracked this company, SACO, down to Montreal in Canada. Before 1997, SACO had never worked in entertainment or architecture. They were in the business of making control panels for nuclear and hydro power plants. They have since provided the exterior LED solutions for the Dome in Las Vegas and for many, many other projects globally.

I contacted and visited SACO to discuss their LED product and how we might utilise it for OOH purposes, as it was completely new at the time. The development of green LED modules added to the red and blue, meant that full colour LED could be achieved. We agreed exclusivity of their product for advertising purposes, in Ireland and the UK in order to test out the market.

The potential and the challenge

Discussions with large global advertisers and shopping centres followed. We established that the nett income derived from these screens would have paid for the screens in a relatively short time and brought us into profit.

But and isn’t there always a but, the set up-costs were huge. Hindsight is a great thing but in 1997, we needed to find investment of €2,500,000 for set-up (over €10m today). This was an enormous challenge. The reality was that this would have given us one 18sqm screen in Ireland and one in the UK. This left little over for any other costs.

We also felt that as it was a new technology, there would have been a slow buy-in from advertisers. If we were the first to market, we didn’t think we would have the luxury of time to wait. Far Eastern manufacturing could quickly catch up with the manufacturing process, bring the cost down and open the door to competitors. We were also traditionally in the business of supplying OOH companies and did not wish to compete with them. 

So, we walked away! Our signage business in Ireland was doing very well. I felt that it would be unfair on the team to move in a different and more uncertain direction. It was however my first foray into the large screen digital advertising arena. And a passion and enthusiasm was truly sparked.

Written by Eoin O’Broin, February 2024

Eoin O’Broin is the CEO and co-founder of Solar AdTek. Prior to that he was founder of Silverstone Designs Ltd. A company specialising in signage design and manufacture, audiovisual and print media. In his 26 years as CEO, Eoin developed the company through the research and adoption of new technologies. He has been first to market with many new innovations. These include digital and interactive projections, multi-format print systems and the adoption of energy saving technologies. You can contact Eoin here or find him on Linkedin.