New York officials sue over billboard boat

New York City officials went to court this week to stop an electronic billboard boat from cruising past the city’s parks and affluent residential neighborhoods.

Ballyhoo Media’s 79’x23’ aluminum catamaran carries a 64’x20’ LED billboard similar to those adorning Times Square, and the boat has drawn complaints from New Yorkers who already have consumer advertising thrust in their faces all over the city.

The Miami-based startup has developed a lucrative, high-profile operation off south Florida beaches, but the arrival of a new boat in New York waters in September 2018 soon drew scrutiny from lawyers for the city, who say it violates decades-old zoning regulations.

The Hudson River along New York's West Side is a regular route for Ballyhoo Media's floating billboard. New York City Mayor's Office photo

The Hudson River along New York’s West Side is a regular route for Ballyhoo Media’s floating billboard. New York City Mayor’s Office photo

“Our waterways aren’t Times Square. These floating eyesores have no place on them,” Mayor de Blasio said in announcing the action brought in federal court. “Ballyhoo is operating in direct violation of the law, and we are filing this suit to put a stop to it.”

In their complaint city officials say the zoning rules are intended to promote public use of waterfront areas and traffic safety on highways that ring the edges of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“Ballyhoo openly promotes its large, water-based, LED billboards as specifically designed to attract the attention of drivers, necessarily posing a serious safety hazard on busy waterfront highways, said Zachary W. Carter, corporation counsel for the city. “We have asked the court to impose civil penalties upon Ballyhoo and to order the company to abate its violations in the best interest and safety of the public.”

City officials are citing a zoning resolution that prohibits “operation of advertising signage in waterways adjacent to any of the three major types of zoning districts in the city – residential, commercial, and manufacturing – and within view of any major highway or bridge.”

In its pitch to prospective advertisers, Ballyhoo stresses that the boat – which shows up on automatic identification system public tracking websites as Ballyhoo in New York – cruises past popular parks, commuter ferry landings and affluent waterside residential neighborhoods.

The pitch sheet details the average household incomes, home values and net worth of specific neighborhood populations. A standard daily route goes from Manhattan’s West Side at midtown, south around Battery Park with its public space for viewing the harbor, and up the East River to Roosevelt Island. The company also offers customized routes for advertisers.

A 30-second spot in a two-minute loop of images on the billboard is priced around $55,000 in New York and $35,000 in Miami, according to the online media trade publication Digiday.

Ballyhoo contends it is operating within the law.

A Ballyhoo Media billboard boat displayed the 2019 Super Bowl game for fans at Virginia Key Beach Park near Miami, Fla. Ballyhoo Media photo

A Ballyhoo Media billboard boat displayed the 2019 Super Bowl game for fans at Virginia Key Beach Park near Miami. Ballyhoo Media photo

“We love the waterways and have developed this platform to be an asset to the community,” company CEO Adam Shapiro told the Gothamist. “Ballyhoo has proven to provide unique, one-of-a-kind experiences that have been received with overwhelmingly positive community support. We are confident that New York City will see the value and excitement we bring to the waterfront.”

On social media the company touts its sponsorship of public events, like showing the 2019 Super Bowl game on its big screen in a watch party for beachgoers at Virginia Key Beach Park near Miami. The boats also have carried public service advertising and messages for nonprofit groups, like the environmental group Oceana.


About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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