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Virtual advertising is go

THE German Grand Prix marked a new departure for Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Communications operations with the first trials of "virtual advertising", a system which means that viewers in different countries see different trackside adverts. This is achieved by electronically-superimposing sponsor signage on blank advertising hoardings.

At Hockenheim viewers with the F1 digital "supersignal" were shown a sign at the first chicane, promoting the Hungarian GP. Viewers watching on traditional free-over-air stations saw only a bright green sign.

There have been similar signs at most circuits this year but the technology of "virtual advertising" is still rather basic and cannot yet cope with panning cameras. The system is being used successfully in the United States for static shots - such a baseball scoreboards - and the satellite network Sky Television is experimenting with the idea for rugby matches, with a system which is being developed by the Lagardere media-electronics empire.

The value of "virtual advertising" is that the same advertising hoardings can be sold many times over. The system can also be used to screen out tobacco advertising in countries where it is banned, although at the moment tobacco advertising is allowed on pay-per-view television as viewers have the choice as to whether they buy the signals or not.

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