Digital floating ads banned near local shores

(Courtesy Mayor's Office)

BY GABE HERMAN | There won’t be any more brightly lit floating billboards on the Hudson or East rivers near Manhattan’s shores after Governor Cuomo recently signed legislation banning them.

The new law “prohibits vessels from operating, anchoring or mooring in the navigable waters of the state while operating a digital billboard.” This includes ads with flashing, moving or intermittent lights. The ban prevents vessels with such billboards from being within 1,500 feet of land.

A floating billboard near Manhattan’s shore off near the Battery. (Courtesy Mayor’s Office)

“These floating billboards are a nuisance that blight our shores and distract from the great natural beauty of our waterways,” Cuomo said on Aug. 20 when the bill was signed. “This action will help make our waters more enjoyable and safer for everyone.”

The ban targets one company in particular, Ballyhoo Media, which has been floating these kind of ads on the city’s waters since last October. The company also operates in Miami, where it has been working since 2016.

The legislation was sponsored by local politicians state Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.

“Billboards belong in Times Square, not in the middle of the Hudson and East rivers,” Hoylman said. “These floating billboards are a dangerous distraction to drivers, boaters and pedestrians, not to mention an eyesore. New Yorkers deserve to have a respite on our waterfront from the barrage of modern life.”

“Floating billboards are an unsightly public nuisance and public safety hazard,” Gottfried said. “They can be distracting to boaters and mar the otherwise beautiful environment of our local waterways with unwanted advertisements.”

After Cuomo signed the bill into law, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Aug. 21 tweeted a short but emphatic statement of agreement: “Finally!”

The de Blasio administration sued this spring to try to stop the billboards on the water. (Courtesy Mayor’s Office)

The de Blasio administration sued Ballyhoo Media in March to try to halt the floating ads, claiming the company was violating zoning laws and causing a public nuisance. The case remains open, though a judge had put restrictions on how close the billboards can get to the city’s shoreline.

Before Cuomo signed the bill, Adam Schapiro, C.E.O. of Ballyhoo Media, indicated to NY1 that the company might challenge the law, on the grounds that it disrupts interstate commerce.

When Ballyhoo was asked by this paper for comment after the bill was signed, Schapiro suggested in a statement that the company would still be able to sail some ads on local waters.

“We are very disappointed that Governor Cuomo has signed SB 6541, but we remain undeterred,” Schapiro said. “Our legal team believes the changes to the Navigation Law does not prohibit us from operating in state waters. Instead it has only offered more clarity on what we can and cannot display with our new platform. As such, Ballyhoo intends to continue providing an innovative platform that encourages creativity, collaboration and community.”

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