Last year’s The Everest Barrier Draw projections on the Sydney Opera House made worldwide headlines and sparked a massive petition and protest. And rightly so. Even though the projection show was amended, the whole sequence of events showed a disconnect between community & politicians but a deep, strong influential connection between media & politicians.
As we now know, the same projection show is proposed to happen again but this time on the Sydney Harbour Bridge southern pylons. This has drew an angry response once again.
10Daily reported that Senior Federal Labor MP Tanya Plibersek commented that she thought the idea was “tacky” and not a “great look”.
“I think advertising anything on the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House is pretty tacky,” she told reporters.
“I’ve got nothing against racing, but I just question the tastefulness of this sort of advertising.”
But unlike the Sydney Opera House projection show, there are a few things that you can’t argue as ‘precedent setting’ with this year’s proposed Sydney Harbour Bridge southern pylon show as they have been done before.
Firstly, before we go into detail, Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon projections are unnoticeable when they happen. They have been used over the past decade to promote events, causes and companies but the audience they have reached is insignificant.
The audience around the Harbour is pretty low for most of these (the exception being on NYE where reach is between half to 2 million & depending on distance from pylons) but the social media value is a lot larger as it gives the impression that this is something important – of national significance – to those who see such a social media post and this is where the core of the issue lies.
It implies an endorsement of something on behalf of the city, state or country as global landmarks like the Sydney Harbour Bridge are representative of these (Sydney or NSW or Australia). However, most Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon projection shows are not even noticed or remembered so if reducing publicity of the event is an aim of a future protest, it will likely increase publicity of the projections thus defeating the protest’s aim. It’s like a climate change activist burning a pro-coal banner. The fire contributes to climate change – the thing they are trying to prevent. Media analysts found the controversies, petitions & protests gave The Everest $21 million in free global publicity. However, not protesting implies an endorsement. Expressing that you don’t endorse something is a great way to protest if it doesn’t help your ‘opponent’ for lack of a better word. Last year’s projection show caused such a storm that it was going to get publicity anyway when it happened.
As we’ve pointed out before, messaging combined with events spells disaster. This is something that is slowly appearing in Sydney’s major events & projection shows and definitely will at this year’s Sydney NYE. The Remain-themed (Brexit) London NYE2018 is a good recent example of what negative consequences it brings. Whilst mostly London did vote Remain, the city represents the whole UK to the world and with the nation split on that issue, it was no surprise that Leave supporters were angry that the world got the impression that all of the UK is wanting to remain in the EU. We believe this won’t affect London NYE much as most attendees were Londoners probably. However, TV audiences & domestic tourists of the event may be affected later this year.
This is also why last year’s The Everest projection show made people upset. The Sydney Opera House represents Australia to the world so Australia may be divided on things like gambling, horse racing or animal rights. Sydneysiders mostly attended the protest so it could just be a city vs state issue as well particularly after the (at the time) relatively recent NSW decision to ban greyhound racing. Due to regional citizens not happy with the ban, it was overturned in the midst of The Everest projection anger.
Outside of Vivid Sydney, most Sydney Opera House projection shows are also unnoticable or forgettable. However, last year’s The Everest projection show was to be the 1st featuring a clear ‘billboard’ advertisement, breaking UNESCO rules & Sydney Opera House Trust policies and only got attention when the Sydney Opera House Trust refused to host the projection show.
One main reason the Sydney Opera House Trust rejected it is because there was no associated event held at the Sydney Opera House itself on the night – instead it was to be held across the Harbour at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, where the projectors are housed sometimes. As far as we are aware, no similar rule applies to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The subsequent events after the Trust’s rejection, from fiery radio interviews to media-political links, even if the ‘billboard’ advertisement portion was removed, deserved the anger it created.
The Everest Barrier Draw 2019 proposal for the Sydney Harbour Bridge though involves lighting up the Sydney Harbour Bridge like they do during Vivid Sydney except the projection show on the south-eastern pylon will be similar in design to last year’s Sydney Opera House projection show and as far as we are aware, on both southern pylons (though we expect the south-east pylon will only be used).
Unlike last year’s, it mostly won’t be precedent setting. This article details the history and similar examples of what is proposed for a few weeks time.
But first, it would be good to point out key differences to last year’s show. The first thing that got people angry last year was the advertising.
No Actual Advertising This Year
In all the anger last year, the actual projection that caused all the events was rarely shown. This was it:
As you can see, it features the logo, date & location of the event – all hallmarks of a clear ‘billboard’ advertisement. This part of the show (as well as all features of the logo) were removed in the final show. There was no actual advertising in the final show. In the end, both the proposed and final projection show were probably the worst designed projection shows ever done on the Sydney Opera House because they gave no context to the Harbour audience (plus the proposed one featured a clear advertisement).
The final projection show (minus The Everest trophy) is proposed to be recreated on the Sydney Harbour Bridge southern pylons this year so this means there is also no actual advertising too this year.
It should be noted that last year the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons were Racing NSW’s original idea before the NSW Government ruled it out (who knows why) and suggested the Sydney Opera House instead. Nevertheless, if Racing NSW’s original idea went ahead, if a similar projection show conclusion happened, it may have ignited a storm too. The logo wouldn’t have been a problem (as many logos have featured in similar projection shows as you will see below) but the date & location would have. A better conclusion would have been ‘See you in X days at Royal Randwick!’ thus addressing the audience & wider Harbour with a conclusion instead of putting up what is akin to a Times Square digital billboard targeted to anyone who happens to see it.
No Media-Politics Links
Now with that actual advertisement in the originally proposed show last year, the Sydney Opera House Trust stood firm for changes and always did. But then the head of the Trust, Louise Herron, did an ‘interview’ with Alan Jones. You all heard the audio. If you didn’t, it is here:
Whilst the ‘interview’ was one of the most horrendous ever, it concluded with these words from host Alan Jones:
…I will be speaking to Gladys Berejiklian in about 5, 3 minutes…
Gladys Berejiklian was at the time and currently is Premier of New South Wales. 9 hours later, reports were coming in that the NSW Government would use the Minister’s discretion to force the Sydney Opera House to hold an amended projection show – a request made by the Premier. This was despite reports the Minister was personally being conflicted with the Premier’s request & the clear anger in the community building throughout the day, not just of the interview and advertisement proposal (which had since been cancelled) but of the links between media personalities & politicians particularly after the recent Federal Liberal Parliamentary Party leadership spill. Their influence was seen as strong while the community mostly ignored. By the time the projection show was held, a light-based protest was organised and a giant online-based petition featuring hundreds of thousands of digital signatures was printed and sent to the NSW Parliament.
So far this time, there has been no media personalities influencing politicians.
This means the only points of anger now left are related to gambling, horse racing & animal rights. This is where we will begin to examine the history.
The pylons were first used in the 1980’s for an artwork. It was a lit-up Southern Cross attached to the south-eastern pylon. But it’s first major usage and now most prominent, is for Sydney New Year’s Eve. It began in 1998 when laser projections were introduced for the event in 1998. They were replaced by light projections in 2000 and projection mapping was introduced in 2009. The western pylons were first used in 2015. As of today, they are still used for Sydney NYE sponsors’ branding.
If corporate branding for Sydney NYE is a problem, this will affect the sponsorship of Sydney NYE as it will affect the reach sponsors can get out of the 1 million people around the Harbour and could speed up the decline of the event.
Projection mapping on the Sydney Harbour Bridge south-eastern pylon was introduced for Vivid Sydney in 2013. However, it is not used for corporate purposes but for artistic purposes. It forms Bangarra Dance Theatre’s annual projection show:
Before projection mapping was used at Sydney NYE & Vivid Sydney, it was introduced in general in 2008 for World Youth Day. It has been used ever since for major events & causes though many don’t realise it as it has low reach. Here are some from over the years, some promoting active events, some not:
The light show to be used in this year’s Barrier Draw was introduced at Vivid Sydney in 2013 on the western side but was switched to the eastern side in 2015 and still exists.
In recent years, the light show has also been used for other events most notably World Road Safety Week & Australia Day In Sydney. It also occasionally has been used for State Of Origin (when NSW does well – especially 2014, which is below):
This year’s The Everest Barrier Draw proposal seems to confirm the Vivid Sydney light show is now permanently installed on the Bridge but used for only a few weeks each year.
Other Sporting Events
Over the past decade, the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons have been used for sporting event projections.
The Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL) are Australia’s 2 most attended sporting leagues and have used the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons before – mostly NRL.
AFL used it once for a home final featuring the 2 Sydney teams in 2016 (below) and last Friday, the Vivid Sydney lights & Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons were lit orange for the Greater Western Sydney Giants’s inaugural Grand Final appearance:
NRL used the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons each year in the week prior to the Grand Final in the early 2010’s. After a few years absence, it was announced today that they will be reintroduced for the next week.
Todd Greenburg, in a press conference, referring to Cooper Cronk’s image being projected, said how that player’s “brand is sitting on the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge” and that “it demonstrates, again, the power of the game. It demonstrates the power our players have”.
These NRL Grand Final Week 2019 projections are done similar to the proposed The Everest Barrier Draw projection show later this month. The only difference is the north-eastern pylon is being lit (and badly too – it is shining the powerful lights onto the roadway below the pylon).
It should be noted Peter V’Landys, CEO of Racing NSW (and at the time of The Everest projection show last year), recently became Chairman-elect of the Australian Rugby League Commission and these NRL Grand Final Week projections are being done in conjunction with Destination NSW, who also did the recent Greater Western Sydney Giants lighting, though for some reason, did not add projections for that occasion.
Strangely, in today’s media release, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said:
This is something we have never done before over the entire week
They have – numerous times. We wonder why he said that?
It could be to justify the upcoming The Everest Barrier Draw projection show being done.
To add to that, on the 2nd October, the winner of the NRL’s Dally M Medal will be projected onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon either simultaneously or as the actual announcement. This would be the 1st award ceremony projected onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
‘NRL Grand Final Week’ Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Projections 2014 Photograph: Australian Broadcasting Corporation
NRL & AFL are well known for their connections to gambling organisations and have endured over the years numerous relevant scandals involving their players. The NRL’s corporate partner is Sportsbet while the AFL’s is Bet Easy. TV networks that broadcast their sports to a community audience bombard that audience with many gambling ads from many gambling companies whose advertisements normalise gambling by promoting it like a business or profession.
It could be fair to say NRL & AFL indirectly do more to promote gambling than horse racing does (though most people know horse racing does more to directly promote gambling than NRL & AFL does).
Using the Sydney Harbour Bridge to celebrate a sporting event whether it is gambling-focused or not is not unusual. The proposed The Everest projection show this year is no different.
The only argument against the above paragraph is that The Everest is not as big as the Melbourne Cup yet. The Melbourne Cup mainly became ‘The Race That Stops The Nation’ because an interstate Melbourne Cup rivalry between Victoria & NSW developed. The Everest has only beaten the Melbourne Cup in the prize money stakes and no rivalry of similar nature has developed with that race particularly when lots of international horses are in it. Melbourne Cup‘s attendance is also more than double that of The Everest. The Melbourne Cup‘s TV ratings are sky high too in comparison.
While The Everest projection show this year is intended to promote the event through celebration just like NRL & AFL, the projection show is not an advertisement or celebration itself. Rather than just as a promotion or celebration, projections done for The Everest have always been intended as part of their Barrier Draw, which can be considered as part of the sporting event itself.
There is a precedent for incorporating (or at least, proposing to incorporate) the Sydney Harbour Bridge in projections/lights as part of a sporting event (and not just for promotional/celebratory purposes). It never happened though due to cost and possibly because the technology wasn’t quite there. It was a half a decade ahead of it’s time…
The Rugby World Cup 2003 Final was proposed to have the most extravagant Bridge Effect ever.
The Rugby World Cup Trophy was to be the Bridge Effect with multiple miniature Bridge Effects of a rugby ball running along the arch. Players would be projected onto the pylons ‘kicking’ the ball back and forth along the Bridge’s arch when a try/goal happened during the game. The score of each team would be shown on each pylon as fireworks erupted from the pylon’s top.
But due to cost & technological limitations, in the end, just a rugby ball became the Bridge Effect. In hindsight, that was probably wise as the Rugby World Cup Bridge Effect & opening/closing Harbour fireworks displays are the most forgotten displays of all time. Barely any footage exists apart from this short video:
In the end, the only arguments against the proposed The Everest Barrier Draw projection show that have no precedent involve horse racing or barrier draws. This will be the 1st horse racing or barrier draw projection show on the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons. Gambling alone doesn’t cut it as an argument when many other gambling-rich sports have been projected on the pylons in the past & even this year. And so far, for this year’s Barrier Draw, there are no ‘billboard’ advertisement designs proposed nor any media figures personally saying they will ring the Premier to ensure it happens. It is only precedent setting and the only reason to protest this year without any fault in argument is in regards to horse racing or barrier draws.
By all means, if you feel you need to protest it due to the gambling links & the promotional/celebratory purposes, feel free to. We are not stopping you nor trying to discourage you but you might as well protest nearly all the other ones including the NRL one currently happening.
Note: Article updated on the 1st of October to include the Dally M Medal award projections and updated on the 5th of October to include details on last year’s publicity figures & to correct details about this year’s projection show – it won’t feature ‘The Everest’ trophy, which it did last year. Updated on 8th October to point out Peter V’landys is Chairman-elect of the Australian Rugby League Commission. He becomes Chairman on October 30.
This article or previous versions does and did not imply that Sydney Spectaculars endorses horse racing or gambling etc. This article & it's earlier versions are only to show how similar projections have been done before with no protests.