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Expert Roundtable: The Future of Digital Signage

Three insiders weigh in on the state of the industry. 6/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

Expert Roundtable: The Future of Digital Signage

Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Bennett Liles

Three insiders weigh in on the state of the industry.




JP Morgan Chase deployed digital signage, running the Rise Vision Rise Display Network, in the lobby of the company's New York office lobby. Rise Vision Vice President Ryan Cahoy says using live data such as an LED ticker in conjunction with the core message is critical to keeping viewers engaged.

JP Morgan Chase deployed digital signage, running the Rise Vision Rise Display Network, in the lobby of the company's New York office lobby. Rise Vision Vice President Ryan Cahoy says using live data such as an LED ticker in conjunction with the core message is critical to keeping viewers engaged.

The digital-signage industry is gaining steam at a phenomenal rate. In fact, the exploding variety of hardware configurations alone presents a daunting challenge to anyone considering implementing a digital-signage system. A critical step in planning is careful evaluation of the mission, the content, the targeted viewers, and the style of presentation. We assembled three experts in the field to consider some central questions regarding the present status of the industry and where it is headed in the near future.

Joining us are Irene Chow, senior vendor business manager of digital signage for Ingram Micro (www.ingrammicro.com), the world's largest technology distributor serving 150 countries; Duane Weber, president of AutoComm (www.autocomm-inc.com), one of the largest providers of dynamic signage solutions in the United States; and Ryan Cahoy, vice president of Rise Vision (www.risevision.com), which owns and operates the Rise Display Network, a web-based content management system for digital signage. Our team of experts takes the pulse of the digital-signage business and offers some seasoned wisdom on the psychology of dynamic signage. Their responses to our questions provide a keen insight into the marketing methods employed and the current acceptance rate of this new marketing technology.

SVC: How important is it to integrate live data such as news, weather, sports scores, and stock quotes with your message to attract attention?

Chow: Streaming current information like news, weather, and sports is important in that it automatically makes the sign relevant to the viewer — and more importantly, it will attract the viewer to read everything within proximity to the live data.

Weber: Live data — or “infotainment,” as we refer to it — is important in some applications and not very important in others. In circumstances where an advertiser has paid for the space, exclusivity is important and live data is considered a distraction to the advertiser's message. An example is placement in grocery stores where digital signage is almost always sold for advertising purposes. It's unlikely that live data will be played on those screens in situations where the digital signage is used for self-promotion or for internal purposes; our clients are indicating that live data is a great method to reduce perceived dwell time. This includes a wide variety of markets. We have financial institutions that place digital signage in the teller and lobby areas. It's common to display live news and financial information. As clients are waiting, they are viewing the digital signage. As a result, their perceived dwell time is reduced. One teller manager even reported that occasionally clients go back to the signage after their transactions to see what they missed.

A unique application for live data is digital menu boards. As patrons are waiting to order, they can occupy their time with news, sports, or other information. Again, the time they spend in line waiting to order just doesn't seem as long when they're reading current events.

Cahoy: Live data is critical to keeping people engaged. Without the live data, people may glance at the display the first couple of times passing by, but then start to dismiss it as just another marketing message. When you include live data such as headline news, the weather, sports scores, or something as simple as the time, it makes the display a destination. Every time someone passes the screen in your lobby or storefront, they are going to want to look out of habit to get the latest information. It is very similar to the effect the time-and-temperature displays have for banks; you may have a clock in your car, but you can't help but look at that display to check the time, and at the same time, you are subtly getting that brand impression.

Corporate and university information booths have developed a digital-signage presence to take the load off of staffers during peak times, steering visitors closer to their destinations and reducing service time.

Corporate and university information booths have developed a digital-signage presence to take the load off of staffers during peak times, steering visitors closer to their destinations and reducing service time.

When installing digital signage, how much importance should be placed on planning to integrate with an emergency/alert management system to transform the displays for alerts in the time of a crisis?

Chow: Integrating digital signage with an emergency/alert management system is essentially a visual paging system. In large public venues — such as a college campus, airport, amusement park, or hospital — a visual paging system would definitely complement an emergency/alert management system, especially for the hearing-impaired.

Weber: Only two markets have really warmed up to emergency messaging: education and corporate communication. Intruder-alert messaging is fast becoming a standard feature in many digital-signage software applications. In these situations, someone manually triggers a message to be played, indicating that there is a threat and action needs to be taken immediately. In these markets, serious consideration should be given to incorporating digital signage into their emergency-alert plan. The challenge is that the digital-signage decision makers are typically not involved in emergency planning, so while it's nice feature to offer, it usually takes extra effort on the part of the integrator. My recommendation is to work with the client to understand the importance of adding emergency alerts, and if it's something they want to incorporate, be prepared to invest extra time in helping the client do so.


Expert Roundtable: The Future of Digital Signage

Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Bennett Liles

Three insiders weigh in on the state of the industry.




Because today's consumers are Internet-savvy, the advertising industry is re-evaluating the digital signage market as a viable advertising medium.

Because today's consumers are Internet-savvy, the advertising industry is re-evaluating the digital signage market as a viable advertising medium.

Cahoy: Digital signage is always placed in high-traffic and highly visible areas. In the time of a crisis, what better way to alert the masses? Every organization is looking to maximize their investment and utilize technology for dual purposes. While we hope no one ever needs to use the alerts features of our software [Rise Display Network], it is great to know that if something happens, a university, mall, office complex, or any other type of business can quickly and efficiently get the notice out.

Is the advertising market warming up to the idea of allocating budgets on digital signage?

Chow: I believe the advertising market is re-evaluating digital signage as a focused media for advertising, because today's consumers are Internet-savvy. They're used to viewing information on the go — from their cell phones to their notebook PCs. Digital signage is just another extension of this method of communication.

Weber: Currently, advertisers remain cool to the idea of digital signage as an effective tool. Our target market is not the Wal-Marts and Best Buys of the world, rather consumer-focused businesses with less than 100 locations. We have been approached on several occasions for geographical advertising networks — placing monitors in various hotels, resorts, restaurants, and attractions — to promote themselves and other businesses. None have been launched because it seems as though there is a chicken-and-egg effect in play. Advertisers don't want to invest in these networks until there is sufficient saturation and providers, or end-users don't want to invest until they get a substantial advertiser base. Hence, a stalemate and the networks don't move forward. I believe that when saturation occurs in a specific market, either vertical or geographical, then the advertising market will warm up to digital signage. However, it will most likely take a significant investment by a provider to accomplish this. To date, there simply aren't enough screens to make it attractive.

Cahoy: Buyers are more sophisticated now and advertisers are looking for new ways to reach people at the point of purchase. Digital signage is still young, so it isn't proven, but I think trends have shown that advancements like pop-up blockers, TiVo, XM radio have altered the way people are introduced to products and new brands. The advantage of digital signage is it is prominently placed at the point of purchase or in highly visible areas where you are standing and waiting so you are forced to look at it for entertainment. What better way to educate than at the point of a sale or when you have a captive audience in a waiting room or queued up in a line?

When digital signage is placed in teller and lobby areas of financial institutions, the customers' perceived dwell time is reduced.

When digital signage is placed in teller and lobby areas of financial institutions, the customers' perceived dwell time is reduced.

Are users receptive to getting free or discounted displays in return for having advertising taking up a majority of the screen?

Chow: Yes, end-users are receptive to anything that is free, however, subsidies for digital signage through advertising dollars is still a fairly new concept. It is definitely an interesting business model, which more of our resellers and their end-users are asking about. Making a profit on this through advertising subsidies requires advertising expertise — you can either hire this type of expertise or contract it out.

Weber: Various markets seem receptive to the concept — C-Stores and universities, for example — however, the advertising network is not sufficiently established to make free or discounted displays a reality. The limiting factor at this point actually seems to be the lack of the middleman to bring advertisers and end-users together. We've talked to a few providers, but their screen count is quite low. They simply don't have the financial backing to deploy the number of screens necessary to attract major advertisers. It will take someone willing to make a significant investment to make this concept work. Major advertisers want eyeball counts similar to that of more traditional advertising mediums, and to do so, a provider will need to install screens by the hundreds — if not thousands — to capture the attention of advertisers.


Expert Roundtable: The Future of Digital Signage

Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Bennett Liles

Three insiders weigh in on the state of the industry.




Cahoy: I think certain markets are open to the opportunity to get technology, but many others — such as banks, hotels, and businesses — want to have control of the display and all of the content to reinforce their brands and products and don't want to open themselves up to ads for other products. As the displays and all the supporting pieces such as mounts, software, and computers continue to drop in price, the technology is now very affordable, so organizations are looking to make the investment to control the message.

Does the market want to purchase software and build their own inhouse infrastructure to support digital signage, or are they buying into the benefits of an ASP (application service provider)-hosted model?

Chow: To purchase software and build your own inhouse infrastructure to support digital signage would enable you to keep more of the profits. However, only large-enterprise customers have the wherewithal to manage this operation internally. Thus, a hosted ASP model would be a cost-effective delivery method for digital signage — especially those customers who don't manage digital-signage content as a core business.

Weber: I'm not sure that the market necessarily wants to build their own inhouse infrastructure, but they still appear to prefer a box of software that they own to the ASP model. We provide both solutions, and even in situations where the ASP model clearly makes more sense, quite a bit of persuading is required to get the customer to accept that the ASP model is preferred for their application. One market that we have not been able to convince is the corporate-communication segment, especially when proprietary company information is being displayed. The fear is that the data will be captured by the competition when it ventures across the World Wide Web.

That said, we have been reasonably successful at convincing clients that there are significant benefits to an ASP product — including little/no upfront investment, a maintenance-free product for the end-user, and access to content administration from virtually anywhere.

Cahoy: At Rise, we feel the majority of the market wants to simplify their life by going to a hosted solution. Aside from the complexity of setting up your own server, you also have the cost to maintain the system, and most organizations' IT departments are already overburdened. By using an ASP model, a company or university can deploy a system much more quickly without having to worry about the servers, redundancy, sourcing data, and regular system maintenance. The other advantage of the ASP model is it leverages the Web, allowing a company to delegate control to multiple users so you don't have a bottleneck for contributing content to keep the displays fresh. The key to a successful digital-signage deployment is keeping it simple and not overcomplicating the system. The best way to do that is by leveraging a company that has the proper infrastructure already in place.

Are there too many options for displays, software, mounts, etc. Are users overwhelmed with the different variations and jargon to the point they just do nothing?

Chow: People like to have options, and many do have brand preferences — even if they won't admit it. I don't think there is an issue with having too many options in the market. Ultimately, the market will dictate which manufacturers come out as winners. The real market need is helping resellers and end-user customers tailor a true end-to-end solution (and provide options) for ultimately what digital signage is supposed to do — incite brand loyalty, promote specials, and drive sales, inform, etc. That is the value of Ingram Micro. As a distributor and enabler, we can provide resellers with multiple product solutions, integration partners, installation partners, financing options, leasing options, pre- and post-technical support, and additional training. Since Ingram Micro does not sell directly to end-user customers, the company has created internally a unique ecosystem to enable its resellers and vendor partners in addressing many different digital-signage opportunities.

Weber: There aren't too many options for mounts or displays, but there definitely seem to be too many options for software and controllers. In the last 18 months, we have evaluated 44 different software options, which does not include some of the more recognizable products nor those solutions targeted toward major networks. I do think that there are too many options, but this is common at this stage of the product lifecycle. What is remarkable is that there are two-person companies creating software and divisions of major corporations all in the same software space. That said, I don't believe that this is the reason end-users are necessarily holding back.

The major issue in end-users not moving forward is the lack of enough solution providers. Everyone seems fixated on the large corporate roll-outs or the single player/monitor applications. What is needed to advance the market is the education and interest of more integrators to become educated, and then build broad awareness among the masses of the potential of digital signage. The problem is that most traditional integrators don't currently understand the point-of-purchase advertising model and how to sell into it. Furthermore, the major bottleneck we have experienced — and why we now provide it free — is the lack of content creation. Most of our target customers, small-to-medium-sized businesses, do not have inhouse graphic-design capabilities and are reluctant to pay agency rates. Offering it free removes that barrier.

Cahoy: As digital signage moves from the early adopters to the majority of the market, the industry is growing at a staggering pace. With this growth come lots of new companies adapting their technology to fit the market and innovating new ways of doing things. Some ideas help move the market to the next level and some are experiments that don't fit. The challenge for organizations looking to deploy a system is to wade through all the new options and choices that show up daily, and in the process, not get overwhelmed. It is always best if you can find a reputable organization to consult on the design and set up. It may cost a little more, but ensuring you get a quality system without exhausting tons of man-hours is priceless.


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