Fewer Attend Expo, but Market Forecasts Remain Strong

Attendance slipped significantly, but not disastrously, at last month's Digital Signage Expo. "A lot of exhibitors were expecting the worst, given the economy," according to Chris Gibbs, president of 3/10/2009 8:00 AM Eastern

Fewer Attend Expo, but Market Forecasts Remain Strong

Mar 10, 2009 12:00 PM, By John W. DeWitt

Attendance, though lower than last year, remained substantial at the 2009 Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas.

Attendance slipped significantly, but not disastrously, at last month's Digital Signage Expo. "A lot of exhibitors were expecting the worst, given the economy," according to Chris Gibbs, president of ExpoNation, the Atlanta-based company that produces the show. Instead, he says, the show's exhibitors ended up reasonably pleased with about 3,000 attendees—a roughly even mix of end users, integrators, and brand/advertising executives—who came to Las Vegas this year, versus 3,500 who attended last year. The show floor expanded by 19 percent and featured 188 exhibitors this year, 30 more than in 2008, Gibbs adds.

Meanwhile, industry researchers and market analysts continue to predict an expansion in the digital signage space that defies overall economic trends. The latest report—announced March 9 by New York-based ABI Research—forecasts a whopping 33 percent increase for the category in 2009. These projections, finalized in late 2008, attempted to factor in the recessionary economy. However, the firm plans to revisit the numbers in the coming months, according to ABI industry analyst Zippy Aima. "Nobody was expecting the market to get into the state we're in now."

That realistic sensibility lies behind Gibbs' positive spin on the turnout at this year's Digital Signage Expo. "There was a dip in attendance, but not as much as a lot of companies had anticipated given their experience with other events," he explains. To help hold the line, his firm increased show promotions by 50 percent. "In hindsight that helped us avoid the kind of hit other events in the tradeshow industry have taken."

The diversity of the signage industry makes it challenging to reach prospective attendees, Gibbs says, noting that ExpoNation mailed more than a quarter-million direct mail pieces three times in addition to magazine advertising, email promotions, and other efforts.

"Because we cross over so many business categories in signage—retail, hospitality, corporate, and so on—we have to cast a really wide net to reach such a diverse audience," he explains. His staff is still evaluating the attendance breakdown, but preliminary data shows "some uptick in the ad agency and brand field, but we also promoted a lot more to that area than we have in the past."

Findings of the ABI Research report underscore the growing of interest in digital signage for advertising agencies and brand marketers.

"Traditional advertising media are losing their appeal for many consumers," Aima says. "Consequently, digital signage has emerged as a way to deliver highly customized and targeted messaging in a variety of locations. And in a fast-changing world, digital signs' ability to be updated in realtime is a real benefit."

The digital signage market continues to mature, Gibbs notes, citing the increased sophistication of expo attendees.

"We kept hearing over and over again from exhibitors that they're seeing a much more educated attendee," he says. "When we started show in 2004, all attendees were brand new and didn't even know how to evaluate the technology. Now customers are more educated and have done their research."

Signage technology also continues to mature, Gibbs says, though new technologies continue to be introduced, including 3D and interactive signage, wayfinding, and signage applications that tap into mobile technology and social media. He's particularly impressed by the opportunity represented by younger consumers interacting with digital signage. "If we can integrate the screen people have in their pocket with out-of-home media, that will be the next big thing," he says.

Still, the ABI report cites several challenges in the signage marketplace. The market remains fragmented, with many players. Moreover, data security issues, the lack of standards, and the cost of higher-end networks are all constraints on growth.

"Although digital signage technology promises increases in sales and revenue, such growth is not immediate," Aima says. "The investment in installing a network can still be very high depending on the number of sites and the cost of the other components. Yet, businesses with ready access to capital may see a real opportunity here."

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