The CONTENT of Dynamic Place-based Media - The Rise of the 'Content is King' Monarchy, Part II: Content - The Online Magazine for the Sign Trade.
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The CONTENT of Dynamic Place-based Media - The Rise of the 'Content is King' Monarchy, Part II: Content

In this second part of the series, Content is King, we will explore the opportunities of content and the costs associated with dynamic-placed media content.

By Lyle Bunn

the production of "content" for North America's Digital Signage/Digital Out-of-Home (DS/DOOH) networks has reached $3.5 billion in annual investment.

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  • Content and Opportunity
    $3.5 Billion Annually and Growing
    Beyond the almost $2 billion annual investment in digital signage hardware, software and operations, the production of "content" for North America's Digital Signage/Digital Out-of-Home (DS/DOOH) networks has reached $3.5 billion in annual investment. Drawing on 21,000 person years of talent, over 8.8 million individual spots are created annually, with well beyond a million of these being unique advertising spots with creative and flight time paid by third party advertisers. These estimates are conservative and do not include licensed content, stock images or data feeds.

    An estimated 1,080,000 unique advertising spots1 play on Digital Out-of-Home displays across North America during 2010, based on conservative estimates of playloop length and spot duration and refreshment used in the calculation. An estimated 90,000 unique ads are playing on North American displays at any one time.

    The Digital Signage /Digital Out-of-Home (DS/DOOH) industry in North America has emerged rapidly (25-50% CAGR) over the past 8 years in particular and ad spending on DOOH continues to grow at or beyond double digit figures annually approaching $2 billion according to PQ Media. DOOH has found its place in the "communications continuum" with other credible advertising medium such as TV, radio, Internet, print, billboard, etc. and is positioned to motivate action and as a "triggering device" to motivate "audience of one" engagements through a handheld, mobile interactivity and website.

    The Digital Out-of-Home area of the industry, which is based on third party advertising revenues is comprised of almost 300 networks, which allow advertisers to reach targeted audiences based on demographic profile, Designated Market Area (DMA), geography and even the activity in which they are involved (shopping, transit, café, workout, attending a game, etc.) in presenting messages at points of purchase, transit and gathering.

    Providers: Current and Emerging
    The number of content producers and service providers is growing as the use of the medium expands.

    Current Sources of Content: is the most comprehensive listing of content service providers in reflecting the printed Digital Signage Resource Directory (now in its 9th annual edition), which is produced by Digital Signage Magazine and The Digital Signage Group. The directory includes over 440 providers in its "Content Creation and Design" category and more than 140 companies in the "Content Creation Services" category.

    Content supplier listings can also be found online (or are emerging) at Digital Signage Universe, Digital Signage Forum, Digital Signage Today, as well as in the member listings of Digital Screenmedia Association (DSA) and the Digital Signage Federation (DSF). Content providers are increasingly exhibitors and presenters at industry events.

    Some prominent content providers
    are listed below. These content providers have shared their knowledge and approaches as part of the "Cooking Up Content" demonstrations at Customer Engagement Technology World (CETW). Many have been recognized with industry awards and are active in advancing the standards of practice in the use of dynamic media within the context of overall marketing, patron, staff and student communications.

    Alchemy, A St. Joseph Company
    Arsenal Media
    Cineplex Digital Solutions (formerly DDC - Digital Display and Communications)
    Heads and Tails
    Saddle Ranch Productions
    Show and Tell

    Other dynamic media content producers, which offer significant supply capabilities include Blue Pony, Premier Retail Networks (PRN), Met Hodder and EDR Media among others.

    Stock video footage or live information feeds
    are provided by a growing number of providers, the following of which is a sampling. The array of "stock" content is extensive from these and other firms, allowing real-time or near real time information suited to the environment to be presented. Significant customization of feeds and footage from these sources is often possible.

    Cineplex Digital Solutions
    Saddle Ranch Productions

    Specialty subject content
    is increasingly available from a range of media producers, event organizers, photographers and sporting teams.

    For example, Jim Kelly, widely known host and personality in professional golf can provide stock or custom footage of golf-related tips and celebrity interviews. This content is attractive to golfers and high net worth individuals in waiting, gathering and sports environments. Typically these spots do not reference any brands, which assure that no conflicts exist with potential or existing advertisers. Advertisers appreciate the use of short-form, attention-attracting informational content as it can be useful to attracting and holding attention on the display.

    Public service announcements
    and social/workplace values messaging can be obtained, often at no cost, from social services agencies or their media agents. The Causeway Agency ( for example is a full service ad agency focused on non-profit organizations and government agencies. Its clients include UNICEF, the National Crime Prevention Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Communities in Schools among others.

    Network operators
    have in-house capabilities for the creation of internal content and service to advertisers. Many of these network operators are members of the Digital Place-Based Advertising Association or the Canadian Out-of-Home Digital Association (CODACAN, which aim to increase the effective application of Dynamic Out-of-Home media.

    Emerging Sources of Content:
    The production of dynamic signage spots typically includes adapting and re-purposing media elements such as video, photography, logos, animation, web content, stock photos/footage and clipart, text and audio in order to sustain a brand "look and feel" while significantly reducing spot costs and production cycles.

    This adaptation is a specialty of the producers of content for other communications devices, which enables an easy transition to dynamic signage content production by the producers of TV, website, billboard, static sign, magazine and newspaper ads.

    Advertising agencies, which plan and manage brand success have typically provided "content" and messaging for display in other media (i.e. TV, newspapers, etc.). The content provided for use in dynamic out-of-home has often been the same content used for TV or print, often not adapted to take advantage of the audience targeting, out-of-home display and video presentation capabilities of dynamic media.

    Agencies have significant opportunity to provide their content production services in producing content that more effectively links the brand and audiences that can be targeted with dynamic media. For example, a Listerine breath strips ad might be presented on an elevator, lobby signage, corporate or campus network with different text messages over the product package graphic at different dayparts as follows:

    Morning: "Make sure they want you to do the talking"
    Lunch "They don't need to know what you ate for lunch"
    Afternoon "Start the evening afresh"

    As managers and builders of brand positioning and success, and guardians of brand assets, agencies have, in dynamic place-based media, a powerful communications tools for targeted, tactical marketing. Agencies also have a new in-house market for their production capabilities with attractive new revenue potential.

    Producers of Static Signs and Digital Graphics
    have the inherent capability to create simple, non-audio dependent messages using static images and text. These firms also understand the budgeting, culture, internal processes and messaging priorities of their client organizations. Such firms are therefore ideally suited to produce dynamic display content. The Screen Graphics Industry Association (SGIA), Sign & Digital Graphics Magazine, and the International Sign Association (ISA) are helping their members, readers and event delegates to better understand the medium of dynamic signage and the business opportunity that it represents to better serve clients and their best interests.

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    Static sign and digital graphics providers have three options in providing content, including:

    • Respond to the requirement for dynamic content as their clients implement dynamic signage capability.
    • Increase their technical capabilities to bring a complete solution of technology, content and ongoing operations to their clients.
    • Partner with technology providers and system operators such as Audio-Visual and Information Technology Integrators, which could design, deliver and install the technology, while they (the sign or digital graphics provider) provides ongoing playlist administration and content needs.

    Website developers:
    Producers of websites have the tools to develop dynamic signage content and are typically one of the first mediums to provide brand or organizational messages. Websites typically offer significant amounts of information in its messages, and so web developers must dramatically refine and cut back on the amount of information provided to include only essential messages aimed at achieving the communications outcome.

    The International 3D Society, which has successfully advanced 3D in cinema and TV is now beginning to focus on 3D as a marketing instrument. "The WOW factor and the ability to appeal to upbeat, visually savvy target audiences makes 3D a natural for branding and merchandising" says Terry Kollman of Charter Digital Media, which is advancing in its media planning, creative, production and placement of 3D.

    Cost of Content
    Costs of Content can be considered in three major areas including Cost per Spot (CPS), Cost per Period (CPP) and Cost per Opportunity (CPO).

    "Free" content does not exist. While costs can be minimized or minimal, the cost of "time" to source, access and gain permission to use available materials to format or produce a spot is a real cost. Considerable caution must be applied in situations where minimal cost could result in poor or negative performance of the spot or the dynamic signage installation at large. Providing "resources" to achieve "priorities" is usually necessary, and this can co-exist with good resources stewardship.

    Production costs range widely
    At one end of the scale are spots that are simply reformatted from other mediums, typically costing under $200, and at the other end of the scale, creative spots costing thousands of dollars to conceive and produce, test and refine.

    Some creative ads display high concept and are justified by their expected impact, long run to large viewer numbers and spectacular presence. These are characterized by ads presented in Times Square.

    Many dynamic signage network spots simply involve the reformatting of available media. This might include assigning a portion of a TV ad for playout or most often, recompiling graphic, text, animation and background elements. While authoring tools enable this process, the use of these tools can be like putting power tools in somebody's hands and expecting that these will deliver a piece of carpentry result that meets functional, aesthetic, durability and cost expectations. Talent and process matter. Tools plus talent plus process helps assure quality results.

    By displaying spots that better achieve objectives, greater investment in content development may be warranted, which continues the cycle toward better content.

    Cost per Spot (CPS)
    includes the costs of producing individual spots through activities such as technical formatting for play out, design, composition, license and the acquisition of media elements that might be adapted in producing the dynamic signage spot.

    Content production costs are typically charged on an hourly basis or quoted as a project cost based on hourly inputs. Rates of $80 to $200 per hour per contributor depending on the skill level provided are common. While a typical 15 second spot which re-uses media assets may be composed in 2 to 5 hours, the time required is dependent on the time required for creative input, sourcing of stock images, development, version refinements and approval processes.

    Costs of $200 to $600 for simple spots are not uncommon, nor are charges of several thousand dollars for unique and creatively compelling spots.

    Technical formatting is the configuring of a prepared spot to meet the sizing, resolution, run duration and media format requirements so that the spot can be integrated into the playlist of a specific network. Each network describes its media file options and requirements in the "mechanical specifications" for spots.

    It is common for ads and media primarily developed for TV, print ads or websites to be re-formatted for dynamic signage display. Since many digital signage software products enable this simple reformatting, it is common for a formatting service to be provided by a network operator and included in an advertising rate. The cost of technical formatting typically ranges from $30 to 300.

    Adapting available media typically includes isolating parts of existing materials, adding text, animations, transitions and coloration, and composing the new spot by compiling different elements. Depending on the time required, adapting available media typically costs $100-600 per 10-second spot, with longer or more complex spots costing $400-2000.

    New content elements such as photography, video, animation and the use of licensed materials add to the cost per spot.

    Cost per spot is minimized primarily by adapting available spots and elements from their highest resolution native format, and using style guides and creative processes aimed at achieving high production throughput.

    For the network operator, cost per spot is minimized when ads are received in required formats "ready to play."

    Cost per Period (CPP)
    is the cost of production of all media spots included in all playlists for a given period. This measure is often used in budgeting for non advertising (i.e. non third party paid) content.

    In a simple example, a playlist of six, 10-second spots, with half the spots changing each week, would have a total of 15 spots per month (6+3+3+3). The addition of play out "zones" on the display, more frequent refreshing of playlisted spots and presenting different spots to target different audiences, would increase the number of spots, and the overall Cost per Period of content. Cost per Period costs can be minimized by simply presenting fewer spots, reducing the refresh rate and shifting spot production costs to advertisers or sponsors, or leveraging the desire of suppliers of content to showcase content they might provide (i.e. public services organization, creative houses, broadcasters, etc.).

    The critical balance in assessing Cost per Period is to compare this investment to viewer satisfaction and the achievement of objectives. Often a small investment aimed at improving visually weak spots or in providing several very good spots in an otherwise less-inspired play loop of content can improve the awareness and opinion of the entire play loop, while improving an overall standard of spots for the future.

    Economies are realized when a content provider is engaged to provide numerous spots over a period of time.

    Cost per Opportunity (CPO)
    considers cost relative to the opportunity to achieve an objective or improve results. The opportunity that is not realized due to the lack of suitable ad or messaging content to achieve a desired impact, can be substantial.

    For example, to reformat an available print ad may cost $100, with the reformatted ad having limited impact in generating brand awareness, sales lift or engagement. It could actually have a negative impact on the brand. Alternatively, a small investment in composing a spot better suited to digital signage could result in better branding, increased sales or service enquiries, and a much better visit or brand experience.

    Since Content is critical to the success of dynamic digital signage and the achievement of communications objectives using this medium, resources and skills must be intelligently applied to producing a suitable quality and quantity of content spots. Failure to do so, is to waste the investment in technology, and very likely, to de-brand the products and services promoted on the display, and the locations in which the displays exist.

    Value is realized by sourcing Content from a supplier, which has the infrastructure and talents in the use of dynamic digital signage to maximize benefits while minimizing costs.

    You won't want to miss Part III of this series as we dive into standards of practice including key elements of design, some guidelines for content creation, and how to achieve that all-important call to action. Stay tuned!

    Dr. Lyle Bunn (Hon.), Principal and Strategy Architect, BUNN Co. - Lyle Bunn has been recognized with an Honorary Doctorate for his significant contributions to education and the development of the Dynamic Place-based Media industry. He is one of North America’s most highly regarded independent consultant, advisor, commentator and educator to investors, operators, suppliers and users of Digital Signage and Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) Media. For more information visit

    Read on, go to: Part 1 and Part III

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