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The Promising Growth of Digital Signage - What's Your Sign?

The digital signage market is one of the fastest growing channels with the projected market worth $3.5 billion this year.

By Steve Acquista, Director of Digital Signage, Black Box

Why should you be getting into this segment of the industry and why?

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  • The explosion of the networked digital signage market is exciting because with its promise of growth in so many areas, it's unlike anything we've seen before. When you consider all of the elements involved in the deployment of a digital signage network - from PCs, software, displays, signal distribution, cabling, fabrication, installation, content development and management - you begin to understand why this is an important market segment in the specialty imaging industry.

    According to PQ Media, a leading provider of media econometrics, global digital out-of-home media revenue generated by digital place-based network, billboard, and signage operators, grew by more than 16 percent in 2010 totaling more than $6.47 billion and is projected to expand by 16.9 percent in 2011. It's no wonder we are seeing the major display, signal distribution manufacturers dedicating resources to support digital signage solutions sales and deployments.

    Although digital signage applications can vary greatly and be used for multiple purposes, these are the more common uses we see:

    • Public systems: Visitor information systems for public buildings displaying schedules, wayfinding, events, and emergency alerts such as fire, rescue and exit information, etc.
    • Private systems: Corporate lobby signage for visitors, employee messaging, training, wellness and safety programs, corporate events, news and emergency alerts, etc.
    • Transportation: Flight, train and bus schedules, wayfinding, emergency alerts and exit information.
    • Advertising: To promote or sell a product, service or event. Can be passive or interactive such as a touch kiosk. Locations and audiences can vary greatly.
    • Brand building: To promote a brand and or increase a brand identity.
    • Influencing behavior: Wayfinding or directing customers to different areas, increasing dwell time for a given area.
    • Enhance an environment: Promote a theme and or an experience through a series of displays, video walls, kiosks and content.
    • Enhance customer experience: Inform, direct, promote and reduce perceived wait times in public and private places such as retail checkout, restaurants, banks, museums, sports complexes, grocery stores, banks, hotels, airports, amusement parks, schools and government buildings.

    Digital Signage Now and Then
    Years ago, when flat-panel displays first entered the market, I recall conversations with retail store executives about the idea of replacing all their traditional backlit box signs and poster boards with dynamic digital signage. The easy part was getting them excited after showing off the latest large-format displays with vivid images of everything from house wares to expensive perfumes. The hard part came after we presented them with a quote and explained what would be involved in the design, deployment and support for the project.

    Today, the benefits of networked digital signage have gotten easier to understand, and digital signage has become easier to deploy. The costs of the hardware and software have come down considerably and, through the advancements in signage platforms, they're easier to present and manage than ever before. Throw in the sustainability component, i.e. how much paper, fuel and resources can be saved with digital signage, and you really get some attention.

    So how does a traditional print and graphics provider become successful in migrating to networked-digital signage? They do it through education and the understanding that effective digital signage is much more than canned video or flash card picture frames or even a PC with PowerPoint®. It starts with understanding the essential elements that make up a signage solution and the workflow methodology for scheduling and managing content. Once you get your customers to grasp the concept of time validity and how it relates to zones and playlist schedules, you'll have conquered the majority of confusion associated with digital signage.

    Let's start with the architecture of typical digital signage layout (Figure 1), which is comprised of various zones, each capable of managing a content playlist. The ability to manage each zone and playlist independently is what differentiates digital signage from traditional static signage or canned video.

    When we add time validity (Figure 2), which is the ability to control the schedule for each zone and playlist independently within a given layout, the ultimate power of digital signage begins to emerge. More advanced systems can even provide the ability to assign permission rights to specific users for control and management of specific zones without affecting the overall layout design.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    Challenges in Promoting Digital Signage
    Challenges for those looking to get into digital signage can vary, but the ones we encounter the most are:

    • Lack of understanding the key elements that make up a digital signage solution
    • Confusion about what digital signage platforms to choose and support
    • Confusion about what vendors and partners to choose
    • Lack of resources to configure, support and deploy digital signage solutions
    • Lack of installation and deployment services
    • Lack of understanding how to design and present a solution to meet clients' needs and objectives
    • Lack of content development and creation services

    Since education is the key in assisting our channel partners with digital signage, we got together with Brawn Consulting and developed a Black Box online digital signage certification course for our authorized resellers and integrators. This program has been quite successful in providing us with the opportunity to supply the fundamental knowledge to our partners who are looking to make a commitment to selling and supporting digital signage.

    Conduct Your Digital Signage Survey Plan
    Another way we educate and determine customer needs is by conducting a digital signage survey plan. It identifies clients' needs for further qualification and solution development, while at the same time educating them on the benefits and requirements to support the solution.

    Digital Signage Survey Plan:

    1. Who is the audience that will be looking at the displays?
      • Customers
      • Employees
      • Visitors
      • All the above
    2. What information do you want to communicate?
      • Products or services
      • Current information (news, weather, stock ticker)
      • Internal communications (alerts, personalized messages, sales and production numbers)
      • Instructions (directions, room schedules)
      • All the above
    3. What is the purpose of the solution?
      • Sell a product (advertising) Signage
      • Inform the viewer (schedules, alerts, directions)
      • Entertain the viewer (waiting lines)
      • Reinforce a theme (create an environment)
    4. What assets do you have to deploy?
      • Web site information
      • System data (database, phone switch, production numbers)
      • Existing ads (video, print, Web)
      • Live television feed
        In most cases, content originally created for print media is developed and stored as a digital file. Whether it's TIFF, BMP, GIF, PNG, PDF or JPG files, most can be efficiently incorporated into digital signage. Other media assets such as those created for Web sites, Flash, QuickTime®, AVI, MOV, RSS feeds and MPEG can also be used, thus minimizing some of the content creation costs.
    5. Who are the contributors for the content?
      • Do multiple people and departments need access to contribute information? Where are they located?
      • Who is the "owner" of the information?
      • Are third-party applications or suppliers involved? (Advertisement agencies, broadcast TV, RSS feeds)
      • What are the skill sets of the users and contributors?
    6. How often is this information updated?
      • Live information that is constantly updating (system status, messages, alerts)?
      • Video files that can be refreshed nightly?
      • Timed loops that are updated hourly, daily, weekly or monthly?
    7. What will the installation look like?
      This is where traditional sign companies can take advantage of their design and fabrication expertise. Start by defining the physical locations for the displays and what the viewer or audience will encounter at each point:
      • How many displays, sizes of displays, resolutions and orientations are required?
      • Will the content be the same or different for each screen?
      • Will the displays need to be floor, pole or wall mounted?
      • Is an electrical outlet available at each display point?
      • Are custom frames or protective enclosures required for the displays?

    Network Infrastructure and Operations

    1. What will the network look like?
      • What is the network configuration? (LAN, WAN, TCP/IP, Internet)
      • Is wireless connectivity available? (Wi-Fi®, cellular)
      • Where will primary content servers reside? (Centrally or remotely)
      • Will information be pushed to the media players or pulled down from the network or Web?
      • Will network connectivity be available at each media player location?
    2. How will the customer manage the hardware?
      • Who will procure, deploy and install the equipment?
      • Will the media players be mounted in or behind the displays, or in a data closet?
      • Who will manage and maintain the hardware?
      • What are the system backup requirements?

    We've all heard the phrase "content is king." It's true in the sense that a digital signage network is ineffective without content. This is where I believe the traditional print and graphic designers may have an advantage over the technology-centric providers. But to truly optimize a signage network, the content needs to be relevant and compelling to the audience you're addressing. I often reference car racing when explaining digital signage optimization. You can have the most advanced racecar on the track, but if you don't have the right fuel formulation and pit crew, your performance and outcome will be drastically affected.

    With this being said, we will continue to consult our partners and clients to not only understand the full capabilities and benefits of their signage network, as well the necessary resources to its management and optimization, but also to continually ask the question, "what's your sign?" to our audience.

    Steve Acquista, CTS, DSCE formerly of NEC Display Solutions, Sony, Gateway and Pioneer Electronics, is a 20-year AV industry veteran and the Director of Digital Signage at Black Box, a world leader and provider of comprehensive communications and data infrastructure solutions. In addition to designing and deploying digital signage projects throughout the world, Acquista has written many articles, whitepapers and case studies about digital signage as well as participates in expert forums and panels.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, March/April 2011 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2011 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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