Digital Signage Expo 2008

DigitalSignage2008Last week’s Digital Signage Expo really echoed the current state of the digital out of home industry: it’s growing fast, and with that growth the game is a-changin’. Yes, the majority of the exhibitors were nuts-and-bolts technology plays but most of the conversations on the floor and in the workshops were focused on content, consumer experience, and interactivity.

In the “Change Agents” conference, panelists gave equal time to both the technology and how the experience of the consumer will change things. Alan Brawn of Brawn Consulting LLC highlighted the relevant technologies: plasmas and LCDs are getting bigger, thinner, cheaper; OLED, circular display, pico projectors, and multi-touch interface displays will help propel the market.

Matthew Coble of Schematic listed his seven change agents: mobile phones, high-speed networks, new modes of input, the rise of “augmented reality” models, advertising dollars, consumer expectations, and possible government regulations. What I found more insightful was when Jason Goldberg of MTI Interactive spoke, identifying change for the digital signage industry via trends in consumer behavior:

  • Feature fatigue – as products have become more complicated, customers must be more educated to make a purchase decision – the recent problems with people purchasing high-definition televisions yet neglecting to purchase high-definition video players or television services is a great example of this.
  • Demise of the brand – historical brand reputation is no longer the largest influence factor for purchase. Word of mouth is helping strong new products gain share.
  • 76 million baby boomers – Eyesight is starting to become an issue with aging consumers.
  • Buy or lease? – Resale markets are getting broader and more accessible.
  • Social networking – Community-oriented Internet services are quickly becoming the biggest largest determinate of purchase decisions.

From there, Mr. Goldberg layers the trends onto technologies that help facilitate the needs of the customers. Electrochromic Displays (e-ink), for instance, features sharp contrast and reflects ambient light, which is easier on a more “mature eye.” And pervasive item level RFID — radio-frequency identification which enables the delivery of item-specific product details to help customers make informed decisions at the point of purchase. Additional technologies covered included: context sensitive digital signage, audience measurement and monitoring, the convergence of digital signage and interactivity, personal wireless devices, multi-touch and gesture interfaces, directional audio and sound projection. This kind of consumer-centric psychology is apparent in the products and solutions MTI offers.

Other conversations revolved around the old cliché, “content is king.” That’s true. But until recently the industry hadn’t been talking with the right people, placing most of the their discussions with network owners and operators. Most of the general comments have been that traditional advertising agencies just don’t get it; they just want to throw up their current 30-second spot. So, they either create their own content, go to third party companies like Channel M and Access 360 Media that specialize in the production of unique content targeted for each narrowcast network, or re-broadcast primetime shows from the major networks like NBC and CBS.

Unfortunately, doing those things misses out on some interesting, and potentially more lucrative, opportunities. Agencies should be involved in creating relevant brand content including longer form “infotainment.”

Cisco is attempting to reach-out to the agencies by announcing during the show their Cisco Academy of Digital Signage (ADS), which is a new qualification program for media professionals looking to create trusted, optimized content for digital signage. The program consists of three days of classes on content creation, management, and distribution. Educational programs definitely do help bring people to the table, but the reason agencies have not been creating content for brands on a larger scale is not due to the lack of understanding. The increase in nation-wide networks with larger audiences, greater organization across multiple networks, and standardized measurement, will facilitate more participation and the costs of customized content will become more justifiable.