The Digital Signage in the Roaring 20s


We are in the midst of a new and rapidly evolving decade. This is not just one year morphing into the next. We are on a fast-moving ride.  If you think about a comparison with the previous decade, it somehow feels different today and it definitely looks different. This is especially true for those of us involved in IT, AV, and especially those of us in digital signage. Let’s explore a snapshot of what’s ahead.

Digital signage began as an advertising medium in retail with a nod to applications in airports. Fast forward two decades, and digital signage has become a mainstream communication medium across a diverse group of vertical markets. Retail still dominates but information-based applications in corporate, education, and healthcare are growing in double digits. Digital signage is an active participant in the new world of unified communications… and unified communications and collaboration is where many opportunities reside.

The most visible part of digital signage is obviously the display. Displays sizes will continue to grow with 55” to 65” now being the mainstream and 85” is not uncommon. System on a chip (SoC) technologies built into displays will continue to evolve and, in many cases, have become the media players of choice. Videowalls will proliferate even further in hopes of capturing more of a viewer’s attention. For display fans out there, direct view LED will encompass increased market share in spite of higher cost – primarily due to image impact (color, contrast, and brightness), not to mention being seamless.

With no disrespect to any other technological advances, this not where the new frontiers will be. I recently wrote about the internet of things (aka IoT) and the era of Big Data. For digital signage, the new frontiers will involve both concepts. IoT is about connectivity and the ability to communicate with and among devices. Big Data is the information that flows between devices. Both IoT and Big Data are growing exponentially… hence the mention of our fast-moving ride, and this is central to digital signage applications, design, and usage and how we will need to approach it.

For anyone who has launched a digital signage network, you already know that screens, mounts, media players, and connectivity are a given. The biggest variable continues to be content, and at the top of this consideration is what “work” the content is intended to do. Once the content objective is decided upon the next most significant factor is to understand the effectiveness of the content, relative to your objectives. This is a moving target, to say the least. While many employ the trial-and-error method to see what seems to work and what doesn’t, this approach (or lack thereof) is fraught with landmines. What if you guess wrong? What if you base your actions on opinions or emotion and not facts and data? The entire investment in the digital signage network then becomes at risk. Keep in mind that digital signage is a business for the end user. All business investment is about return on investment and the mitigation and reduction of risk to that end. This is where digital signage analytics comes into the picture (pun intended). It provides us facts and data on which to base our next moves. This is at the core of the new digital signage frontier.

Early analytics began with a simple customer counter. It answered the question of how many people entered a store and how many viewed a screen and perhaps for how long. This limited amount of data was all that we had. As we enter this new decade, device connectivity and the ability to mine massive amounts of data removes those limitations and will define us and what we do. The big question becomes what to do with what is increasingly available to us.

Increasingly artificial intelligence (AI) is facilitating the gathering of data. This automates the gathering process and allows us to be much more precise in our measurements that feed our analysis and ultimately our decision making. Anonymous video analytics (AVA) lets us evaluate the demographics of viewers, how they move through a space, what screens they view, what zones on a screen they look at and for how long, and even the emotions they exhibit as they view our content.

The holy grail is predictive analytics. As we collect the AVA data we just discussed, and we pair that with actual sales data from POS systems, we can compare our signage to our actual results. We can determine if our displays are in the right location, and if the right message is being displayed in the right area (or even the right zone). With enough comparative data it can be predicted what a viewer of a certain profile is most likely to do. The comparison is not just about a single viewer but what viewers with similar characteristics are likely to do. Also, data collection tells us what a viewer has done in the past predicts what they are likely to do in the future. Keep in mind that all this data by itself is worthless unless we do something with it. This is where the informed commercial AV integrator can add value.

We need to think beyond the obviousness of the display, media player, and connectivity. We need to think in terms of devices that can be connected to one another (i.e., mobility) and distributed visualization. We need to guide our end users in the methods and types of data that needs to be collected and most importantly what to do with it. We need to show how interactivity should become a part of the plan. And we also need to have them consider digital signage as an outsourced service where you can help manage the entire process in an ongoing manner. We should stand arm in arm and claim “value added”!

Depending upon the market data you wish to reference, digital signage is growing at an annual rate between 6% and 8% per year. Some elements are growing in double digits (i.e., CMS software, videowalls, interactivity, etc.) but analytics is growing at >30% per year. This will lead the way and the industry will reach > $33 Billion by 2026. Enjoy the new “roaring” 20s, and the new opportunities. As one well known television star likes to proclaim, “give me some of that”!