Digital Signage

DSE: The Views Are Beautiful, But The Potholes Are Real

I get excited every year as I make my pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the largest trade show dedicated to all that is Dynamic Digital Signage (DDS), the Digital Signage Expo (DSE). I go each year with high hopes of finding the panacea for all my DDS projects. However, this year proved to be much like the previous couple of years and was more about the companies and people that were not there than those that were there.

First Timers

In short, I have been told that a large percentage of delegates at the show are first timers (certainly true in the two classes that Robert White and I taught). That suggests that many attendees of the past year(s) have either moved to other areas of responsibility or they don’t see value in returning to the show. The other clear truth is that most DDS content management companies do not find the show worthy of their investment. There could be many reasons, and I will not pretend to have the knowledge to verbalize them, but one thing is for sure: If you were looking to find all of the industry’s top 20 at the show, you would be very disappointed. Probably just as concerning is that many, if not most, of the new attendees at the show do not even know which companies are missing.

“The views are beautiful” is a reference to the fact that there has never been a better time to be an integrator selling DDS. The technology is rock solid and getting better and more cost effective every day. Fifteen-plus years ago, when we did our first large project with Office Depot, the phrase “Digital Signage” was hardly known, and it was difficult to find dependable technologies to support it. Plasma screens were the rage but cost $7000 to $10,000 for a 42-incher and were temperamental. They easily suffered screen burn-in and they were sensitive to altitude and heat.

Projectors were still not bright enough and required a bulb and filter replacement every 1000 to 2000 hours, which made them a rare choice for DDS. Content Management Software (CMS) was better known as vaporware, having more bugs and shortcomings than usable features. It was a world filled with more promises than real deliverables, and the market was truly in the early adopter stage.

However, today’s market is quite different, and this was clearly on display at DSE 2016. I will provide specifics about many of the great products shown at DSE later but, suffice it to say, dependable and cost-effective hardware and great content management software are not a challenge to find anymore.

‘Not Getting The Full Story’

Although the technology has never been better and more cost effective, and the software (CMS) has never been more powerful, the overconfidence suggested by manufacturers, distributors and even some well-meaning consultants produces more failures than successes. Lyle Bunn, a consultant who fully understands this, reflects, “Today, far too many end users are being trained by the manufacturer, and many times they are not getting the full story about the functional requirements that can minimize downstream cost.”

Because DDS is practically everywhere, more and more companies (both on the retail side and the corporate side) are convinced that they can buy big screens, paste them to a wall, call it digital signage and success will come. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many organizations put the proverbial cart before the horse. They rush to define their digital signage investment by the number of screens they can buy and mount, rather than considering the business value proposition and what they hope to gain in ROI or ROO, or a combination of the two. This results in a massive growth in screens sold and digital signage packages implemented, and creates the largest influx of NOISE to our environment that has ever been imagined.

Stumble Across Success

Yes, a few painfully stumble across success, when they finally recognize that there are more things that must be considered to bring value to the company than just how big or how many screens they can afford. My point: The digital signage industry is now mature from the standpoint of technology, but few organizations are getting top value out of their investment, even though they look good.

So let’s look at DSE and reflect on the great view of the market provided by this strategic show.

As far as hardware, can you say “Wow!”? The show offered many great technology advancements to impress all of us, from transparent OLEDS to LED and laser-based projectors that are now bright enough to work in this space and can run 50,000 to 60,000 hours without requiring any maintenance.

We saw options that almost defy gravity and flexibility to mount any of these technologies in just about any environment with great safety and ease. Videowalls have been a part of our world for a long time. There are ultra-thin bezels, transmissive surfaces in LED screens, and OLED screens that can be curved to create eye-catching architectural masterpieces, as well as processors (both internal to the screens and standalone) that allow unprecedented presentation of HD and 4K content in unbelievable quality. One can cost effectively create unique wall displays that eclipse the 2×2 videowalls of the past. Now they can be rotated, made with different-size screens and can be so large that they cover extremely large surfaces. Brightness is no longer a challenge. And many manufacturers offer flatpanels and LED offerings that work well outside, even in sunlight.

Not Ready For Prime Time

Not everything seen at DSE was ready for prime time. OLEDs are certainly real and are going to play a significant role in our digital signage future. Remember the old world of plasma, and how screen burn-in could occur if you left the image on the screen too long without refresh? Buyer beware: OLEDs are truly impressive and support many eye-catching display opportunities (such as transparent OLEDs), but they have their own form of screen retention (or screen burn-in), and in a matter of hours can be destroyed by content left on the screen.

Budget must be a consideration. Although more and more LED manufacturers are making direct-view, ultra-small-pitch screens, we will have to take a deep breath and sit down to be ready to hear the price. Yes, they are 1mm pitch or less and getting smaller, which means you can walk right up to one, and the pixels are so close that you still see a great image. However, the investment is still very, very serious.

I have just touched on some of the great things at DSE here, and I believe you can confidently say that hardware and software are no longer the challenge. So, why mention the potholes? I believe there is clear evidence that few companies are getting ROI and ROO out of their investment in DDS. I also believe that they are falling into the potholes of the real DDS world, and those potholes cost everyone.

Positive Achievable Solutions

Let’s end this discussion with positive achievable solutions to these challenges. DDS may look easy but the reality is that it’s not simple. One must touch all of the foundational elements of digital signage included in the accompanying chart developed several years ago by Brawn Consulting, one of the industry’s leading consulting firms.

The path to ROI and ROO are known. We know where the rocks are in the river and how to allow safe passage. We need a dose of integrity and professionalism in our community. We need to tell it straight. DDS can accomplish truly amazing things and bring great ROI and ROO, but there are essentials that must be embraced or we will just continue to create more and more noise. Let’s be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

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