Consolidation, Capabilities and Context; the state of play for Digital Signage: Part 2

About to embark on a digital signage project? In this two-part interview, we gathered the thoughts of our Group Head of Marketing, James Keen on the considerations, challenges and changes in the digital signage market. In part two we discuss technology.

What do you consider to be the main changes in the market over the last 12 months?
Technologically speaking there hasn’t really been a big shake up, it’s been a quiet period from a developmental perspective. What we are starting to see is the widely-predicted consolidation of the digital signage market finally taking shape. There are a number of larger digital signage businesses hunting out acquisitions in the IPTV world or looking to buy out smaller, SaaS based digital signage businesses to help increase and enhance their annuity business. There are a number of well-known digital signage software platforms struggling to turn a profit in a very congested, very price sensitive market and survival will depend on it for some.

Which product categories do you consider comprise the signage market and what are the user categories?
From a product perspective, the digital signage market is all over the place. There are screen vendors with subsets thereof, including LED, LCD, you have CMS manufacturers and developers, media players, set top boxes and system on chip and then you have the kiosk, mounting and accessory crowd. Digital Signage is a veritable mish-mash of AV technologies. From a user perspective, we are seeing marketing teams, internal comms, human resources and facilities teams adopt and deploy digital signage technologies, whilst in some other organisations we’re still heavily engaged with IT and AV managers and teams; much of this responsibility is often dependent upon skill set, trust and where the budget originally came from!

We’re seeing a huge amount of LED both outdoor and indoor being used in signage – is there still a place for LCD or projection?
Projection versus LED is a horses for courses argument, there are not only physical environment considerations such as light spill and size but also budgetary restraints that can impact the buying choice. Realistically, projection is probably still the most cost-effective way to get a ‘big screen’ experience in a public space, but it doesn’t always work if the space is too bright, the room shape unfavourable or the HDMI run too long.

How often should buyers expect to refresh or replace their signage systems?
If you’re working with the right digital signage platform then the CMS shouldn’t need replacing, you should just be looking to upgrade and update from time to time. There are certain hardware limitations and capabilities that will be superseded and enhanced and so replacing physical kit might be something you look at every 5-7 years, but in general a CMS should work hard to keep your deployment relevant and state of the art. This software approach helps to future proof your investment, whilst choosing standards based hardware like Samsung SSP, LG webOS or BrightSign Media players gives you the added confidence that even if you become dissatisfied with your CMS you can still find a software provider who you will be able to switch your hardware to.

What is the impact of cloud, subscription-based models, as-a-service?
The major impact of SaaS on the digital signage market has been two-fold. Firstly, it has driven prices down in many cases, but secondly it has helped propel digital signage into more mainstream use. So, its been a bit of a double-edged sword for vendors. To be able to deliver SaaS profitably you need to come from a strong position as a software or hardware manufacturer as it is difficult to build up the numbers of subscribers to actually make it profitable;  if you can get to a good level of annuity it makes a platform interesting to investors and or people in the market for acquisitions.

What are the key purchasing criteria for buyers?
Somebody making a purchasing decision needs to understand, without doubt, what they need their digital signage network to deliver before signing off any project. Understanding what each and every department or stakeholder needs is vital, each criterion helps you rule out or in a CMS provider or piece of hardware, so having that list makes life much easier. For example, do you need a CMS that supports encrypted IPTV? Yes? Then you need an on-premise solution and that will rule out the cloud providers. Do you need workflow management? That will rule out another trench of providers. Do you want 4K? Interactivity? Social Media? As you build that list you will quickly narrow down your choices before you get your last two or three providers in for a demo. The key is to have clarity around your decision-making process, and that comes from understanding why you are implementing digital signage and who will be using it. Success comes from preparation; fail to prepare and you should prepare to fail!