• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Digital Signage;
  • Date: May 2015

By Dan Daley, Special to AVIXA

Airport Signage“Digital signage” is a 21st-century term that evokes the classic mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. In the movie, guitarist Nigel Tufnel demonstrates an amplifier with a volume knob that goes from zero to 11, instead of 10. He can’t fathom why someone wouldn’t understand, and when pressed about 11 instead of 10, Nigel responds blankly, “These go to 11.”

Tufnel might have a similar experience explaining digital signage to the uninitiated (if there are any): “It’s a sign, but it’s digital.”

Today, digital signage is signage — almost de facto. It has grown well beyond airport arrival and departure screens, which heralded the widespread adoption of dynamic signage two decades ago. Now, signage can react to its environment with differing content. With some programming, a sign can show various types of information depending on the ambient noise in a room, for example, as well as other unpredictable events.

Signage content still includes the purely static, but now it also ranges between languid, ambient background video and quick-cut images that arouse a crowd like a warm-up comedian before a late-night talk show. And new display technologies — just now extending to personal mobile devices — are also helping rewrite the definition of digital signage content.

Next-Generation Signage

What has changed behind the scenes is considerable. “The days of developing a content strategy without including the AV systems integrator in the development process are over,” declares Dave Dolejsi, Senior Content Strategist at St. Joseph Communications in Toronto. “You can’t build an effective digital signage network unless the content development strategy and the infrastructure that it’s going to be displayed on are in synch. It’s a much more symbiotic process than in the past.”

Content strategies increasingly utilize multiple screens, says Dolejsi (pronounced DOL-say), and the physical configuration of screens is critical in conveying the message intended by the content development team. But, he stresses, there are many more stakeholders in the process now, including consultants in various sectors, such as retail, hospitality and transportation, CMS platform providers and marketing departments. The number of stakeholders is driven, in part, by the expanding array of display possibilities, which range from traditional LCD screens, to touchpanel displays, to videowalls.

“The declining cost of displays, especially huge microtile videowalls, is driving that,” says Dolejsi. He further notes other physical aspects of digital-signage infrastructure, such as the dramatic increase in resolution and the near-elimination of bezels, that are impacting the evolution of content. Such developments, in turn, affect the hardware used in digital-signage installations, deepening the connection between content developers and integrators.

“Everyone has to be on the same page from day one to make an effective digital-signage strategy,” he concludes.

Moving Content

Today’s more protean digital-signage environment has not only impacted the nature of content itself, but it’s also put a premium on distribution and management, such as the ability to pull in real-time information and integrate it seamlessly into an installation or event.

“Interactivity is more important than ever, along with real-time information,” says Jeffrey Weitzman, Director of Business Development in the Montreal office of Navori Labs, a Swiss-based company that markets software-based content management systems for digital signage. “It’s not enough to just have the right content; you need to be able to have that content play at the right time.”

Accomplishing such an effect may include audio sensors that trigger certain video clips when sound volume reaches a predetermined decibel level, such as from cheers or applause in an audience. Content can also be prompted by gestures, or by optical scanning of an individual face, which would play one type of content for a 25-year-old female and another for a 50-year-old male. Content can also be pulled off of social media, such as Facebook, in real time, using automated triggers.

Weitzman says digital signage and its content now are no longer single, standalone entities, but rather an amalgamation of displays with varying and reactive types of content.

“You need to combine them all to create an experience,” he says.

Audio is increasingly being incorporated into digital signage. In some cases, signage even uses scent — although that’s mainly limited to retail settings. But video remains the overwhelming focus of the category, Weitzman says.

What’s up on the screen is now far more varied than before, ranging from real-time social-media grabs to stock tickers. A signage standard — hotel wayfinding — is increasingly incorporating real-time content into its messaging, directing visitors to where they want to go and sending them off with a brand reminder or two in the process. Because of the wider breadth of content sources, end users are seeking more automated ways of delivering real-time content, Weitzman says.

Peering Into the Future

Weitzman envisions a time when digital signage is as ubiquitous as its analog predecessor, thanks to lower costs of hardware and wider availability of everything from screens to content development and management software. “We’re already seeing that happen,” he says. “It’s why distribution of content is becoming more important.”

Mark Bennett, CEO and founder of Microgiantic, a Minneapolis company that creates content for digital out-of-home experiences, including digital signage for clients including Target, Best Buy, Microsoft, Apple and Macy’s, says the future of digital signage could see it extending out into the realm of personal mobile devices.

“What I’ve been seeing in the last five years are budgets going away from conventional AV in general and being directed towards mobile apps, which can become another form of signage,” he says.

Bennett says he can imagine a next level of digital signage that includes near-field communication or beacons recognizing someone through a type of personal identifier, such as a badge at a conference. The system would then beam content directly to that person’s smartphone or tablet. At the same time, he envisions digital signage embracing ever-larger form factors and incorporating platforms such as 3D and augmented reality because of their immersiveness and engagement potential.

“Then,” Bennett says, “the content is going to have to adapt to the platforms you show it on.”

When that happens, it will represent a “McLuhanesqe” interpretation of digital signage’s future. (Herbert Marshall McLuhan, known for his work on media theory, coined the phrase, “The media is the message.”) Increasingly, digital signage content will depend as much on the display forms that it takes as on the message being communicated.