While many companies out there try and reinvent the wheel, it is almost imperative to remember the thought by Jonathan Gilbert:
“Reinventing the wheel is sometimes the right thing, when the result is the radial tire.”
So, reinvention is the answer when technology leaps forward. However, there does reach a point when, allegorically speaking, we’re all using a radial tire. While this may be the case, it is important to remember the areas of growth and expansions which are still available to this industry. Also, keep in mind that while I intend on enumerating many of the available niches and verticals, this list is not meant to be a veritable “catch-all.”
This segment is composed of a couple of players. First, there are your hands-on content creators: the right-brained, Adobe-lovin’, Birkenstock-wearers who specialize in graphics like video, stills, and Flash animation. Some of these providers are intent on providing their services in a “one-off” fashion, while others provide content-as-a-service.
Second on the list are our dynamic media feed content providers. Companies like Screenfeed, Digichief, Accuweather, and Datacall provide various live and updating content via dynamic media RSS for weather, lottery, stocks, and news.
Finally, there is a potential “untapped” segment to the content creation sector of our industry. Specifically, the selling of stock content. Much like an iStockphoto or ThoughtEquity.
Audio Video Enthusiasts
A media player may be able to put out a signal to nearly any LCD, plasma, or projector, but what if you want to mirror the same signal across 10x displays throughout an entire complex? This is where your run-of-the-mill audio/video dudes come into play. With their VGA to Cat5 extenders, encoders, switches, and integration techniques AVI personnel represent a very important segment in digital signage.
In my younger days, I never did have “two fatty tens” in my trunk, but I had friends who did. I also helped a couple of friends install their “sweet system.” This is where AV has the cool factor. We often fail to realize the power digital signage can have with a proper audio integration. Many deployments focus on video-only. Audio is often essential. Not every deployment will involve a deaf facility (funny side note: we received a request the other day for digital signage apps in a blind facility. Selling such a solution would seem more difficult to me than selling a ketchup popsicle to an 80 year-old woman in white gloves. Signage at a blind facility? Who knew!). In fact. most of your future installation will require videos and dynamic content which will require a equally impressive audio system to support the signage.
The core engine which drives digital sign technology is the software. Signage software can be found in Linux, Windows, and Mac systems. There are a few who have developed software which is truly cross-platform. I prefer those systems based on Linux and Mac. Although most of my computers are Windows machines, I would prefer more safety and reliability when it comes to digital signage, which means scrapping Windows players. Seriously though, who wants the dreaded blue screen of death?
The particular vertical of IT is centrally focused on development and engineering. This sector will always be in development. Sometimes, I feel sorry for those software entrants who develop (or are still in development) their signage application, only to realize they don’t have customers. Sadder still, are those whose products never make the leaps necessary to distinguish them. I still remember a trade show where the distinguishing feature of one software provider was the clarity of their crawler. It was clear, but not clear enough to justify exorbitant SaaS fees of $100/month per device.
Hardware: Displays and Playaz
Hardware is a very broad vertical. It can be broken into several parts which could include: the display (LCD, plasma, projector), the media player, the peripheral connective wiring (cat5, coax, VGA/DVI/HDMI devices etc.), audio equipment, encoders. and in some cases cameras for live broadcasts and multicasting. While these niches can represent huge profits for companies wishing to target integrators, I will be focusing primarily on the components doing a majority of the “work,” namely displays and media players…
LCD price fixing, a flooded market, and consumer-driven demand have all taken the relative margins out of the display industry–even for industrial models. However, there are still major players in this space who will continue make large headway. The unfair battle between plasmas and LCD as display devices will work its way out as technology improves and prices continue to fall. Also, as the industry morphs, so will the displays, including shapes and sizes. While rear projection film allows for customizable screen shapes, will we ever be the beneficiaries of custom-lcd shaping? I’m not simply speaking of aspect ratios here, I’m talking about actual shapes: stars, flowers, and any other pathetic sillouhette you can invision.
Another untapped opportunity in the signage space are 3D LCD displays. These bad boys have, of late, been talked about much more in consumer circles than I have seen previously. Apparently, they’re the next big thing–especially when it comes to digital outdoor advertising. But, when will the shear novelty of such displays lose their luster and wear thin? It certainly will take some time, but it will most likely happen after the margins wear thin.
And then there is the player. Oh, the glories of an HD sign player. Digital signage media players are almost as diverse as the individuals on the planet. They can be thin or fat, sleek and sexy, or bulky and ugly. Often it may be detrimental to judge a sign player by its cover. For instance, some of the more ugly and bulky devices are those which have the best components, able to deliver smooth, rapid playback. While thin client options can be great for aesthetics in mounting the device, they often lack the power required to truly deliver “eye-popping” content. For more information on player providers, feel free to visit the digital signage directory.
Where do we even begin with mobile integration? This is even more of a wild-west than digital out-of-home. There have been a great many discussions out there regarding publishing TO a digital display from a mobile phone. Still further, and perhaps more interesting are the efforts to publish from a digital screen down to that pocket billboard. SMS, MMS, QR codes, mobile Internet, bluetooth, and embedded RFID all stand as possible areas of growth within this arena. In the interactive sector of the industry, mobile phones will continue to play a central role, allowing users to interact with the screen and with each other. In fact, our digital signage news feed picked up a recent story regarding Xsights, an interactive application for dooh.
Interactive: Gestural, Touch Screen, and Multi-Touch
Forget your standard touch screen! Multi-touch is the new “in.” Companies like Gesturetek and Microsoft have really been dominating here with their with their multi-touch technology. While they are not the only players, they are certainly getting a great deal of attention. Within one week there were three separate stories. One involving Microsoft Surface and a virtual autopsy, another involved a nice multi-touch install at the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas. , and finally Gesturetek’s multi-touch tables used at the Heart Rhythm Society’s medical conference. This niche is certainly set to grow. Currently, it’s a bit pricey for anything truly practical (not that the Hard Rock Cafe install wasn’t practical–but it certainly was atypical). All in good time people.
Touch screen signage applications offer a number of benefits:
1. Touch screen puts control into the hands of the user/consumer.
2. Multi-touch can integrate customer billing, file sharing, social media, and interactive gaming into a single device.
Besides the obvious “slam, bang, whiz” benefits of multi-touch and even video walls, there are heretofore unrecognized opportunities in this sector. In fact, Apple recently submitted a patent for a surface which will recognize all ten of your fingers simultaneously. Where would this be beneficial? Well, traditional keyboards could be replaced by something much more ergonomic that could shift and change to your particular hand size and dexterity. In addition, I can think of at least one other application: electric piano keyboards. While such a device has nothing to do with what we are speaking of here, it certainly opens our minds to the cross-over possibilities of the technology itself.
Finally, we would be afar amiss if we failed to recognize gestural products. Much like touch screen applications, gestural solutions give control in the hands of the consumer. In the case of many of the latest gestural apps, we can see how the application aids in getting the attention of passers-by, while simultaneously feeding them subtle advertisements.
Moving away from the whiz bang technology side of things, we are confronted head-on with the “where” question. Where and who is going to want all this junk? Who is going to see and pay for the value? There are so many untapped niches for implementation, my mind is going to explode! Let’s list a few, even unique venues for digital signage:
- Sports arenas
- Urinal toppers
- Restroom mirrors
- In buses, taxis, and trains
- In bus, taxi, and train stations
- Dentists, physicians, and other medical professionals
- Office lobbies and waiting rooms
- Educational facilities: high schools, colleges, and universities
- Government offices
- Police and fire departments
- Movie theaters and theme parks
- Retail and grocery stores
- Call centers
- Clubs and bars
- Salons and barber shops
- Gyms, physical therapy, and exercise facilities
- Manufacturing facilities
Let’s not forget our friends in the audience measurement camp. These folks are working hard to ensure credit is given where credit is due. A semi-recent report outlined how NEC has delved into facial recognition software. Those at TruMedia, Quividi, and Cognovision are also known players in this extremely specific niche. And, the costs of such devices are falling. When you can get an audience measurement device for a price point of around $100, who’s going to balk?
The real power of audience measurement will not be recognized fully for some time. For instance, when such devices can tell gender and age with a very small degree of error, it is highly beneficial to have digital signage software on your player that can act accordingly. To be more specific, a 10 year old girl walks by the display, the audience measurement device recognizes her as an adolescent female and displays an advertisement for Barbies or something targeted to her gender and age. Is this starting to sound like Minority Report or what?
The most tell-tale question is, what do I chase? Which direction do I run? How do I arrive at my destination? Whatever becomes your chosen niche, you must differentiate. Here is a closing thought, brought to you by Geoffrey Moore,
“Make a total commitment to the niche, and then do your best to meet everyone else’s committment to the niche, and then do your best to meet everyone else’s needs with whatever resources you have left over.”
While this may seem counterintuitive, it is best to become a niche provider until you have become a dominant player within the niche. Once that takes place, then you can spread the wings and move into other segments. Until then, focusing on your competency should stand as “priority one.”