Software for digital signage has been free and open source for quite a long time. I’m a believer that (almost) all software will eventually become commoditized thanks to consumer price sensitivity. Price sensitivity is also the primary reason I use Google Docs now rather than Microsoft Office. Our price sensitivity toward what we pay for software will continue to have downward pressure on vendors in this market. But what about those pieces in the DOOH ecosystem that are custom-built for a particular project? Like content, for instance. When it costs more than the software, how will we react?
A brief tale from a recent experience may be helpful. Several weeks ago we contracted with a content creation firm to help us draft some content examples for our newly released SignageStudio Lite (an enhanced open source product for digital signage). We agreed on an hourly price and gave them three examples to work on–two tweaked from their existing portfolio and the third a custom-made presentation.
The work came in slowly over several weeks. The first couple of campaigns came quickly. They required the least amount of work as they were minor tweaks to the company’s originally-produced content. None of the three campaigns were over 30 seconds in length. The last piece arrived just last week. The invoice came today.
The total supposed amount of time on all three pieces: 45 hours. I won’t share the total bill. It was astounding. We’ve outsourced stuff like this before. I was absolutely astounded and floored at the total cost both in labor and money. It was far above what I expected. We’ve outsourced work like this before, but this time I was astounded. Was I being gouged? Did they think we were made of money? Did they realize that that’s more than one of our middle-level devs were getting paid? If I’m going to pay that much, that content better be super hard-hitting. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Not only was it mediocre, but these weren’t even full campaigns. We were asking for content examples we could share with users–hardly the pinnacle of what we might request in terms of impactful content.
I must admit, I failed to get an estimate and thus had false expectations as to the total time it would take to create the campaigns. I also must admit that we at MediaSignage may have a bit of a skewed idea on what things cost, since we give away one of the most robust solutions in the industry to 90% of our users without charging them a dime. That likely creates in us a sense that everything is cheap. It would be like someone used to the soup kitchen being forced to eat and pay at a five star restaurant when all he asked for was a taste of something more than just the soup.
Enough with my frustrated rant. I’ll get to my original point. As software products in this market merge toward sameness, one of the only differentiating factors between screen managers is going to be the content. And content costs money. If you want a lot of it, it’s going to cost more on a recurring basis than your reliable and robust hardware and software. Why, because it requires what hardware and software do not: the human element.
We can try our best to automate away the cost of bringing in people to help assist with the work, but that’s unfortunately not available in all circumstances. Because people are one of the most expensive components to any organization, it’ll be hard to cut the costs of regularly updating content if you want to make custom.
This fact alone further underscores the need for great media feeds, superb stock footage and a good system to take it from stock and get it ready to produce without much headache. I really like what the likes of ScreenFeed and others are doing to help further democratize content by making it more affordable and more accessible by eliminating the humans out of the picture. In my humble opinion, automation of the content needs to happen so the content doesn’t become the bank breaker for your signage budget.
Otherwise, content will continue to grow in influence as the most expensive component of your campaign. It’s a lesson I learned a little too late. What do you think? Do you think content creators are overpaid? Or do you find them underappreciated?