Published February 2009

Show Me The Money
There is growth potential in digital signage.
By Shonan Noronha, EdD

Welcome to our newest monthly offering. “Sign Age” will offer valuable information about the rapidly growing field of digital signage (DS) every month. Shonan Noronha, EdD, a frequent contributor to Sound & Communications, will share her insights on the DS market segment. As an independent producer and training consultant, she works in collaboration with corporate communications, HR, IT and AV departments of large enterprises to deliver multimedia content across disparate networks. Noronha is credited for the information mapping and GUI design of interactive content distributed via the internet and on a variety of media. Earlier in her career, she was technical director at EPIE Institute, where she was responsible for the testing and evaluation of AV equipment. She also co-developed the test protocol for the earliest projectors and PCs tested at Consumers Union Laboratories.

Are you taking full advantage of all the revenue streams available to you as a provider of digital signage solutions? One way to expand profit opportunities in an increasingly commoditized digital signage hardware market is to offer more of the services customers need to deploy their signage projects successfully.

From custom GUI design, programming and network management, to content creation, sourcing and delivery, there are many areas where DS customers might be in need of help. That’s what I call the customer’s pain-point, and easing that pain-point or meeting that need creates a potential revenue stream for you.

Network Worth: Recognizing the need for networked DS solutions, some AV companies have hired programmers, developed “networks” of freelance IT specialists, partnered with network solution providers or acquired companies with the required complementary assets. But even without an enormous investment of time and money, there are ways to expand your DS service offerings.

Several vendors enable AV solution providers to resell signage hosting, content management and other services. This allows integrators to expand their brand and grow their valuable customer relationships. Signage software is now available as “Software-as-a-Service” (SaaS), similar to sales contact and accounting software. A recent “reseller package” of content management SaaS even provides a personalized login page that can be used to promote an integrator’s branding, cross-selling and event messages directly to end users.

Such “private label” solutions can be packaged neatly into a typical AV design-build integration proposal. But you’ll need to assess the appropriateness of a web-based solution against your client’s need for independent control and security. In future columns, we’ll look at the specific business models (and some of the vendors) providing these new opportunities.

Soft Sells: Installing, programming and maintaining digital signage software for content delivery and management is another area where customers implementing signage projects are often willing to pay for expertise.

Even IT-savvy customers will pay for consultation, training and other enabling services to expedite their DS deployment.

In order to maximize the revenue potential in this area, it is necessary for a solutions provider to have an in-depth understanding of the capabilities of different DS software applications to meet specific customer needs. Developing relationships with selected software manufacturers and qualified local programmers is another key step in advancing your DS practice.

This might involve some investment in time and money, and there are many questions you’ll need to ask, such as: “Does the software app enable individual screen addressability?” and “What level of interactivity does the software allow?” We’ll discuss the specifics of software (and vendor) selection in a future column.

As the hardware involved in DS systems becomes more diverse, selection becomes more critical. Issues in this area include manufacturer pre-integration and the “build or buy” decisions we face on a daily basis regarding display sub-systems, kiosks and servers.

For example, display screens with onboard computers and DS software are available from several manufacturers. Although this option is ideal for some customers, it might not be appropriate for others. Decision points here include content complexity and speed of product replacement. How quickly does your customer require replacement of an integrated screen if remote troubleshooting does not resolve a problem? It’s certainly more efficient to ship out a replacement media player than a large display. There are many similar issues involving other technology components in DS deployment, and we will address them in detail during the challenging year ahead.

Recent pilot rollouts of out-of-home interactive signage projects have captured the interest of consumers and DS providers alike. Are there revenue opportunities for you in this new milieu created by the convergence of digital signage, mobile computing and smart phones? Completely new ways to engage consumers via signage are part of today’s media ecology: getting the mobile user to interact through IM with signage on large displays, social networking, data mining and other forms of crowd sourcing. You can read about some of these bleeding-edge technologies in “Striking Visions,” beginning on page 46 of this issue, and there’s much more to come in future “Sign Age” installments.

• Content Is King: Content creation is another frequently encountered pain-point for corporate customers. Many companies do not have in-house capability to feed fresh content continuously to display screens. Digital signage is hungry for compelling content that will attract viewers, whether they are in a lobby or cafeteria, or in a retail store, mall or theater.

Without fresh content, the screens no longer attract attention and viewers rapidly “tune out.” This applies equally to old entertainment or news on screens in a mall as it does to last month’s video newsletter in a corporate cafeteria. Fulfilling the vital need for fresh content, with everything from dynamic real-time broadcasts of news and stock quotes to short animations and video clips on specific topics, can provide another great business opportunity for companies already delivering turnkey signage solutions.

At first, it might seem difficult to expand your business into creating or licensing content for signage, especially if you don’t have media production or content acquisition expertise in-house. Partnering with a production company or other content provider, such as an ad agency, can provide a good, low-overhead way to get started in this area.

Increasingly, companies in all sectors of the DS industry are forging partnerships to create opportunities, and responding to RFPs for turnkey DS that include content creation, content sourcing and onscreen advertising sales. There are plenty of potential partners out there with content to sell, and one of the objectives of “Sign Age” is to lead you to new areas where you can network more productively in this area.

About You: Talking about advertising, what have you been doing to let the world know about the DS solutions you offer? Potential customers do extensive web-based research for their signage projects. It’s time to do some marketing on the internet. At a minimum, spice up your website metadata with appropriate DS keywords. Keyword sales on Google and other search engines are a relatively inexpensive, effective way to attract real prospects. It’s also a good idea to check with your DS suppliers and partners, which might list authorized or preferred integrators on their websites in the same way that AV manufacturers do.

The rapidly evolving field of digital signage holds great promise for AV integrators and other vendors that can respond quickly to the unique needs of new signage applications. In “Sign Age,” we plan to keep you abreast of DS industry trends, share tips on reselling new services, delineate criteria for the selection of solutions and discuss some new business models that might add to your bottom line. And, of course, we’ll address topics raised by you via email. I invite you to send questions and issues, or just start a dialog on digital signage.
I look forward to hearing from you.


Shonan Noronha, EdD, is an award-winning writer/producer who has designed and produced networked multimedia content for a broad spectrum of clients from Wall Street to Fleet Street. She consults on the applications of new media technologies for training, marketing and corporate communications. Send comments, questions and suggestions to her at snoronha@testa.com.
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