Blog: David Little 
David Little (bio)
Director of Marketing
Keywest Technology
Wednesday, 18 July 2012
A new report from NPD DisplaySearch finds a sequential quarterly decline in flat panel LCD displays that are commonly used in public display applications, but the popularity of the same panels among consumers means the falloff in shipments isn't necessarily bad news for digital signage.

Global shipments of flat panel LCD displays used for digital signage and other public display applications declined in the fourth quarter of 2011, marking the first sequential quarterly decline in three years, according to recently released data from NPD DisplaySearch, a global research and consulting firm specializing in the display supply chain.

The decline comes after a two-year period of impressive growth for the public display (also called the "large flat panel display") category. Between 2009 and 2011, this market segment witnessed 65 percent growth in unit volume production, the display market research and analysis firm said.

The data, part of the "NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly FPD Public Display Shipment and Forecast Report," show LCD display shipments were pulled down by a dropped in the 26-inch to 37-inch category.

The decline raises an obvious question: "Is the public display market in general, and digital signage market in particular, sliding back into recession?" The answer, however, is far less clear.

As NPD DisplaySearch acknowledges, the sequential drop came in what it describes as "the least well-defined" slice of the market, namely the 26-inch to 37-inch space. Why is this the least well defined category? Simply stated, this segment is popular with the flat-screen TV buying public as well as with integrators who often install consumer TVs for digital signage applications. Many panels used for public display fall in the 32-inch category. Thus, without a clear delineation between the 32-inch displays used for digital signage and those used to watch television in the home, it's not possible to unequivocally attribute the sequential quarterly decline to digital signage and public display.

As Chris Connery, DisplaySearch VP of PC and Large Format Commercial Displays put it in a press release announcing the report, "The challenge comes when trying to fully quantify these markets since many times commercial installers use consumer-grade TVs for quick hang-and-bang solutions."

So, if it is not possible to tell from the data whether the sequential decline indicates a rocky road ahead for public display and digital signage, what information of value can be taken away from the latest NPD DisplaySearch findings for those with an interest in the digital signage market?

I would suggest the findings draw attention to the importance of affordable, flat-panel LCD TVs to the growth digital signage. To be sure, certain digital signage applications require higher-end, professional features, such as high brightness backlights, smaller bezels, and even touch-screen capability for hybrid, interactive digital signage. But a large number of applications don't.

Relatively inexpensive consumer flat-panel HDTV sets using LCD screens are more than adequate for many uses -particularly when compared to the heavy, boxy, low-resolution CRT-based displays they are replacing.

Rather than look at the sequential quarterly decline with fear about the road ahead, it may be more prudent to look at it with a bit of caution and also a recognition that the decline may be more attributable to a falloff on the consumer side of the equation.

It may also make sense to understand that there might be a silver lining for the digital signage market. After all, if the decline is occurring because consumers are buying fewer units, vendors will have an incentive to lower display prices, which will make it more affordable for businesses, retailers, corporations and other entities to consider adding digital signage to their communications strategies.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 11 May 2012
New research from IHS iSuppli indicates growing adoption of digital signage around the world as professionals in the retail, hospitality, healthcare, corporate and government sectors look to the medium to communicate to audiences on the go.

Political watchers probably are familiar with that often-asked question -and even more often asked in an election year: Is the country on the right track or the wrong track?

I would propose that those who make their living communicating marketing messages, ads, information and even entertainment on digital signs should frequently ask themselves a similar question. Is digital signage on the right track or wrong track? In other words, is digital signage a growing, vibrant communications medium that is headed in the right direction as a viable communications choice? Or, is it losing favor?

A new forecast from display market research specialists IHS iSuppli suggests that, indeed, digital signage is on the right track, at least if its adoption is any indication. According to the forecast, digital signage will see impressive growth. Worldwide shipments of signage and professional displays this year will reach 17.2 million units, up from 15.4 million in 2011 and 13.5 million in 2010. For the year, the unit shipments will reach 12.6 percent, and by 2016 they are expected to reach nearly 26 million units, IHS iSuppli forecasts.

The research firm attributes the healthy growth to a few factors, including a greater need for digital signage in public spaces and the rapidly declining price of LCD panels.

The IHS iSuppli forecast also identifies the largest digital signage markets for 2011. They include retail, hospitality/healthcare and government/corporate. The forecast also finds the education, outdoor and control room/simulation markets to be important.

So why are those with a message to communicate increasingly adopting digital signage? A few reasons are clear. First, digital signage has the unique ability to reach the public with clear, impactful communications when they are on the go.

Second, because it's a place-based medium, digital signage communicators can identify areas to locate signs that likely will be frequented by their target audience. For example, a restaurateur has a pretty good idea that the people entering the restaurant have eating on their minds, and the registrar of a college knows students entering the administration building at the beginning of the semester are likely interested in class registration information.

Third, digital signage offers communicators the chance to change messaging frequently -at little to no expense- which makes the medium responsive to rapidly changing requirements.

For all of these reasons and several others that have been well discussed in this space in the past, digital signage increasingly is being selected as an important part of an overall communications strategy.

As this nation enters the political season, journalists surely will report on the public's response to the right-track-wrong-track question. I'm sure each time I hear one of those stories, I am will be reminded of this column and the clear evidence from IHS iSuppli that digital signage is indeed on the right track as a communications medium.

While prognosticating about the results of any of this political season's races is a craps shoot, one thing is predictable. Digital signage as a communications medium will remain on the right track as long as professional communicators need to reach people on the go with their important messages.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 11 August 2011

In early July, the Digital Place-based Advertising Association released results from a survey showing just how important digital-out-of-home media is becoming to professional media planners.

Digital placed-based media, long in its ascendency as a legitimate advertising medium, appear poised to enter an entirely new realm of acceptance among professional media planners, according to a survey released in early July from the Digital Place-based Advertising Association (DPAA).

According to the survey, 86.3 percent of media planning respondents said they intend to use digital place-based media as part of their media plans in 2012, a jump from 75.5 percent who said their 2011 media plans include digital place-based media and 65.3 percent from 2010.

To be sure, the percentages revealed by the survey show digital placed-based media has come into its own as a legitimate advertising vehicle. But what is even more stunning is that the survey found 44 percent of media planners plan to shift dollars once allocated to the granddaddy of electronic media, namely television, to fund their digital place-based media buys.

TV ranked second among existing media that media planners intended to tap for funding their digital place-based media plans. Topping the list was outdoor advertising from which 54 percent said they would shift funds. Digital/online ranked third with nearly 23 percent identifying it as the source of funds. Fewer than 20 percent said they would not shift dollars to fund their plans for digital place-based media.

According to a press release announcing the results of the survey, DPAA president Susan Danaher sees that 20 percent figure as particularly significant because it indicates media planners view digital place-based media as being included from the outset as part of their of media plans, not an afterthought to be funded by simply reallocating dollars.

I see these survey findings as the latest in a line of data points indicating that digital-out-of-home advertising is coming into its own as an advertising medium. Others include progress in audience measurement technologies and techniques and the collection of audience metrics by The Nielsen Company.

These DPAA findings confirm that digital-out-of-home advertising has long ago transitioned from a quirky concept that a handful of avant-garde media planners would experiment with to the mainstream of media alternatives.

The findings also raise in my mind a question about the 14 percent of media buyers who don’t plan to use digital place-based media. It would be easy to assume that they simply will be latecomers to the party when they ultimately recognize the value digital place-based media bring their clients.

But I suspect at least a portion of the holdouts may work on accounts for whom digital place-based media just doesn’t make sense, i.e. an online insurance company with no field agents, a credit monitoring service company or some other business with no physical presence in the proximity of its customers.

The survey was taken online May 6-June 6 by the association among about 1000 strategic media planners nationwide. One can only wonder if media buyers with clients who have no face-to-face customer interaction were removed from the sample what tiny percentage  would have no plans for digital place-based media next year.

Posted by: David Little AT 04:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
A new quarterly report from The Nielsen Company promises good things for location-based video network (a.k.a. DOOH) marketers and advertisers.

The Nielsen Company, the outfit probably best known for measuring TV audiences and compiling television ratings, last month published a report with important implications for the digital signage industry and marketers alike.

Nielsen's "Fourth Screen Network Audience Report," released in mid-April,  provides what the company describes as the "first ever standardized audience data" that makes it possible to compare nontraditional video screens, such as those used in out-of-home video ad networks, with traditional video-based media like TV.

Based on the measurement of people exposed to advertising on 10 location-based video networks - ranging from movie theaters to fitness clubs, restaurants to gas stations - the new report plainly illustrates the reach of nontraditional video networks.

According to the report, from September through December 2009, the monthly number of people exposed to advertising by the 10 location-based ad networks totaled more than 237 million. Of those exposed to the ads, 54 percent were male; the split by gender among those 18 to 34 years old was 50-50.

At first glance, the total monthly number of exposures is impressive from a quantitative perspective. In announcing the report, Nielsen issued a press release in which it compared the traditional primetime broadcast audience aged 18 and older for TV commercials in October 2009 with the number of exposures to ads on two movie theater networks.

The combined average exposure at the two theaters totaled 61.7 million. The average exposure to a primetime TV commercial was 3 million. In other words, a marketer would need to run 20 primetime TV commercials to equal the audience delivered by the two location-based video networks at the theaters.

The quality of exposure is equally impressive. Consider the proximity of the message displayed on a location-based video network to the point of sale. According to Nielsen, there were more than 61 million monthly ad exposures at bars and restaurants. How much more valuable are those exposures to someone with food or beverages to sell than exposures from non-location-based video media?

The real significance of Nielsen's report is that now marketers and advertisers have documented evidence from an organization with a long and well-respected track record of gathering and compiling audience metrics about the reach and viewership of location-based video networks. This measurement of out-of-home video network audiences is sure to add a much desired degree of legitimacy to this emerging category of media in the eyes of pros who make decisions on where to spend their clients' money, in no small part based on verified circulation numbers and viewer ratings.

It is important to note that the Nielsen report is the first in what the company plans will be a quarterly publication of audience numbers for place-based video networks. In succeeding quarters, Nielsen says it plans to expand the number of location-based video networks it measures. With each subsequent report, location-based video networks are likely to grow in stature in the minds of marketers and advertisers.

That should bode well for established media companies and entrepreneurs who have needed a way to add credibility to the idea of advertising on private, location-based video networks in the minds of those controlling how marketing and advertising dollars get spent.
Posted by: David Little AT 01:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 21 May 2008

So, you’ve decided your business or institution will be well served by adding a new digital signage network. Now what?

Where to turn and what to do can be confusing, especially if you’re responsible for your organization’s communications or IT department but don’t really know anything about a digital sign. While there are many good companies in business to help you achieve your goals, you can make the endeavor easier and far more successful if you avoid the problems many before you have encountered when rolling out and maintaining their digital signage networks.

Having worked with hundreds of customers on their digital signage needs, we at Keywest Technology have seen a lot of difficulties that could easily have been avoided  along with the associated delays and added expense  with a little knowledge up front. As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. So, keep these top 10 digital signage pitfalls in mind as you plan your new digital signage network to make the experience smooth and rewarding.

No. 1: Lack of a clear purpose

Someone in your organization has read that digital signage can make marketing messaging more effective. It can reach potential customers at the point of purchase, promote desired behavior, target different demographic groups associated with different times of the day, and do many other wonderful things.

But what exactly does your organization need to accomplish with digital signage? That’s the seminal question. Without clearly defining the purpose of a digital signage network, it is impossible to find success in any phase of its deployment or use.

Taking the time up front to define the expectations for the system and write them out on paper for the approval of key management will provide direction and focus effort on attainable goals. Struggling to fulfill a nebulous purpose for the digital signage network will rack up unnecessary expense and leave everyone connected with the project frustrated.

No. 2: Taking on digital signage as an IT project

Digital signage network. The very words sound IT oriented. While there’s a lot of IT technology involved with digital signage, taking on a digital signage network as an IT project is dangerous.

While highly skilled, the typical IT manager does not have the background nor the experience needed to roll out a successful digital signage network. There’s a powerful temptation on the part of IT managers to look at digital signage playback as if it were a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. It isn’t.

PowerPoint does an excellent job at making business presentations, but how many TV stations rely on PowerPoint to create and playback the programs, commercials, news and promotions you see nightly? Exactly zero. With respect to playing back video, graphics, text and animation, layering multiple visual elements and building and maintaining a playout schedule, a digital signage network is much more like a TV station than a boardroom with a projector and a PowerPoint presentation. Keep that in mind if an IT manager volunteers to take on your organization’s digital signage project. 

No. 3: Lack of content

Congratulations. You have a digital signage network. What are you going to display? Having a digital signage network without content is like having a newspaper without print. There’s just a whole lot of nothing and an overwhelming sense of emptiness.

Communicating in some form must be part of the reason behind the decision to add a digital signage network. However, there is no communication without content. Fortunately, many organizations have existing resources to draw upon that can be repurposed as digital signage content. Logos, commercials, promotional video, print advertising, plans and drawings can all be reused in whole or in part to communicate a message on a digital signage network.

Additionally, RSS Internet feeds are a tremendous resource for updating a digital signage network with fresh “newsy” content, weather and sports scores that can give an audience a reason to take a second or third look.

Regardless of where it comes from, content is critical to the success of a digital signage network. Knowing where it will come from is as important as actually having the digital signage network in place. 

No. 4: No one assigned to manage the project

While it’s not like designing the International Space Station, putting a digital signage network in place can be a complex undertaking. For that reason, it’s essential that any business or organization taking on a digital signage network assign someone to manage the project. Having an individual identified to own the project will minimize the impact of the unforeseen problems that inevitably creep into any complex undertaking.

Just as bad as having no one assigned to manage the project is its closely related cousin: management by committee. Offering up conflicting directions from multiple individuals will leave your system integrator bewildered and your project incomplete. 

No. 5: No one to update content

While RSS feeds and subscriptions to news wire services are two sources of fresh information for a digital signage network, where will updated content conveying your company’s specific messages and current offerings come from?

A digital signage network that attracts attention has an insatiable appetite for fresh content. Thus, it’s essential that an organization taking on a digital signage network assign a qualified, competent person to the task of creating that content. Without someone in charge of the network’s content, the text, graphics and video being displayed will soon grow tired. Stale content will have the opposite of the desired result for a digital sign. It actually will drive viewers away and impart a sense of “been there, done that” that will be difficult to reverse.

No. 6: Taking the cheap way out

There’s nothing wrong with being budget conscious about a digital signage installation; however, selecting products, including displays, controllers and software, and services like content creation solely on their price tag can result in a system that in the long run will cost an organization dearly.

Systems designed solely on the price of the component miss the point. Digital signage networks are about communicating information  perhaps a marketing message, maps and directions or instructions  to their intended audience. Spending money on an inexpensive system just because it’s cheap could cost a business or organization far more in lost opportunities than the money saved. 

No. 7: Not knowing the locations of the signs

Knowing where your organization wants to locate the flat panel monitors in its digital signage network is important for a few reasons. First, locating the digital signage content players needed depends on where the sign or signs it’s controlling are located. The length of cable that's running between the player and the sign must be taken into account. Clearly defining the location of the signs will allow you to minimize construction/renovation expense and avoid paying for “do overs.”

Second, understanding exactly where the signs will be positioned will make it easier to understand what will be needed to mount the flat panels in use. Are wall studs available where a sign will be located? Or, will a freestanding structure be required? What’s the condition of the wall studs? Is electrical power available? What’s the status of ambient light sources? Will a window or skylight need to be shaded to reduce glare?

Third, not knowing where the signs need to be located may be a symptom of a bigger problem: namely, not having a clear idea about the purpose of the digital signage installation.

No. 8: Installers without general contractor capability

Installing digital signage can be messy. Drywall and plaster may need to be cut. New electrical plugs with isolated grounds may need to be installed. Beyond those obvious construction challenges, less apparent structural modifications may be required. Those can vary from relocating HVAC ducts to re-enforcing walls.

For that reason, choosing a digital signage installer without the skill and experience to serve as a general contractor for the project can be a big mistake. Depending on the specific installation, it’s not unreasonable to assume carpenters, electricians, plumbers and even heating and cooling contractors might need to be involved to make necessary structural modifications. Having an installer who can serve as a general contractor to bring those diverse resources together and manage them properly can save lots of time and expense. 

No. 9: Failing to allot adequate time to learn the system

Far too often, the people responsible for new digital signage installations at businesses or organizations are so excited about their systems that they can’t wait to show them off to upper management. After all, a significant sum of money went into making the digital signage network a reality. So showing it off as soon as possible only seems natural.

However, creating content for a digital signage system, scheduling it and making changes to playback along the way require some skill. It takes time to be properly trained to use a digital signage network. Failing to allocate sufficient time to learn how to use the system not only could be embarrassing in front of management, but disastrous to your communications efforts with the general public, if they’re your first audience.

No. 10: Failing to keep future expansion in mind at the time of initial design

Designing yourself into a box when first contemplating a digital signage network can be costly. Without casting an eye towards future needs, it’s possible that portions of the network might need to be replaced before they’ve been amortized to accommodate expansion.

Without exception, experience shows that businesses and organizations that fund the addition of digital signage networks express interest in expanding their systems after they’re installed.

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There you have it, the Top 10 Digital Signage Pitfalls. Take these lessons to heart as you proceed with your digital signage rollout, and you’re much more likely to have a successful experience. More importantly, your company or institution will avoid costly mistakes that will delay the installation and prevent your communications from having their desired effect.

David Little is the director of marketing for Keywest Technology.

Posted by: David Little AT 03:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Determining the return on investment of a digital signage network isn't always easy.
Ask a savvy investor to divulge the five-year average return on the mutual fund he's using for his 401k investment, and he'll rattle off the answer quicker than the Fed can print money.
Ask a farmer how much a given fertilizer costs and how much bigger his crop yield is because of it, and he'll respond with more certitude than the rooster that crows at dawn.
But ask a digital signage network operator about the return on investment (ROI) of his digital signage system, and the answer may be tinged with a degree of uncertainty and hesitation.
Why? Because in many ways the factors that go into determining the ROI of digital signage can be a bit, for lack of a better term, "squishy." Figuring out the ROI of digital signage can be like walking through a heavily rain-soaked field: You know eventually you'll reach something firm on which to build your next step, but getting to that solid foundation can be a little tenuous.
Wouldn't it be great if it were as simple as looking at the cash spent to set up and maintain the network, measuring the cash generated or saved by the digital signage network, dividing the latter by the former and coming up with a return? While that might be practical in some digital signage applications, the "squishiness" of many others makes arriving at the return on investment of a digital signage network much more difficult.
To illustrate the difference, consider these two scenarios: a casino that's replacing all printed promotional signage with digital signage and a corporation setting up a digital signage network to communicate with employees.
In the casino scenario, the gaming facility typically spends $300,000 annually to print promotional signs, plus an additional $50,000 annually for the salaries of employees who replace old signs with new signs to update patrons on the constantly changing entertainment acts, restaurant specials and casino promotions.
By replacing the traditional signs with a digital signage network, the casino will have a one-time expense for the cost of the LCD or plasma panels, the digital signage media players, network cabling, routers, and ancillary hardware. Let's set that one-time cost at $300,000, and throw in $50,000 annually to maintain the network.
For the sake of this scenario, the cost of creating content will be virtually the same. Graphic artists using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign to create print ads will now use Adobe Photoshop, Premiere and Flash to create content for the digital signage network.
Figuring out the five-year return on this digital signage network is a snap: $1.75 million in printing and labor savings ($350,000 x 5) divided by $550,000 ($300,000 for the initial installation and $50,000 x 5 years for maintenance) = 318 percent return for five years, or about 64 percent annual return.
While there could be other factors impacting the total ROI of this system (such as advertising revenue from allied businesses wishing to advertise on the network) this scenario illustrates that there can be a straightforward ROI assigned to some digital signage applications.
Squishy comes into play in scenario No. 2, the corporate digital signage network. A corporation installs a modest digital signage network that includes a sign to greet visitors in the lobby, several digital door cards to identify what's booked for various conference rooms and a digital sign in the corporate lunchroom.
The squishy factor in this scenario relates to identifying and measuring employee and visitor behavior as it relates to the digital signage network. Did a visitor to the company feel more welcomed when she saw a personal greeting on the sign in the lobby? Did that feeling translate in even the smallest of ways to a more productive meeting with the person she was there to meet? Did that translate into some monetary value?
Do the signs used as digital door cards inform the people of the right conference to attend? Do they reduce interruptions, help meetings to start and end on time, and in so doing improve productivity? Can that be measured? What's the monetary value?
Does the sign in the lunchroom create a degree of loyalty to the company by recognizing achievement? Does it improve the experience of employees by keeping them better informed of what's going on in and around the premises? Is there a monetary value that can be measured?
These sorts of benefits are much more difficult to reduce to a simple ROI equation because they're squishy. But just because they are squishy doesn't mean they are not important or real. Being squishy just means it's harder to identify the true ROI of the digital signage network, not that there is no ROI.
David Little is the director of marketing for Keywest Technology. This commentary originally appeared on the Keywest Technology Digital Signage Blog.
Posted by: David Little AT 03:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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