Digital Signage Trends for 2013

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Digital Signage

Date: March 2013

By Monica Heck, Special to InfoComm International®

Like Julie Andrews’ Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music, it can sometimes be hard to catch the digital signage world and pin it down. As industries go it’s still relatively young, so tracking global growth in terms of size and pace can be difficult. Digital signage’s defining metrics are variable and its penetration into local markets varies wildly.

A 2011 study by Global Industry Analysts estimated that the global digital signage systems market would reach $13.8 billion by 2017. Researchers said a retail boom in countries such as China, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and India would help the lead the way. The United States is the largest regional market worldwide; Asia-Pacific the fastest-growing. 

Having weathered the recession, the digital signage industry is thriving thanks in part to a number of technology trends.

Supporting Rich Content: The Emergence of HTML5

Moving on from content delivery through Flash applications, the digital signage industry seems to have greeted the arrival of HTML5 with open arms.  “We’re going to see a proliferation of rich, compelling content developed in HTML5 and delivered in HD,” says Jeff Hastings, CEO at BrightSign. “4K HD is on the horizon as well. Rich media like this requires powerful devices capable of hosting, managing and serving it up, and software capable of supporting the latest development tools.”

That said, from a content perspective, HTML5 supports the ability to do more using modest hardware, such as mobile devices, according to Damon Crowhurst, EMEA sales director at Scala. “For a lot of content, agencies are already using HTML5 as opposed to Flash, which has significant benefits in terms of making things interactive. It’s easier to work with and faster to develop.”

Crowhurst says the combination of HTML5 and the Android mobile operating system open up a new sphere of signage applications in retail involving smaller screens, closer to the point of sale.

Android and the Cloud: ‘Democratizing’ Digital Signage

As Android gains popularity, Crowhurst says it is ushering in lower-priced hardware players in general. “It’s making a sub-$100 player a very viable option for a lot of people. An Android device can either be integrated into a screen, small media player or even a USB stick, which reduces the hardware cost, size and energy footprint,” he says. “We’ll see much bigger networks as a result of this. There are very few networks nowadays running 3,000 to 5,000 systems and we’ll see these becoming more common because of this.”

Ken Goldberg, CEO of Real Digital Media, is more cautious about the rise of such technology in digital signage. “Certainly, Android was the buzzword of choice at the recent Digital Signage Expo,” he says. “Regardless of whether you’re talking about ARM, Android, or SoC (system on chip), the trend is toward finding ways to reduce costs associated with media players.” ARM processors adhere to reduced instruction set computing (RISC), a design that results in fewer transistors and processors that cost less, produce less heat, and use less power than traditional computer processors.

Goldberg says developers are taking one of two approaches: porting player software to ARM-based architectures and building support for SoC-based all-in-one displays. There are advantages and drawbacks to both approaches, he says, and customers are bound to still want functionality and support that may not be available across the ARM world. “For example, in a multiscreen array, using a two-output device can cut player costs in half. It could do the same for ongoing SaaS fees — without giving up any functionality. However, that operating cost savings is not going to happen in the ARM player or all-in-one SoC scenario.”

Consultant Bing Kimpo feels digital signage is moving along the same path as mobile computing, which bodes well for the sector.  “Affordability helps in uptake and distribution,” he says. “Becoming smarter and more social helps make digital signage more relevant and applicable. We are clearly moving away from ‘dumb’ playback to application-oriented digital signage. Android and the cloud have democratized digital signage, which I think helps the industry grow.”

Guillaume de La Tour, CEO of signage content provider BlueFox, also thinks the cloud is having will influence the market. “I think all content is going to be provided in the cloud going forward,” he explains. “The storage drive of the player is getting smaller, in part because of the cloud and because of network bandwidth.”

Simpler, Cheaper Technology:  Driving Customer Demand

Digital technologies technologies are rising in quality and falling in price. “Videowall hardware and software are getting more versatile and affordable, this inevitably leads to more spectacular installations,” says digital signage media specialist Nurlan Urazbaev. “The past year has seen projection technology being used in many high-profile campaigns. Content shop Pearl Media, among others, has executed visually striking projection-mapping campaigns for some top brands.”

Morgan Van Baren, global vice president and product general manager of visual solutions at Mood Media Corp., is seeing greater demand for videowalls at larger national and international retailers, particularly as showcase displays in their flagship stores.

“Bigger screens, smaller bezels, lower power consumption and multitouch technology are all trends, but the biggest trend of all is that screens and technology are becoming more affordable,” says Van Baren  “This is driving increased demand from the small business sector. Single-source providers are able to simplify and manage all components of a digital signage solution and provide greater value. We still hear from many of our clients who say that they looked into digital signage before but stopped the search because execution seemed so confusing and expensive.”

Mike Hemmings, marketing director at European DooH advertising company Amscreen, says his company’s focus is rapid roll-out. “We’ve created a plug-and-play product that doesn’t rely on hard-wired lines. It’s just a screen with a SIM card in the back. Our screen acts like a giant mobile phone and communicates with a central server, serving content over 3G. Each screen can be installed in 30 minutes and we can put out a targeted campaign in less than 24 hours Simplicity is the key.”

Mobility and Interactivity: Engaging With Customers

Mobile technology will be a game-changer in 2013, according to BrightSign’s Hastings, who says operators will need to adopt a mobile integration plan as part of their overall digital signage strategy.

“Consumers' mobile devices must become extensions of the digital signage marketing message or vehicles to complete the desired transaction. In addition, businesses will rely on tablets and mobile devices for command and control of their signage. We’ve seen some very promising examples of mobile integration, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.”

BrightSign is integrating touch and swipe control into its new XD DS players as a direct result of the impact of smartphones and tablets. Whether the company is ahead of the market remains to be seen. Urazbaev says adoption of touch technology has a lot of potential for engaging consumers in public places. “However, at this point the supply of touch-screen functionality seems to be ahead of the content strategy that involves touch interaction,” he explains.

And the jury is out on the topic of mobile phone payments and digital signage. “We’re going to see a lot of [near-field communication] with mobile payments, but it’s still early and I don’t think anybody has found the right solution yet,” says de La Tour.

Kimpo admits there’s a lot of buzz around NFC, which is a wireless technology similar to Bluetooth. “There are just more Bluetooth-enabled phones in the world, particularly in emerging markets. To me, digital signage should offer all forms of mobile interaction — be it NFC, Bluetooth or QR codes — then let the customer decide which is best.”

Hot, Not Hot

Overall, experts say interactive solutions are hot, as digital signage developers create simple, smart interfaces. “We anticipate that 2013 will be more about a continuing creative understanding about the application of existing technology,” says Van Baren. “You don’t need to go over the top to create the ‘wow’ factor; you just need to be smart and accessible. It has to make sense to the average consumer."

That said, digital signage experts are quick to point out what’s not hot this year. Audio in digital signage, gesture-based and motion interactivity, and the big one: 3D.

“I think 3D is on the ‘not hot’ list,” says Hastings. “All the solutions introduced so far require a person to do something — wear glasses or view content from a certain location, for example. Consumers don’t want to be constrained by viewing requirements.”