Intel dropped a Google-sized rock in the digital signage pond in the middle of today's opening keynote at the Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas.
Intel's Jose Avalos, the company's director of digital signage, embedded and communications group, announced that, on the heels of the release of Google's Chromeboxes last week, the search engine and Internet services behemoth would be turning at least some of its focus to digital signage.
The Chromeboxes could become very inexpensive digital signage media players, and the Chrome platform itself could make the back end cheaper as well, Google's Rajen Sheth, director of product management, Chrome for business and education, told Digital Signage Today in an interview following the keynote.
"So really what it is is the Chrome platform and a few things that we're doing with the Chrome platform," Sheth said. "First is to make the hardware itself lower and lower cost and affordable — for example the new Chromebox we released with ASUS last week is only $179, and it's coming down and down and down in price — but then the bigger thing is, even if the hardware is low cost, it's very tough to maintain this kind of a distributed network of hardware, and that's what we really make possible with the Chrome platform."
With Chrome, one Web-based management console is used to push the content to the Chromesboxes so it can be shown on displays, which should help bring down the IT and support costs of digital signage networks and deployments "dramatically," he said.
"The reason we think it's a great solution here is that in a distributed nature, which is inherent with digital signs, that kind of central manageability is going to be very, very important," Sheth said. "And so we're going to keep adding capabilities to that central management to make this even better and make it easier to kind of manage and distribute content to these signs."
Avalos said he was "excited" about the announcement and the opportunity to collaborate with Google as it enters the digital signage realm.
"I think the Google announcement is a really important announcement because it really helps to continue to validate the industry," Avalos said in an interview with Digital Signage Today. "Digital signage is becoming a mainstream medium for advertising and for broadcasting — and having another big company with significant resources be part of the ecosystem, an ecosystem that already includes very large companies like NEC, like Microsoft and Intel and many others — is continued validation to the industry."
After hearing the news, Brian Kutchma, the VP of sales and marketing at longtime digital signage player Black Box, said there were two ways to look at the announcement:
"At the end of the day the infrastructure is a small portion of [digital signage]. At a lower cost it'll force everybody to get a little cheaper, but the real value of signage is the expertise and the competency and the coaching of: What's behind it is important, but what's incredibly important is what out the front of it, and is it effective, and what do you know and the content," he said in an interview. "In my mind, what it'll do is cause some of the less committed ones to go by the wayside, and there'll probably be a thinning of the industry."
From a broader industry perspective, he said, the announcement is great because "it challenges everybody to get better; it continues to drive cost down; and it continues to improve quality in the market. We already know this is a very effective solution that delivers a strong ROI if it's done correctly."
"I'm sure they'll eat share, but ... those are small pieces," he said. "The big piece is really helping customers understand their customers, knowing what messaging works, how to use those analytics and everything else, so they've got to have that piece of it too, which is an important part of it."
The unintended consequences of cheaper hardware and support could be both good and bad, Kutchma said.
"They'll do well; there's a lot of people out there that say 'Give me a cheap box, I want to put it up,' and I don't know that that's necessarily a good thing for the industry, because then you have a lot of people putting out a finished product that shouldn't be out in the market," he said. "And that doesn't do the industry a great service, because then it just becomes cheap wallpaper and has no effect whatsoever."
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