That was the digital signage year that was, 2013

Jan. 3, 2014

As the calendar turns the page to 2014 — perhaps the year that digital signage becomes just "signage"? (OK, maybe not) — Digital Signage Today is taking a moment to look back at the year that was.

To get a feel for the year, we asked a handful of industry insiders to weigh in on one simple question: What was the biggest digital signage news story or trend in 2013?

Their wide-ranging answers appear below (and be sure to tune in next week to read 2014 predictions from many of these same sources):

Alan C. Brawn, Principal, Brawn Consulting

To select one top story is to ignore so many, but the biggest outstanding issues were from a business perspective. One constant point of discussion was how to measure the impact of digital signage on the viewer: the whole issue of analytics to "prove" the value of the content being shown not just in ROI but also in ROO.

The second business issue was about accurate research into the market and both characterizing and quantifying the segments: Who does what, and how much do they do as part of the whole? This is tough with so many privately held companies involved and the fact that end-users tend to keep their successes and failures to themselves. We often hear the 20-percent growth number, but this begs the question of where did that number come from and is it pervasive or does it only illustrate a certain segment like retail? Lots of questions with few answers, at least so far.

Lyle Bunn, BUNN Co.

Digital signage became more tightly woven into the tapestry that is communications devices. In particular, its role as "owned" media in the paid-owned-earned media model became paramount as, for example, restaurants installed digital menu boards, banks advanced in-branch messaging and brands used signage for retail promotion.

"Analytics" became an even bigger elephant in the digital signage room. All media investment is based on return on investment, even when those "soft" benefits are described as return on objectives. All funding decisions are benefits based. So as digital signage is measured against other possible communications investments, impact measures such as recall, action intent and measurable outcomes become more important, and, if not captured, an impediment to future funding.

"Context" enters into this impact assessment. The presentation of content (messaging) always has a context based on the location and mindset of the target audience. 2013 saw a heightened appreciation not just for content (as referenced in the survey) but for using the inherent capabilities of dayparting and audience targeting to present contextual messages to achieve engagement.

Intel's announcement of its own Retail Client Manager solution raised the ire of content management solutions providers that have based their solution on Intel. As Android solutions hit the market in 2013, and the opportunity for broader-based technology infrastructure service in large markets such as retail have emerged, Intel, as a core technology engine for many operating applications, will no doubt equip and empower its substantial base of global resellers to offer digital signage as a MARTECH application that draws from back office systems and supports revenue achievement.

The enthusiastic entry of sign and digital graphics providers as a channel of digital signage supply to end-users is a win all the way around. These suppliers understand sign communications, can produce content and have excellent customer relations, while also knowing where the budgets reside, so 2013 was a banner year for the digital signage industry's growth in the number of resellers, which will continue.

Jeff Collard, President, Omnivex

Displays continued to get bigger and bezels smaller in 2013. Many installations had to go through upgrades last year as old displays and PCs reached the limits of their capabilities. New displays provided bigger screens, many with integrated touch capabilities. Windows XP was in its last full year of extended support, forcing many users to replace their old Pentium based hardware.

This gave many operators a chance to review their requirements with a sharper focus on returns for their investment. The PC industry is providing much better hardware today, but higher screen resolutions quickly consume better graphics processing capabilities. Intel and AMD introduced much better processors in 2013 that will fuel better PCs in 2014. That will have a significant improvement in the quality of signage available to system operators. Digital signage has become a basic requirement for many businesses. Mobile devices had a much bigger impact on decisions in 2013, but most companies are still trying to define their mobile strategy with regards to digital signage.

Mahesh Hinduja, President, Digital Signage in Minutes provider doPublicity Digital Signage

2013 has been a pleasant surprise, especially considering the past couple years where small businesses were struggling to make ends meet and could not afford capital expenditures, whether it was for upgrading their infrastructure or implementing new technologies.

Our experience this year has shown that one of the largest growth segments is tiny-to-small businesses that are looking at increasing their visibility and sales. These businesses are typically owned by individuals with limited means and even less technical skills. Selling to this segment can get tricky, but if the right balance is met — it can be rewarding.

Keeping in mind this specific segment, the focus should be on delivering low-cost and extremely easy-to-use digital signage solutions that could be set up at less than half the prices what these business thought they would have to pay. In addition, providing content creating tools with ease of use has seen a substantial increase in helping such customers take the plunge into digital signage.

Nathan Remmes, Director of Business Development, NanoLumens

While 2012 was all about 3D capabilities, fear of economic shift and change kept most companies focused on their current technology rather than on innovation. With a bit more security in 2013, digital signage began to focus on the consumer rather than the display technology itself, opening toward greater interactivity and mobility.

It's no longer a question of who has the newest, shiniest technology, but more so of who is offering the best solution. 2013 also seems to be the end of the redundant and overused idea that "digital signage is the future," as markets and manufacturers embrace the mentality that the future is already here; digital signage is now.

Kevin Schroll, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Commercial Displays, Samsung Enterprise Business Division

This year saw an acceleration of the static-to-digital transition trend that we have been anticipating for several years. Notably, several leaders in the "traditional" signage market have added digital media solutions to their portfolios in 2013. FASTSIGNS is offering turnkey digital signage solutions to their network of more than 460 franchise locations nationwide, enabling a whole new set of customers to tap into the benefits of digital media. Separately, N. Glantz & Son, another key supplier in the signage market, joined our distributor network and further expands the availability of large-format displays for signage applications.

Delivering cost-effective, easy-to-deploy digital signage solutions to a broader swath of customers is key to the growth of the industry. We all know the engagement, time-saving and ROI benefits of digital signage, so being able to remove the barriers to entry and provide solutions tiered for organizations small or big has been a major focus this year and will continue into 2014.

Richard Ventura, Vice President of Product Marketing and Solutions, NEC Display Solutions of America Inc.

I think interactive technology in digital signage is what's finally starting to fully express itself in the industry. We've always talked about it with customers, and we've always gotten questions about where do we see interactive, and what's coming. But this last year it was amazing how much people were talking more and more about interactive — not even just in terms of touchscreens, they were asking about interactive with tablets, doing augmented reality, all kinds of different things. That seemed to be the "buzz" topic that everyone was looking at.

And then the other big thing was video walls. I think video walls really came into their own this last year. What we've seen is that so many more people are coming to the table and are asking for video walls and applications in which prior to last year they weren't really being used. For instance, they were being put more into classrooms than ever before; we're seeing new types of vertical markets using video walls — such as restaurants and retailers — as well as the traditional areas like airports and public spaces. Every day I'm seeing projects going out the door or coming to us specifically around video walls.

It's been really nice to see, because obviously for the industry video walls are a lot more profitable for resellers and integrators to sell than just a single screen. So it's definitely been the other big trend, and also toward the end of the year, we've actually seen a great deal of growth in requests around interactive video walls. Organizations have the interactive screens and the kiosks in their environment, and then they have the video walls in their environment, so they think why not tie it all together and have interactive video walls?

Tanya Williams, Business Development Manager, Australian digital signage integrator Prendi

Digital signage is in its infancy in Australia, so we are seeing a significant gap in the market between businesses that are starting to implement it in a very basic way through to the early adopters who understand the clear benefits of the technology and have already put significant investment and planning into digital signage and future rollouts.

General feedback in the Australian market is positive, and we find most brands want to use the technology — however the high initial investment has often been a factor in not implementing it in a more timely manner. As brands begin to understand the costs involved, they are building it into future budgets and also plan to take a phased approach over the next few years to implement into business operations.

This year has seen a shift from businesses using static signage in stores to implementing digital screens. A majority of this has been single screens, small video walls and some touchscreen activations. Changing the mindset of marketers to move from static to digital has been a process for digital signage companies and will continue until digital signage becomes seen as the norm and not an option.

The biggest adopters this year have been consumer-facing industries like restaurants and QSRs, retail stores, auto showrooms, clients at tradeshows and exhibitions, and the education and health care sectors.

Thomas Zerega, Founder and CEO, Magnetic 3D

The key takeaway this year for digital signage is scale. While there is still room for intense growth ahead, signs that the industry is achieving critical mass became clearer in 2013 than ever before.

Furthermore, digital signage has proven to be of incredible value in each of its verticals, so the ROI argument has been less about butting heads and more of a dynamic brainstorming conversation of how to solve brands' challenges.

As is the case with any new disruptive technology, there is always resistance, but the scales seem to have tipped in 2013, giving rise to a new digital frontier — and it appears that the decision-makers, once resistant to technological change (whether for their survival, or to stave off financial investment), are coming to their senses.

Digital signage is here to stay, and it's going to play an important role in supporting information, communication and marketing strategy. The economies of scale were at work in 2013, and the benefits of scale will play an important role in the growth of digital signage in 2014.

Learn more about digital signage trends.

Topics: Restaurants , Retail , Trends / Statistics

Companies: Samsung Electronics America , NEC Display Solutions , Omnivex , AMD , Magnetic Media , Intel Corporation , doPublicity

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