*Editor's note: This article is the first in a two-part series of coverage of the Digital Signage Expo. To read part two, click here.
They came. They saw. They networked.
Attendees of Digital Signage Expo 2007 did other things, too, of course, most typical of activities that characterize such industry tradeshows. Attendees queued up at make-shift bars for gratis booze at the obligatory opening night reception. They chose seats about halfway back or more at seminars, until the rear of the rooms filled and the crowds settled for frontward chairs. And they took cell phone breaks to call the home office, or at least home, between innumerable boothside chats and demonstrations.
But at this show, which took place at Chicago's Navy Pier May 16-17, they did something not so common: They took pulse.
| |Chris Gibbs (right), the expo's director, visits the Scala booth. Scala software controls more than 200,000 screens in the United States , one third of the market, according to Frost & Sullivan.
"I'm here because I believe this is the year digital signage will finally — finally, finally, finally — come into its own as an industry," said a representative from a major industry player to explain his role on the newly formed Digital Signage Council. (Click here to read about the Self-Service & Kiosk Association initiative.)
Many who walked the field of 10-foot x 20-foot stands hour after hour expressed the same sentiment. After years of seeing the potential enormity of a digital-signage industry come into view — the way one used to wait for the tubes to warm and light up a black-and-white TV screen — even the skeptical can behold the vision. Companies like Scala, Adflow Networks, BroadSign International and LG Electronics are penetrating the tough retail market, and other players, without the resources of their big brothers, are partnering with them or heading to verticals like education, corporate communication and houses of worship, where they can compete more effectively on their own.
Attendance supported the sense of growth. About 1,200 people came to the 2006 show, which was last known as the Digital Retailing Expo; Chris Gibbs, the expo's director, said he expected this year's attendance number to be significantly higher. He also said that bookings for the 2008 show, which moves to Feb. 27-28 in Las Vegas, were going well.
What follows is one of two run-downs of exhibitors at the show:
ACCUWEATHER makes its programming available to an increasing number of digital-signage-content resellers, who then package the weather with other items. An example is TransitTV, a network on public transportation systems.
Browser-based and secure, ADFLOW NETWORKS' Dynamic Messaging System, a digital-signage and kiosk network, provides control and flexibility to create effective in-store messaging. ADFLOW's DMS is billed as inexpensive, highly scalable, and quick and easy to deploy.
AUDIO/VIDEO INTERACTIVE showed its new version of Digital Associate, a turnkey solution that now offers a more intuitive interface and customizable reporting. Also, deployers can on their own configure hardware components such as media players, saving the time and expense of involving the network.
The AVOCENT family of A/V extension solutions include the Emerge wireless and wired-extension products, and the LongView wireless extender devices for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint connectivity. They also are known for their work with Gas Station TV, daylight viewable LCD screens that provide a constant stream of ABC and ESPN programming and sponsored messages, providing wireless HD content.
BROADSIGN's BroadSign Suite is a comprehensive solution comprised of software, a secure server domain and accompanying services. The solution, based on the Application Service Provider model, allows clients' businesses to take off fast, while significantly lowering both the start-up and recurring costs of operations.
The history of CONTEMPORARY RESEARCH is a long and rich one. The company serves multiple environments such as arenas, churches and schools with RF technology. Last year, the company introduced SignStream, which allows content to multiple screens to be managed from a single server and be broadcast as an HD TV channel. Six channels can be managed at once, and sent to many screens. X20 Media, manufacturer of a PowerPoint-based digital-signage system, is partnering with Contemporary Research to provide a Web-based solution for the corporate communications vertical and college campuses.
DISPLAX, a solution from Edigma, has won a slew of awards and might even be classified as a media darling, based on its CNBC and other mainstream coverage. The interactive projection onto storefront windows combined with card-swipe technology facilitates fun, leading-edge retailing 24/7.
DYNASIGN demonstrated its enterprise-class content-management solutions. The ASP service provides advanced control to multiple players, even at various fields within the display area.
GESTURETEK has wowed us at shows before with its interactive signage and clever ways to integrate users into the experience. Here on display were Screen Xtreme, an interactive device suited for long lines such as amusement parks, and Illuminate Kiosk, which can run software to make more engaging the browsing of products and real-estate through 3D examinations.
HELIUS came to the Digital Signage Expo still beaming from the news it had acquired PointeCast, an authoring tool that converts PowerPoint presentations to fast, low-resource Flash.
LG ELECTRONICS showed five new items at its double booth: 1.) a 42-inch touchscreen, the largest available, said a representative; 2.) an IP solution, the company's first direct interface; 3.) a 29mm bezel, allowing more screen in a smaller space; 4.) a 3-D monitor, which provided easily the best 3-D effects of any at the show; 5.) and a touchscreen with an onboard computer, allowing it to operate as a stand-alone.
With LG Electronics was subsidiary Triveni, which made its bones in broadcast TV with distributing PBS and other programming. Its signature bread-and-butter product, SkyScraper, takes advantage of digital delivery in helping organizations with dispersed locations gets messages out.
MINICOM ADVANCED SYSTEMS, an Israel company, featured the first U.S. showing of its DSVision 3000. The distribution tool moves content from the player to the screen, unaided, up to 1,000 feet, and with the assistance of fiber-optic cable and the company's OpticVision extender, up to 15 miles. The DSVision can simultaneously move audio, video and serial data (for hardware control).
Kiosk pioneer NETKEY was on hand, said marketing executive Bob Ventresca, because his company early on noticed the intersection between digital signage and self-service.
"Our comprehensive solution is well suited for both, and we have a number of major clients using it for digital signage," he said.
OVATION IN-STORE, like Nanonation, does not consider itself a digital-signage company. Rather, it begins customer relationships by helping clients precisely define the end-result, and building a strategy that supports it. Each deliverable, then, becomes part of a unique whole. The company displayed projects for Timberland, Fisher-Price toys and Reebok's RBK Pump shoe. The Timberland application tracks metrics for the deployer, such as how many times each item was picked up, low long it was looked at and at what stores. Store officials can log on at any time to view the data.
SCALA, in addition to showing its software and action, ran a recurring video on tips to successful digital-signage deployment — shown on multiple, sequenced HD digital monitors, of course. With roots in Norway, the software maker became a U.S. corporate citizen in 1991, and now does 48 percent of its business in the Americas.
TruMedia's booth featured a screen superimposed with a live sample of data its software is able to capture. The bottom left shows the view the software uses to count and assess the demographics of people looking at the screen. The bottom right shows information on lengths of stay and the gender make-up of viewers.
Have the sense you're being watched? TRUMEDIA TECHNOLOGIES may be the reason. The company markets a measuring system that counts the people who look at a digital sign, when they looked at it and for how long, which allows the software to match impressions to pieces of content such as ads or products. The algorithm, which is constantly fed feedback to become more accurate, can determine gender correctly 88 percent of the time, and be on the money 95 percent of the time for headcounts up to 20 or 30 feet away, depending on the camera requested by the deployer. Recently added is the ability to count passers-by and compare the number to that of those who stop to look.