Digital Signage Deployment

Digital signs certainly are nothing new; not in China, nor in Times Square NYC. But the rest of the country is starting to see what big-city New Yorkers have grown accustomed to: bright lights, seen live and in person (not on television). Electronic signage can be found on more and more. They are inside hotel lobbies, flashing menu choices at fast-food restaurants, and atop pumps at gas stations. (See a video of the70-inch HD screens at JFK Airport: They’re even in fancy restaurants: “Would you like to see our wine list?” asked a waiter, handing me an iPad to peruse.

In the motion-picture space, Screenvision boasts some 15,000 screens in US movie theaters. A smaller player is Cinema Scene Marketing, which uses Popstar Networks software to power its more than 500 TrailerVision displays in some 250 theater locations nationwide. (For hardware, Popstar employs AOpen Digital Engine series ultra-small form factor media players.) The complete digital marketing solution comprises of up to five different digital formats at a single location, including passive, 3D, semi-holographic projection, touchscreens, and digital menu boards for concessions. Cinema Scene distributes more than eight terabytes of media-rich data annually from a single, Cloud-hosted environment.

Nielsen has reported that digital signage in the US generates more than 237 million monthly exposures to people 18 years of age or older. Its benefits are numerous. For one thing, like its variable-data print cousin, digital signage can display content relevant to a specific site or region. Message content also can be changed and delivered quickly, pointed out Four Winds Interactive. Plus, complete network control of displays is available from one central location. Digital retail signs indeed are an up and coming trend, as contributing editor Joann Whitcher has reported on MyPrintResource, citing projections from market research firm iSuppi Corp. that show global shipments of retail digital signs set to rise to 2.5 million units by 2013, a 26.8 percent CAGR over 2008.

Printed signage is not going away, of course, but what if your customers want to explore a more integrated approach and offer the best of both worlds? You’ll need to know some basics, the very least of which is with whom to possibly partner. It’s either that, or watch potential profit fly out your window as someone else proactively takes the reigns on the project. In March, my “Bright Lights, Dynamic Content” story delved into the e-billboard marketplace. (link: As MPR’s Jeffrey Steele also pointed out a few months ago, “Positioning your company in the emerging digital signage market is about much more than buying some screens and plugging them in.” (

This article, however, is broader in scope and more about the pitfalls (see sidebar) that printers should beware of and sidestep. So, your customer wants to add a new digital signage network. Here’s what to watch out for …

Supplement, Not Substitute

Not necessarily replacing its ink-on-paper cousins, digital signage can be the ideal complement to more static mediums, said Matt Schmitt, founder, president and chief experience officer at Reflect Systems, which has launched and supported some of the largest in-store digital media networks in North America, including BestBuy and GameStop. In an exclusive interview with Wide Format Imaging, Schmitt pointed out that while more can be done with digital in terms of offering media-rich experiences, one key is to choose display technology that does what it needs to do – no more and no less. “What’s the purpose?” he asked. “What’s it being used for?”

Schmitt noted that while display prices and formats (LCD, plasma, and LED) have “come around,” there are other practical considerations such as the size of the environment, distance from the audience, and lighting conditions. “LED [technology] has become big in merchandising and traditional retailing,” he said, citing window-type displays in indoor malls as an example. But for use outside, “brightness is not as much of a factor with LCD.” Traditional LCD in portrait mode still is an effective application, Schmitt added, emphasizing that touchscreen displays make for a very interactive experience.

Perhaps the biggest answer guiding a feasible digital signage investment is, “How will it scale?” Schmitt concluded: No matter which display technology is selected, will it roll out across 10, 100, or 1,000 different locations? If it does scale well, the capital expenditure on going the digital route can yield a return on operational cost within about a three-year period, Schmitt concluded, referencing statistics from the Digital Screenmedia Association’s ROI calculator. Unlike printed signage, of course, there are no ink, paper, and physical distribution costs involved.

The Fastsigns International franchise is sold on adding value by offering digital signage among its service menu items. “If you are going to be successful in the sign business long term, you need to offer digital signage as an option,” asserted Matt Miles, director of technology at Fastsigns. “We only sell commercial-grade hardware that can be warrantied in a business environment; we partner with vendors that provide next-business-day replacement,” Miles continued. “We have selected software partners that are experienced and incorporate content- management tools as well as smooth quality playback.”

As a network, Fastsigns has created additional value by hosting a content manager, sharing the expense across its network of more than 530 Fastsigns and SignWave centers worldwide. (Read more about the Fastsigns digital strategy:

Download a white paper from Reflect Systems covering digital signage content best practices:

Digi Sign Pitfalls

Deploying digital signage is “not like buying a TV, where you [just] turn it on and watch it,” cautioned Alex Wang, founder, president, and chief technology officer of Dynasign in Silicon Valley (Fremont, CA). Wang’s firm has helped to deploy digital sign networks for major corporations including American Express, Ericsson, and Finch Paper, as well as for hospitals, municipalities, and universities. Wang told Wide Format Imaging that one of his clients is a 30-year-old traditional printing company that resells Dynasign’s services to its end-customers.

Traditional sign providers need to watch out for these red flags, according to Wang:

  • Don’t forget the software. Hardware (screen/display technology) is only one aspect of digital signage installation. Software is what delivers the content. “There are networking and [device] compatibility challenges to resolve,” said Wang.
  • “The service aspect is more important” than both hardware and software, Wang contends. “What if there are special requirements … and something goes wrong?”

Wang shared an unsightly story of a California grocery store that replaced a static menu board in its dairy section with a digital menu board. “They must have changed the weekly specials but didn’t get the prices changed electronically, so the manager placed a piece of tape over the screen,” he recalled. “It looked awful.” This is exactly the kind of remote service that should have been provided by the vendor. “You have to make it easy for the customer,” Wang explained, adding that resellers can charge a premium for such timely service.

“Digital signage is more of a process than a product,” Wang concluded. “You have to look at the whole solution.”

 Future HD Glimpse

Together with partner Magnetic 3D, Dynasign exhibited the future of networked, glasses-free 3D digital signage solutions earlier this year at National Retail Federation’s 101st Annual EXPO. Their “BIG Show” high-definition display demonstrated a complete three-dimensional ecosystem, including Magnetic 3D’s new autostereoscopic content, in the Avnet Technology Solutions booth, which showcased its Brilliant Digital Signage suite of services. “The inclusion of [the] … glasses-free 3D display helps attract an impressive crowd,” said Jimmy Dun, Dynasign’s VP of business development.