Sunday, 20 March 2011

Digital signage

Digital signage is a form of electronic display that shows information, advertising and other messages. Digital signs (such as LCD, LED, plasma displays, or projected images) can be found in public and private environments, such as retail stores and corporate buildings.

Digital Signage Displays are most usually controlled by basic Personal Computers by way of proprietary software programs, avoiding any large capital outlays for the controller equipment.

Advertising using digital signage is a form of out-of-home advertising in which content and messages are displayed on digital signs with a common goal of delivering targeted messages to specific locations at specific times. This is often called "digital out of home" or abbreviated as DOOH.[1]

The benefits of digital signage over static signs, in situations where changing signs are preferred over static signs, are that the content can be exchanged more easily, animations can be shown, and the signs can adapt to the context and audience, even interactively. Digital signage can offer superior return on investment compared to temporary and/or promotional signs made from other substrates.

Market and applications

While the term "digital signage" has taken hold throughout most of the world, some companies and organizations prefer to use the terms "narrowcasting", "screen media", "place-based media", "digital merchandising", "digital media networks", "digital out-of-home" or "captive audience networks"[citation needed].

China currently leads the world in the number of digital signage displays deployed and number of NASDAQ IPOs, with the country's biggest digital signage firm, Focus Media Holding, alone operating more than 120,000 screens. Total revenue from the digital signage equipment market in the United States – including hardware, software, installation, and maintenance—is expected to grow by about 33% in 2009.[3]

Digital signage is used for many different purposes and there is no definitive list. However, below are some of the most common applications of digital signage:

   1. Public information – news, weather and local (location specific) information, such as fire exits and traveler information
   2. Internal information - corporate messages, health & safety, news, etc.[4]
   3. Advertising – either related to the location the signage is in or just using the audience reach of the screens for general advertising
   4. Brand building – in-store digital signage to promote the brand and build a brand identity
   5. Influencing customer behavior – directing customers to different areas, increasing the dwell time on the store premises
   6. Enhancing customer experience – applications include the reduction of perceived wait time in restaurant waiting areas, bank queues, etc., as well as recipe demonstrations in food stores
   7. Enhancing the environment – with interactive screens (in the floor for example[5]) or with dynamic wayfinding


    * Black Box Corporation
    * ConnectedSign
    * Four Winds Interactive
    * Nanonation
    * NEC
    * Netkey
    * ONELAN
    * Scala, Inc
    * SHARP
    * SpinetiX


"Content", in the context of digital signage, is the name used to describe anything designed and displayed on screens. Content can be anything, including text, images, animations, video, audio, and interactivity. It has frequently been argued that digital signage relies on good content if it is to work effectively.[6]

While the technology is well-established, it is often the content that fails, because marketers have not adapted their thinking to produce appropriate and engaging content[citation needed].

Content design (much like the design for static signage) is typically done through a specialist agency or in-house. While there are a great number of different software solutions available, the most popular are proprietary to digital signage. The use of other systems to run a digital signage network often does not provide the necessary flexibility and management, as the proprietary software can create conflicts with open-source software.

In many digital signage applications, content must be regularly updated to ensure that the correct messages are being displayed. This can either be done manually as and when needed, through a scheduling system, using a data feed from a content provider (e.g. Canadian Press, Thomson Reuters, AHN) or an in-house data source)


Digital signage relies on a variety of hardware to deliver the content. The components of a typical digital signage installation include one or more display screens, one or more media players, and a content management server. Sometimes two or more of these components are present in a single device but typically there is a display screen, a media player, and a content management server that is connected to the media player over a network. One content management server may support multiple media players and one media player may support multiple screens. Stand-alone digital signage devices combine all three functions in one device and no network connection is needed.


Digital signage displays may be LCD or plasma screens, LED boards, projection screens or other emerging display types like interactive surfaces[8] or Organic LED screens (OLEDs). Other, less traditional technologies for digital signage exist, such as 'holographic displays',[9] water screens and fog screens.[10] However, these are typically used for smaller one-off installations rather than large networks.

Rapidly-dropping prices for large plasma and LCD screens have led to a growing increase in the number of digital signage installations.[11] Another price-related benefit that is allowing a larger group of businesses to install digital signage is the increasing availability of newer LCD and plasma display brands in the market. Many locations have opted to forgo more expensive brand name displays for more affordable displays from less well-known companies.

Content playback and management

Content is played to the displays of a digital signage network from at least one media player (or an internal player for standalone screens). Various hardware and software options exist, providing a range of different ways to schedule and playback content. These range from simple, non-networked portable media players that can output basic JPG slide shows or loops of MPEG-2 video to complex networks consisting of multiple players and servers that offer control over enterprise-wide or campus-wide displays at many venues from a single location. The former are ideal for small groups of displays that can be updated via USB flash drive, SD card or CD-ROM, Another option is the use of D.A.N (digital advertising network) players that connect directly to the monitor and to the internet.This allows the enduser the ability to manage multiple D.A.N players from any location. The enduser can create new advertising or edit existing advertisements then upload changes to the D.A.N via the internet.

Developments in web services have meant the APIs for some digital signage software now allow for customized content management interfaces through which end-users can manage their content from one location, in a way which suits their requirement.

Network infrastructure

Whenever the display, media player and content server are located apart there is a need for audio-video wiring between the display and the media player and between the media player and the content server. The connection from media player to display is normally a VGA, DVI, HDMI or Component video connection. Sometimes this signal is distributed over Cat 5 cables using transmitter and receiver baluns allowing for greater distances between display and player and simplified wiring. The connection from media player to content server is usually a wired Ethernet connection although some installations use wireless Wifi networking.

To manage a network, a management server is usually required. This can be located anywhere, so long as it is connected to the digital signage network. New content will be managed and organized here, while the actual content itself is stored and played on the player servers. Digital signage networks can either be closed or open to the web, which will affect how the content on the screens is updated. For closed networks (without Internet access), updates need to be done locally through USB sticks, DVD drives or other 'onsite' updates. Open networks (with Internet access) can be updated remotely and stream data from other Internet sources (such as RSS feeds). The availability and type of Internet access (wireless, broadband, etc.) depends on the location and client.

Technologies such as IPTV allow digital signage to be used as a method of broadcasting. The content is played according to instructions provided by play lists controlled by the digital signage system content management server. Convergence between digital signage and broadcasting allows for real-time distribution of broadcast sources (TV) on a narrowcast network (digital signage).

Other technologies

Digital signage can interact with mobile phones. Using SMS messaging and Bluetooth, some networks are increasing the interactivity of the audience. SMS messages can be used to post messages on the displays, while Bluetooth allows users to interact directly with what they see on screen.[12] In addition to mobile interactivity, networks are also using technology[13] that integrates social and location-based media interactivity.[14] This technology enables end users to send Twitter and Flickr messages as well as text messages to the displays.[15] Some signs use 3D displays that operate using a technology called autostereoscopy, which allow the viewer to see a 3D image without using special glasses.


In March 2009, POPAI released the first of three digital signage standards to promote "interoperability between different providers". "Screen-Media Formats"[16] specifies the file formats that digital signage systems should support. The objective of this and future standards documents from POPAI is to establish a foundation of performance and behavior that all digital signage systems can follow


There is very little formal education for learning digital signage, beyond manufacturer certificates. In 2009, Texas State Technical College created an associates degree in Digital Signage Technology, using their Second Life delivery system.

Issues and progress

Digital signage in the broad sense has been in use for decades in the form of LED ticker signs and LED video walls. However, despite its recent growth it has yet to become a major public medium, due in part to the following negative factors:

   1. Uncertain ROI – the costs of deploying digital signage can be high. Large outdoor screens expensive - for example, the LED sign in front of the Las Vegas Wynn Resort cost $15 million[citation needed] - but the much more common, and much cheaper, digital signs based on LCD screens can still represent a significant investment when a large network is planned: the cost of installing one screen in, say, each restaurant in a large fast-food chain could run to millions of dollars. Any investment of this magnitude has to be justified by a clear ROI plan before receiving approval.
   2. Lack of interoperability – digital signage products today are mostly closed, proprietary systems. It is difficult to advertise across digital signage networks running different solutions, making the emerging media inferior to nationwide advertising media such as television and the Internet. Due to the lack of a common communication protocol, products from different vendors do not mix, making digital signage systems expensive to build and hard to expand.
   3. Complex value chain - a digital signage network can involve at least the following vendors: displays, media player, management software, project planning, installation, field service, network connectivity, bandwidth, content creation, and advertising sales. Managing such a complex value chain is a daunting task and all parties involved may introduce risk factors to fail a project.
   4. Lack of understanding - despite considerable media coverage there remains a general lack of understanding about the requirements for the successful use of digital signage. Problems arising from this include poor content and improper type or location of screens.[17]

These issues are being addressed today in the following ways:

   1. Understanding the ROI – studies have shown digital signage to be effective in aiding customer recall and retention of displayed information[18] in large-scale merchandising applications, especially taking into account the downward trend in LCD panel and playback device prices. Today a small-scale retail or restaurant digital signage installation can be implemented for just $1,500-2,000 using inexpensive SaaS tools, and ROI may be realized quickly.
   2. Open standards for digital signage – industry organizations including POPAI (Point-of-Purchase Advertising International) and OAAA (Outdoor Advertising Association of America) are actively developing and promoting technical standards that will make it possible to communicate across digital signage networks made by different vendors. Interoperability across systems and media players is increasing competition in the supply chain, significantly lowering costs and making the ROI on building networks vastly more attractive.
   3. Value chain consolidation - business entities have been formed to consolidate segments of the long value chain. Display units with built in media players, content design agencies which also provide hardware and support, as well as management software which allows advertisers to manage a whole signage network are examples of how the industry is coming to work together and consolidate.
   4. Understanding the industry - there are a significant number of trade shows with conferences as well as specialized conferences and also more informal training and briefing sessions all focused on aspects of digital signage. There are also more user friendly products available which are plug and play and don’t even require scheduling software.