The Truth Behind Digital Signage
Monday, August 2, 2010
Trent Semler

If you're considering Digital signage and doing your research, you are, no doubt, asking yourself the question, what can digital signage do for me? Or, better yet, why should I bother spending all that money, when my posters and banners are working just fine? You are probably seeing digital signage popping up everywhere and if you've been overseas you were exposed to screens in every store window and every other conceivable place, especially in public areas.

Is digital signage working? And if so, what kind of digital signage is working? Can digital signage save me money? Can digital signage make me money? Does digital signage really communicate the message better than static signage? What does the digital signage industry want you to believe? We're going to help you get to the bottom line right now!

As you research or perhaps reevaluate your current digital signage installation, you're probably seeing all the new bells and whistles the industry leaders are touting, including higher resolution video and more animations along with more powerful and less expensive hardware. Up until now, we've been doing that with our cutting edge digital signage SF-3000 line, which still has its place in the industry. Over the last ten years we've completed hundreds of digital signage deployments, both large and small, and have found ourselves at odds with the digital signage industry.

The Content Dilemma


You may have similar feelings. You may be salivating at all those bells and whistles, but some unsettling thoughts are lurking in the back of your head. You're not dumb! Who's going to produce all that content? The last time you had a video commercial produced, how much did it cost you? How long did it take for it to be out of date? Who's going to stand in front of your digital signage and watch the whole thing? Do people stand in front of all those advertising screens and actually watch the advertisement videos in your local mega-store? You don't even need to do the research. You can see for yourself that nobody looks at those screens. And if they do, it's only for a second. Furthermore, since most digital signage installs don't have audio, and for good reason, will your video be good enough to get your message across in the couple of seconds the person is in front of the screen?

Now that you've paid to create elaborate content, you'll have to keep paying to keep it fresh. In addition, unless you have the same content running on every screen, who is going to manage it all? Even if your digital signage is just informational, the whole point of digital signage is to be able to change that information quickly and often to keep it interesting. You may ask yourself, "Will I have to hire and train more qualified staff to run and manage my installation?" You quickly realize that you will, but fool yourself into thinking that you can do it on your own. Perhaps you're already there with your current installation and the frustrations of running a big, complicated, content-rich digital signage installation are starting to take their toll on you and your staff!

The Maintenance Dilemma


"What about maintenance?" You think to yourself. If the digital signage players are mounted behind every screen, they have to be accessible and properly cooled. Most players run an Operating System and need to be rebooted or updated periodically and are often the victim of virus intrusion. How easy are the players to access? Do you need to get out that big ladder or call maintenance to bring out the man lift?

"Oh, that's OK" you think, "I'll just mount them all in a rack in a central well-cooled location!" Good thinking! That's the best way to do it! But then you realize the high initial cost and additional points of failure, such as video extenders. That's right, now you have to research a whole new piece of the digital signage puzzle, video extenders. With hundreds of different video extenders on the market, which one should you choose? With prices ranging from cheap to very expensive and all of them touting HD quality, how do you choose? "I bet", you think to yourself, "some don't live up to expectations or are not very reliable." And you would be completely right!

The Energy Dilemma


As you continue to do the research, you may think: "All of those screens. They must use a lot of power!" They do! Although green initiatives have pushed power usage way down, many digital signage players use more power than the screens themselves. Screens' and digital signage players' electricity consumption is a hidden cost that's rarely considered! Once you start adding peripherals such as extenders, the power demand grows even higher. Witness some disturbing facts and find out the truth about digital signage hardware power consumption, and see how we'll help you save a considerable amount of money on your digital signage installation.

The ROI Dilemma


That's OK, you think. I'll make lots of money with all the advertising I'm going to sell! Well, one of the biggest mistakes commonly made when purchasing digital signage, is the expectation of making a profit. Can digital signage really make you money? This is one of the easier questions for us to answer. Actually, you can answer it for yourself.

You already know that you don't watch the advertising screens at your local mega-store and you can see for yourself that nobody else does. If they do, it's only for a second. It may make you wonder how anyone makes money on digital signage advertising when nobody's watching it. Considering the large initial and recurring expenses of digital signage, a network would need to have a considerable return-on-investment (ROI) to actually make a profit.

We're not saying that ROI in ad-supported digital signage networks is impossible; just that you shouldn't be so quick to believe what the industry touts. Ask for numbers and pay for proven performance. Anyone can say their product makes you money, but don't believe it until your digital signage has paid for itself and the extra cash is in your pocket. ROI should rarely be the primary motive for a digital signage network, no matter how pleasant the concept may seem.

The Industry Dilemma


Why is the digital signage industry pushing all the bells and whistles? The digital signage industry is the same as any other industry, it has to create and expand the market. Nothing wrong with that! This creates a challenge though. A challenge of finding the truth! What digital signage really works? How much should a digital signage installation really cost? What content is really needed to accomplish your goals? And finally, is ROI possible?

These questions aren't actually hard to answer. Again, you're not dumb! And don't let anybody in the industry convince you otherwise. All you have to do is dig deep and take a closer look at the digital signage installations in your area or when you travel. Look at the way you and others react to digital signage and different content. Don't just salivate at the bells and whistles and you'll be able to see what's working.

You may already know that the United States is way behind the rest of the world, even third world countries, in digital signage installations and utilization! What works there doesn't always work here, but certain aspects of digital signage have to do with human nature and this is what we've learned over ten years in the digital signage industry.

For example, if you have ten meeting rooms in your hotel, and you have a small monitor at every room, to quickly update the schedule and welcome and direct guests to the proper room, it would not make sense to clutter them with rich motion content. But this is what we often see - an expensive installation to run video and advertisements in hopes of making additional profit! Nobody will stop in their rush to watch a video or look at an advertisement when they're frantically searching for their meeting room! At the same time, poor quality still images with aliased text that's hard to read and has to be manually updated by the staff, will not only confuse the attendees, but will also make the hotel appear cheap and unorganized.

Effective motion?


This goes for most digital signage installations, both large and small, that we've seen. There are instances where video and animations are important. For example, a waiting line for food at a concert or sports arena benefits from a video window playing the show or game. Animations can bring life to a still layout at a museum exhibit, where people can stop to enjoy the content, or they can make the digital signage look cheap and cheesy and detract from the message. We've all seen that! A clock on the screen, for example, increases the most valuable thing to obtain in a digital signage deployment - viewer dwell time. Same thing goes for any information that people would be concerned about, such as weather or directions.

More and more digital signage operators are moving to simple stills. Most are doing so, even though they have purchased the hardware and software that supports all of the bells and whistles. A lot have realized, after much frustration, that video just doesn't work for most installations. Many realized that they don't have the budget or the staff to produce the content they wished. But here is the kicker. Well-done stills are proving to be even more effective than all of those bells and whistles! We are not talking about digital signage that looks like a poor PowerPoint™ presentation, with aliased text and stretched, generic graphics pulled off of Google! We are talking about digital signage created for the consumer. Once the consumer sees the benefit, then the operator and the advertisers start seeing a benefit. Otherwise digital signage just turns people off - like commercial TV!

One key factor, that has quickly become obvious, is that - if the viewers are still for at least a couple of minutes, such as in a waiting line or an exhibit, motion such as video or animations can be beneficial, if done right.

But, if the people are moving (which is the case for the majority of digital signage deployments) or are in a rush, the message should always be STILL. Otherwise, the message gets completely lost or ignored. In an environment where there are many other distractions, such as a large casino, it can actually "paralyze" the viewers instead of driving them to the action you want. In the case where the viewer is overwhelmed with a lot of motion and multiple messages, the brain tends to ignore everything except easy to read STILL messages that stand out, or something specific the viewer is looking for, such as a directional sign. To hear how one of our customers feels about the use of motion in signage, read our "Should Digital Signage Become a New Dog With Old Tricks?" blog post.

So what's necessary in a digital signage install? Here are some things that we have found essential.

Low initial cost and low installation cost.
You shouldn't have to pay a lot for something that didn't cost you much in the past in the form of paper signage and you shouldn't have to be a brain surgeon to figure out how to install your digital signage either.

Fewer points of failure, such as video extenders, computer systems, etc.
Lower overall complexity of the system is required. Again, you're replacing paper signs. You should be able to make the message look the way you want, "print" it with the same steps you're used to and "hang" the sign with much less effort than before.

Low maintenance costs, if any.
No computers to reboot or update at every screen. No viruses to worry about. The only maintenance needed for your paper signs was to hang a new one once the message was out of date. This is a reality now in the realm of digital signage.

Ease-of-use.
Really! Your current staff should be able to use and manage your digital signage installation. Did you ever have a hard time dealing with the ins and outs of paper signage? Digital signage should be even more intuitive.

Enterprise level features like automated management and scheduling.
A digital signage system should update key information automatically. Meeting room info, airline info, weather info, etc., anything that's stored in a database should be automatically displayed, without human intervention.

Easily networkable.
Digital signage shouldn't need it's own network, but should be able to operate on an existing network without disruption or a heavy load on resources. If it's impossible or impractical to run a network cable to a screen and Wi-Fi is not available, a screen should be easily updateable via sneaker-net.

Low power consumption, green.
How much power did your paper sign use? This means there should be no cooling necessary. Mount the player anywhere, even in a wall! If you've read articles on how to make a digital signage deployment green, for real, you should have a digital signage solution that would promote that, such as being able to put the screen and player to sleep on a schedule to save money!

Extended up time.
The digital signage must work 24/7 reliably! The paper sign never turned off did it?

Small size.
Players must be small enough to hide behind the smallest monitor or even inside of one, or even in the wall! You shouldn't need that rack or cabinet anymore to hide all the PCs.

Instantaneous delivery of emergency information such as fire alarm and escape instructions is a must.
And you shouldn't have to wait minutes to have this information on the screens. It should be available instantaneously when somebody pulls the fire alarm, or triggers any other emergency event!

The finest quality picture.
A digital signage player that's capable of native resolutions and aspect ratios of the screens you're using, as well as utilizing the best available connection shouldn't "wow" you, but should be expected. Nowadays that's up to 1920x1200 via HDMI. Otherwise, your content will look aliased and scaled, which makes it difficult to see and turns people off subconsciously, if not outright. Poor web-cam looking video is by far the worst kind of advertising. High quality is not just important - it's priceless!

For most installations, which are meant to be informational (intended to help the customers and viewers), a well-created STILL layout is, by far, what works best. Stills require fewer resources to create and manage. This lowers the cost of running the digital signage installation by order of magnitude. If motion is to be used, it should be very subtle if at all. Just to draw the eye to the element you would like the person to focus on. In locations where fast action is required or people are in a hurry, such as an airport, motion largely detracts from the message delivery. Motion should be used in transitions between still frames or elements to draw the eye to the screen or part of the screen. Additionally, clock, weather, news and event information is a proven method to increase overall dwell time and view-ability in digital signage, but should be used with the greatest of care and forethought. Remember, if the people are moving, the digital signage should always be STILL!

Conclusion


We at Noventri have proven ourselves in large and small installations, as well as content creation and management of digital signage networks. As the digital signage industry pushes for more and more bells and whistles, we find ourselves in a predicament. How can we continue to push an expensive product with more bells and whistles when our experience is showing that it is completely unnecessary for most digital signage networks? We believe that you, the customer, are not dumb! We have been in business for almost thirty years by living that belief. Just because the industry tries to shove the latest and the greatest technology down your throat, trying to make you believe that it's what you need, doesn't mean you have to buy it! We believe that the best way to stay in business is to respect YOU, the customer, by providing the tools that will work for your business and meet YOUR NEEDS, instead of what the industry is pushing.

Is ROI in running a digital signage network possible? Can money be saved on digital signage power consumption? Well, the power consumption question can be positively answered in the Digital Signage Hardware Power Consumption page. But the jury on the ROI question is still out. We've not seen a profitable digital signage network yet! In fact, the initial cost of deploying a digital signage network has not been recouped by any of the operators we've interviewed. This appears to be the primary obstacle to making money with digital signage. On top of that, all the dilemmas we've covered in this paper add recurring costs that are rarely covered by additional sales of products or ads. Our goal is to change all that!

After reading this paper, if you still need or want the absolute best bells and whistles in digital signage, we've got it! The cutting edge SF-3000 line still has its place in the industry. But if you are wondering why it costs so much to deploy and run a digital signage network and are interested in what works, consider the new Eco-Series™ line of digital signage products starting with the new SF-100e digital signage player.

Targeting our engineering and design efforts on the features that are really important, we've bucked the industry and created the highest quality players at an unprecedented price. We've eliminated what makes digital signage installations extremely expensive, and in most cases less effective, and have given you everything you need to enhance your image and brand as well as communicate effectively with your customers and staff, but without the crushing cost of traditional digital signage. Finally, a way to have a digital signage screen at every door, lobby, office - everywhere!

And yes, we've listened to you! No SaaS, No recurring fees, No hosting fees. You bought it - you own it! No management software to buy, no layout creation software to buy, no player software to buy! You get it all whether you buy one player or a thousand! Need more players? Just buy more! Use the same software. Every player comes ready to use, no need to purchase additional player licenses for the management software. Want multiple networks? Setup as many manager and creation stations as you like, one per player if you wish! Work and manage your digital signage network from home over the Internet. No extra charge for doing things over the web!

Not enough creation tools? Use industry standard tools like Adobe products or other software you like. No proprietary file formats here! We also know how difficult and expensive it can be to create outstanding content, particularly for digital signage. We have changed that too! Click Content Management to learn how content services have become realistically priced.

Need more help? We are here for you! Almost thirty years in business, means we'll be here when you need help with any part of your Digital signage project.

Article originally appeared on Display Alliance (http://www.displayalliance.com/).
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