Looking ahead – digital signage in 2008

December 31, 2007 by Dave Haynes

I am not big on predictions for a couple of key reasons:

a – I’m not very bright

b – This is still an ever-evolving space

But I spend a lot of time monitoring what’s going on, and there are certainly some activities and trends I THINK will emerge or grow more solid in 2008.

1 – More consolidation. Expect some of the larger, better established and better funded players to merge with or acquire competing or complementary companies to round out offers or bulk up the customer base. There are heaps of little networks doing similar things. The big fish will gulp some of the smaller ones, or at minimum they will work more closely together to get closer to critical mass in their chosen verticals. I also think you are going to see a lot of movement of top people lured to new gigs because of the money coming into the sector and the realization that experienced guidance is really, really important.

2 – Outdoor is going to be the big mover (and spender) in 2008. They have money. Real estate contracts. Established advertisers. And display solutions that were cost-prohibitive in the past now work in their spreadsheets, when compared to traditional posters and backlit displays.

3 – Price pressure on content production. Screen networks are big hungry boys who need to get fed and fed (and fed) in order to stay interesting to their audiences. We all know high quality advertising content costs real money, but that real money can also cripple a start-up network or leave it still-born. I know one retailer that has hundreds of screens and only changes out content monthly because doing more than that just isn’t in the budget. So I think content shops are going to get pushed to really come up with volume pricing. The interesting bit is that at least some ad production will start going off-shore to Asia. I just read how some U.S. newspapers are getting some elements of ad production done in India. Will some screen networks follow when it comes to meat and potatoes stuff like highlights from the weekly newspaper flyer that is less about creative and more about pure production?

4 – The land grab will get tougher. First, a lot of the good stuff is under some form on contract through network operators in verticals like medical, fitness and hospitality. Second, a lot of the venue operators who were just letting people install in return for a revenue share are now considering the pitch, looking at costs, and deciding they’ll make the investment, control the message, and make a return through sales lifts or other means.

5 – Measurement gets more important, and better. We’ve all been hearing about increasing demands for accountability. What will get interesting is the technology being brought to bear to really see what’s happening between consumers and the screens, using video and biometrics technologies that are coming out of areas like the security business.

6 – Retail design starts coming into play. How many networks in stores have you seen that are just a bunch of screens hanging from the ceiling or off support columns? How many, on the other hand, look like they are part of the environment and baked right into the store design? Damn near zippo. Expect that to change, and here’s hoping the really smart retailers work with retail design strategists to truly “program” a store with the right screens in the right places. With some exceptions, the screens dangling here and there just don’t work.

7 – Ad sales aggregators get real traction. Guys like SeeSaw and Adcentricity, and there are probably others (but these two I know well) spent 2007 tweaking their plans and offers, spreading the word, signing up networks and populating databases. This year, expect them to start booking more campaigns that will put much-needed money into the bank for smaller and start-up networks that wouldn’t otherwise get a sniff at national ad money in Canada or the U.S. They won’t replace good direct ad sales for most networks, but the dollars will be very much welcomed.

8- The drive to standards. I did a post just before Christmas about what I expect will be a push for standards in 2008, and asked what people though those standards might look like. In hindsight, wrong time to ask, but the question still begs. Organizations like OVAB and CODA are talking about establishing standards and guidelines that we can all agree on and work to. But what are those ad shapes and sizes? What are the file formats? These are big, very important questions and the people who are driving to standards have their agendas … and you may not like what they want.

9 – Less bullshit. The Web makes it very difficult for companies to send out press releases that make silly or misleading claims. While there are trade publications and robot PR sites that will simply regurgitate those releases, the democracy of blogging means knuckleheads like me can call them on their claims. Press is important, but companies who boast about having the biggest, being the first, or leading the pack, really better be. The buyers are also far more educated about what they want in terms of technology, experience and business model. So the back-slapping, gold-tied, fancy-watched guys who could walk in and make a house of cards seem like a great pyramid are having a tougher go now. The bullshit filters are set on High in most meeting rooms.

10 – More roadkill. A lot of the bad network ideas, or good ideas that weren’t backed up be experienced managers or sufficient funding, will finally fold. Hate to see it on a personal level, but the industry needs some right-sizing. I don’t want to to have to be asked about networks I think are particularly well done. They need to get so commonplace people don’t have to ask.

I could probably bang off more, but 10 seems to be a number people like. Those of us who have knocking around this space forever have said too many times, 200X was going to be the year. Let’s hope 2008 really is.

As my Irish buddy Kevin says, New Year’s Eve is amateur night for drinkers. From what I have seen it’s often the one night you don’t want to out tipping a few. So we’re laying low. If you are going out, have fun and leave the keys at home.

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