What does Adobe's move on to TVs mean for digital signage?

April 21, 2009 by Dave Haynes

Photo from Wired: Adobe Flash for Your TV Means Hulu in Your Living Room 

Adobe is at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Lost Wages this week, and its big announcement was how the company has put the pieces in place to allow it to deliver Flash content and interactivity to residential TV.

“Adobe Flash Platform for the Digital Home will dramatically change the way we view content on televisions,” said David Wadhwani, the general manager and VP of the platform business unit at Adobe. “Consumers are looking to access their favorite Flash technology-based videos, applications, services and other rich web content across screens. We are looking forward to working with partners to create these new experiences and deliver content consistently across devices whether consumers view it on their desktop, mobile phone or television.”

A number of platforms have lined up their support for the new Flash technology, including Comcast, Disney, Intel and Netflix. The first TVs, set-top boxes and other devices supporting the new platform are expected to ship in the second half of the year.

At NAB, Adobe also unveiled a software framework, code-named Strobe, that will help establish an open industry standard for media players and accelerate the creation and delivery of high-quality video and interactive experiences for web audiences. The framework is intended to allow developers to add features such as advertising, user tracking and social networking into custom players for content owners. 

“With Strobe, we’re delivering an open framework that enables media companies to focus on their core competency, creating great content that people want to see, instead of developing their own video players from scratch,” said Jim Guerard, the VP and general manager of dynamic media at Adobe. “Adobe is committed to driving web innovation and now with Strobe, we are helping to create an open framework for media players, enabling developers and media companies to focus on developing, delivering, and monetizing content so they can extend their online media efforts.”

I have been watching the development of addressable IP-driven TV and Flash-driven widgets (like Yahoo) for a while now, wondering to myself: “Boy, that’s starting to look more and more like what a lot of people consider to be digital signage apps.”

You get a carved-up screen with stuff like news scrollers and weather widgets plotted on to the presentation along the side or bottom. I don’t find that terribly interesting or useful, but it is what people do and seem to want with some public-facing screen networks. 

I won’t even pretend to fully understand the technology, but in elemental terms you have big cablecos and other media companies delivering content over the Internet to residential homes, with the ability to tune what’s displayed by the IP address, aka specific location.

Now if you can do the widgets for weather and so on, surely a major media company can work with a Doubleclick or some ad-delivery network to embed code that allows automated advertising on a portion of the screen. Kinda like me having Google AdSense code on this blog. It involved embedding a few lines of code and all of a sudden, my blog was a targeted ad delivery vehicle. 

If these pieces are all pretty much in place, or getting there, where does that leave some of the pure-play digital signage software companies that are all about this sort of thing, but require PCs, and software apps and configuration and on and on?

Certainly there’s no issue on this short-term. This is very early stage stuff and the first devices are just coming later this year.

But longer term I’m not sure I’d want to be investing money and time in something that is being increasingly commoditized on price, and where the differences between the technical capabilities of the A list companies and the much smaller ones are few other than client base size. I don’t think this sort of platform has all that much in the way of stuff to tell you screens are on and what files played and so on, but that will either come or maybe it doesn’t much matter.

I look at a company like Comcast being involved in this sort of thing, and it could, if it wanted, put out some sort of offer to its mass business subscriber base saying something like: we have a new platform that allows you to put a large HD screen in your customer waiting areas that can show content tuned to your audience demographics and interests, like healthy lifestyle information in weight loss centers, and if you qualify the ad revenues may eliminate the small monthly leasing cost, or even add a credit on your overall Comcast account.

Pretty quickly, a network of hyperlocal ad sites could go from zero to many 1,000s, with little or no infstrauture investment.

I’m making this up as I type, but I just see large companies with established distribution architectures and sophisticated billing, coupled with slick, fast-evolving media playout technology, creating a problem for elements of our industry (as it now sits) if the formula gets worked out and somebody runs with it.

The good news is I know of few people who ever talk about the big cable and telecom guys being fleet of foot. But if a big telco was looking for a way to transition from its fast-eroding yellow page directory business to another platform, this might look pretty interesting, and relatively easy.

What do you think? 

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