Where digital signage software is going: Part 1

September 24, 2010 by Dave Haynes

I did a webinar the other day with Digital Signage Magazine and NEC. I was asked to yak about trends and an outlook for what NEC and some others call digital signage CMS systems. I still just call it digital signage software, but whatever …

The plan was to put this up on SlideShare, but I have discovered it doesn’t really take your notes as I thought it did. I like big graphic slides to talk to, instead of walls of text. So the PPT on SlideShare with one or two word statements was kinda useless.

Instead, I did something like 20 slides so I will break it into two, as some people asked me to send them the PPT. This gets it around more effectively. Nothing too rattling or kooky. Just my thoughts and observations. The narrative are the notes attached to the PPT, and essentially what I blabbered on about.


There are at least 300, and perhaps as many as 400 digital signage content management systems out there, globally. At least two more came on last week. About 80 per cent of what they offer matches up with what everyone else offers.

Competition is fierce.

End-users are overwhelmed.

The sales cycle is very long.

And the landscape is steadily changing.


Many companies, somehow, make empty claims these days about being the global leader in this sector. There is no clear market leader yet, and probably won’t be for some time.

However, this is a war of attrition, and larger, better financed companies will survive and take more market share with time. Companies like NEC will be around because of their size, product diversity and history.

Lots of VC or personally funded start-ups will not.


It’s heading south. It’s a simple supply versus demand thing.

With so many built offers out there, that can’t help but drive competition on price. There have been quasi-free offers for a few years, but this year we saw NEC Displays announce its hosted VUKUNET platform is now free … to anyone. It’s a general use platform for the small to medium business crowd, and what it has done, or certainly should, is make a lot of companies get focused.

There are other offers out there that are free … ish, or very low cost, as well.

On the flip side, there are companies that have managed to hold their pricing at where it’s been for a while. That’s because what they do is more specialized, or they offer levels of service and support that make the extra cost seem entirely reasonable.


Many companies are now getting far more focused on certain verticals, such as menu systems, wayfinding, hospitality, and retail. The days of having a general offer are fading.

Companies need to differentiate. If they don’t, they’re probably done.

When you can’t be picked out of the crowd, all you have to compete on is price, and that’s deadly.

Tunnel Vision

There is still a fair amount of tunnel vision out there — executives at companies who take a very narrow view of what their offer needs to be.

They blithely ignore other technologies that can do what they do … plus, plus, plus. Inside AND outside the sector.

Aspects of what they do are open. They may have limited APIs. But they are largely working in walled gardens, with closed development.


The way forward for a lot of companies with digital signage software systems is removing the walls from their development and IT gardens, and both opening up and tapping into web services.

There are tremendous technologies and services to use that help create and manage content, more effectively plan and manage networks, and keep devices in the field operating … just to name a few.

There are piles and piles of web services companies that have capabilities that can plug in with just a little effort. Platforms that integrate these sorts of services and make them run off one login, one bill, one database will have a leg up on the others. Why build something that already exists and is used?


We are seeing more and more tiny little non-PC boxes like the Spinetix unit from Switzerland. Iadea, Advantech, Noxel and others also have their own small form factor units that are based more on set-top box technology than PCs.

Now PC folks will argue, “Why pay as much or more for that when you can have a full x86 PC?”

Answer: reliability.

And frankly a lot of networks do not and should not be running multiple zones and Flash and all the other things that have full PCs groaning to keep up. And locking up.

Technologies such as SMIL and SVG that run on these units enable dynamic, low-overhead content that gets moved around efficiently and is all, in many cases, a network needs for programming.


Companies like Intel and AMD have recognized the growth opportunity of this sector, and one of the ways they think they can play is through encouraging the use of tools like Intel’s Active Management Technology.

CMS systems have wildly varying levels of access and control over what’s happening with their devices in the field, and what often gets overlooked in the early stages of networks is the high cost of field servicing. Sophisticated remote management and monitoring tools take a lot of that cost out.

Five years ago, few people seem to be talking about device management. Now it ,entotHardware and software will change that and start bringing up reliability and reducing operating costs.


Media Centers and IP-TV capabilities are being built into little boxes (like Apple’s) and right into TVs (Sony and Google TV) and running apps and widgets and gadgets that could easily turn TVs and commercial monitors into what look like pretty typical digital signage network displays – with news and weather widgets overlaid on screens, targeted ads and so on.

But organizing all that into something meaningful is a big chore. Companies like SignageLive in the UK are already putting the pieces in places to make its  services a Google Android app that could be activate just as others apps are activated on phones and iPads.

We also already see some software companies in include widgets as part of their built-in content offer, and if and when someone develops a true content marketplace, it will be possible to simply grab apps and widgets to build a program up.

Next up: Part 2

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