Guest Post: The evolution of digital signage is underway

October 28, 2010 by guest author, Jason Cremins

In the digital signage sector, the evolution of technology in one month is the equivalent to one million years in human development.

Sounds a bit much, I know, but stay with me here.

Cynics in the tech gadget world smirked when the iPhone came along in 2007, derisively calling it the “Jesus Phone” and scoffing at the idea it was such a big deal. But in less than four years, Apple has sold more than 67 million iPhones and the rise of the smartphone has totally changed not only the mobile sector, but the personal computer sector as well. It’s definitely changed how digital signage is positioned in the technology eco-system.

The emerging technologies that drive and populate smartphones and other screen devices are changing the way content is created and moved around. We’re watching a switch from the static, offline, expensive and time-consuming process of content production and distribution, to media that is automatically generated, on the fly.

We’re at the head of a transition from a PC-driven driven business – with all its challenges and frailties – to one that will be dominated by cheaper, far more reliable special-purpose devices.

We’re also starting to see the lines blur between mediums. It’s been easy, and important, to make the argument that digital signage is not TV. But’s that no longer quite true.

Let’s look at some of these advancements, how they work and what they mean.

Media RSS

Dynamic media content is powered by Media RSS, an open standard for distribution of media content that was created by Yahoo. Conventional RSS is the text feed that most commercial digital signage platforms use to create scrolling news tickers on screens. What Yahoo did was to take that standard and add images, video and animation.

Media RSS feeds, when they are mixed into playlists, allow screens to be steadily updated with visually interesting content around the clock and with no human intervention. Instead of stale and pedestrian, screens are fresh and engaging.

A great example of using Media RSS in digital signage is Screenfeed, which provides a range of Media RSS channels including news, sport, entertainment and weather. Each channel is updated several times every day to provide fresh and relevant content to entertain viewers.

Online Internet advertising platforms such as currently provide the ability to serve up video advertising spots as Media RSS-ready for use on digital signage networks. Adtech currently serve up 125 billion spots every month across both Internet and mobile phone platforms.

It’s likely Google will at some point extend its TV Ads offering beyond the current online video and cable TV landscape to include Digital Out Of Home networks. Google TV Ads is based on the Adwords platform used in web-based searches, but enables advertisers to buy slots across a range of media channels that subscribe to the Google TV ads offering. Adding DOOH networks would be easy via Media RSS.


For a long time, choosing a digital signage management solution meant an operator had to use the software player or hardware device developed by the same company, or at minimum one that conformed to certain minimum specifications. Not anymore. The Media RSS standard has been extended down to the player level, with another open standard called SMIL.

SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) makes ops guys in digital signage networks smile because the standard helps in several areas:

Stability – Typical SMIL units are small, fanless and have no moving parts. That means there is very little that can break or lock up, delivering uptimes that can’t be matched by PC-based digital signage players;

Choice – SMIL is being adopted by numerous hardware vendors, enabling customers to choose their preferred players and vendors without worrying about compatibility issues;

Price/Performance – Each SMIL device is engineered to include only the components required to operate, and with no operating system costs, SMIL devices offer tremendous price/performance. These are not devices designed to run word processing apps or games. They just play rich motion media.

IAdea has been the most active early adopter of SMIL, and companies such as Advantech, Viewsonic and Mitsubishi are now following suit.

Though it is still early days, we’re aware of several massive digital sign projects that use SMIL-based devices.

• World’s largest post office network – 71,000 locations planned, 1,000 installed

• North America’s 3rd largest hypermart chain – 4,000 players planned

• Largest supermarket chain in Nordic countries – 2,000 locations planned

• Asia’s major airport – 500 players installed

Internet TV

Internet TV combines traditional satellite and cable TV, with connectivity to the Internet, to provide support for additional media content to be downloaded and viewed on-demand.

At first, Internet TV was dedicated boxes from companies such as Apple, Roku and Boxee, all vying for a place in the main family entertainment area, connected to the existing TV. They use Media RSS to deliver music, movies and photos to those TVs, and are capable of acting like digital signage players. Yahoo has been working with Samsung to up the game with the Internet Connected TV Initiative, which puts a set-top box right into an Internet-connected TV.

There has been interest and some work within the digital signage sector to adapt this technology and incorporate or integrate their software, but that effort has been hampered by lengthy approval processes and overall costs.

However, that’s about to change …

Google TV recently launched, and the tech giant is partnering with Intel and Sony to develop an Internet TV solution that uses the Google Android operating system. Unlike the proprietary systems of companies such as Apple, Android is an open source operating system that enables digital signage software developers to easily develop new software that supports the Google TV technology.

This will really open up the market. We will see, very soon, a new generation of digital signage solutions emerge that are based on easily downloaded and activated apps that will allow modest networks to easily start running on any Google TV.

As perspective, consider that display industry analyst iSuppli is estimating sales of 148 million Internet TVs by 2014. That’s just three years and change out.

Digital signage re-imagined

The impact of Media RSS will extend well beyond conventional Digital Signage and Internet TV.

Tablets like the iPad and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab both support Media RSS, as will the flood of Android-based tablets expected in 2011. iPhones and Google-powered phones also support Media RSS.

The next generation of digital signage platforms will enable operators to target a full range of devices, not just big display monitors. It will run the gamut of possible screens. In the near future, any Internet connected device will have the potential to become a digital signage device, from in-car displays to Internet-connected fridges.

What this means

For media companies, agencies, retailers, brands and other businesses and institutions who have a vast range of reasons and needs for digital signage, this is all very exciting. More will be possible … more easily and reliably, and at less cost.

For those companies who sell products and services directly in the sector, it’s a time to get smart about what they are doing. Companies providing proprietary software and hardware are at risk of being marginalized unless what they offer is truly unique or can be adapted to these fast-shifting standards.

For end-users, the best advice is to keep the options open. Going with open standard solutions means as technology evolves, so too can their solution.

(Jason Cremins is the CEO of Remote Media, a UK-based software firm that develops and markets the signagelive digital signage platform. This post was based on a recent presentation made to attendees at the OVAB Europe conference in Munich. The firm is showing its technology at next month’s Customer Engagement Technology World event in New York.)

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