United Nations agency worried about digital signage standards. No, really …

December 1, 2011 by Dave Haynes

When I saw a news release from the International Telecommunications Union wringing its hands about the need for interoperability in digital signage, my natural reaction was: “What’s the International Telecommunications Union???”

I looked it up in and went a little cross-eyed when I saw the ITU is a United Nations agency, based in Geneva, Switzerland, with members in 193 countries and the involvement of more than 700 private-sector entities and academic institutions.

My next, somewhat cheeky natural reaction: “Don’t they have more important stuff to worry about?”

Anyway, digital signage is indeed important in a whole bunch of ways, as the agency notes in its new ITU-T Technology Watch Report, Digital signage: the right information in all the right places.

Advances in display technologies, declining manufacturing costs and a retail boom in emerging economies, the report summary says, are all contributing to the rapid spread of large-scale high-definition display networks. But the proprietary nature of current digital signage solutions is restricting the integration of applications across different networks and vendors. Interoperable global standards will be crucial to the future development of this emerging market, unlocking enormous value not just for display system developers, retailers and newscasters, but for governments and the community at large.

Tomorrow’s dynamic signage can play a crucial civic role in areas like traffic management, public transport systems, safe crowd management at large events, control of people flows in public areas and private venues, and emergency response systems. But to do that effectively, standardized platforms will be crucial.

The organization is actually holding a two-day ITU Workshop on Digital Signage in a couple of weeks in Tokyo. If you happen to be there, access is free. If not, there is a virtual meeting room at http://itu.adobeconnect.com/itudigitalsignage/. The meeting language will all be done in English.

“The forecast three-fold growth in the market for these advanced signage technologies will undoubtedly be driven by better global standardization,” says Dr. Hamadoun Touré, the ITU’s Secretary-General. “Study Group 16 of our Telecommunication Standardization Bureau has taken an important first step by starting work on a Framework for Digital Signage Services. The resulting standard should be complete in the first half of 2012, and will give a significant boost to the digital signage industry.”

The Technology Watch Report is available online. I had a quick run through it and saw a blend of “for dummies” level stuff and propeller-head level detail.

The report defines digital signage as, “a network of digital displays that are centrally managed and addressable for targeted information, entertainment, merchandising and advertisement.”

But it also lays out how the use of “open interfaces to mediate and manage media objects and resources, such as ECMAscript (JavaScript), ITU-T H.761 LIME and ITU-T H.762 Ginga/NCL, can provide efficient re-use of the same content, playing experience and interactivity across a wide variety of terminals.”

Agreed. I think. … Huh???

The report goes into trends and mentions some of the organizations involved, like the DPAA and DSF, and gives a lot of attention to POPAI,which has been pretty quiet in this sector for the last two-three years.

Standards are a good thing, with the DPAA audience measurement and DSF privacy guidelines good examples. I suppose an international organization with global coverage should be welcomed to the discussion, but has anyone actually active in this sector worked with them?


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