DIRECTV Enters Digital Signage Space, Powered (Not Sold) By RMG Networks

March 2, 2012 by Dave Haynes

DIRECTV, one of the biggest digital TV providers on the planet, has just entered the hyperlocal digital signage business, with an offer that will invariably make all kinds of small to mid-sized Digital OOH network operators and “solutions providers” utter the well-worn Shakespearean phrase: “Oh, crap.”

The residential and commercial satellite TV provider has introduced a new service called MessageBoard that lets the SMB market get into digital signage with almost no learning curve or effort, and at low cost.

For about $90 a month, new DIRECTV customers get a dish, four receivers, 45 channels and the ability and tools to upload templated ads to promote their own businesses or business partners. The ads are the “reverse L” style quasi-online ads that have been tried with varying success in the fast casual restaurant and bar business for many years.

DIRECTV, which will have people in Las Vegas next week to launch the service, will market this service nationally come the spring.

DIRECTV Message Board, says the news release, is an exciting digital signage tool that allows business to overlay promotional messaging on to the live DIRECTV programming they are displaying in their establishment. The product empowers business managers to improve service, and up-sell products while entertaining consumers with premium satellite TV.

This easy-to-use product is web-based so businesses can create messages in minutes from any computer to display on one or more TVs. DIRECTV’s off-the-shelf Message Board solution eliminates the need for costly rollout and installation. It is simply built into the DIRECTV service bundle.

Aimed at SMB

The product is aimed squarely at the hospitality sector and smaller retail and personal services sectors, with growth also possible in areas such as campus and health care.

“Adding the DIRECTV Message Board functionality to our comprehensive pay-TV package puts digital signage within reach for thousands of businesses looking to entertain and inform their customers,” says Oswin Eleonora, Senior Vice President of Broadband & Emerging Markets for DIRECTV. “We believe this new product will arm businesses large and small with an important tool for growing their bottom line.”

RMG Networks made me aware of this announcement, and my natural assumption was that the San Francisco-based Digital OOH network would be selling national ads for DIRECTV when the installed base achieved some real scale.

Well, no. RMG’s only real involvement, for now, is as the technology solutions provider.


I forgot the roots of RMG, which started out (in part, there are rarely straight lines in this space) as Danoo in 2006, putting screens in hyperlocal venues and using its own software to do so. Those tech roots still exist in RMG, and I had no idea that 25 of RMG’s roughly 60 employees are software developers based in Beijing.

So the DIRECTV deal with RMG is thoroughly a technology services provider deal, with RMG having beat out other targeted ad delivery and playback software companies based on its capabilities and experience with live TV signals.

“We are excited to have been selected by DIRECTV to develop this innovative product. By integrating RMG’s industry-leading digital signage technology with DIRECTV’s advanced video services, the DIRECTV Message Board product creates a groundbreaking new solution for customer interaction,” says Garry McGuire, RMG’s CEO, in the release.

The deal, McGuire told me directly as he headed for a New York airport this afternoon, was about 14 months from start to now. What it means in technical terms is that an RMG-written app is now embedded in DirecTV set top boxes. When a new commercial client opts in on Messageboard, the app comes available.

They’ll be able to select from supplied templates or upload their own creative using a secure website. The templates in there now are static, but motion is supported (though not Flash — it’s a settop box)

McGuire says a $20 billion company wading into this sector is a big moment, and has the potential to bring digital signage into the mainstream. “Digital signage is hard. It can get really complicated,” he says. “DIRECTV is going to make this really easy.”

The Oh Crap Moment

If your network offer – ads or platform – targets the SMB or hospitality sector, this announcement might make for an extra glass of wine tonight. Or two.

Companies like DigiCast (Brite Media Group) do the L-bar ad thing in fast casual and try to sell it on an ad revenue share basis. Companies like ScreenScape target this market, saying they enable messaging for grocers, and pubs and other merchants easily and at low cost.

But this is: “Just sign here. We provide all the gear. We install. This is just part of the TV service you wanted anyway. Done.”

I don’t think this is cause for most software providers – particularly those with a lot of sophisticated features – to look at this with more than curiosity. However, if RMG has 25 developers in Beijing, and this is v1.0 of the product, chances are it will do more over time — like day-part and go full-screen and maybe layer in interactive capabilities.

The L-bar – competing with broadcast content for attention – is by no means the most effective way to communicate. But if this can go full-screen and be managed more like conventional digital sign networks, then some networks that sell a fairly simple solution based on scale would have new competition. It’s still just a set-top box, but that’s all some networks are ever going to need or want – and anyone who sells software knows how often the question would come up around whether the solution could support and cut to live TV.

If DIRECTV’s sellers and resellers are successful in moving units, and this gets to scale, you could also imagine national ad buys. That’s not in the deal now, but if RMG is the platform and they just happen to have a large national media sales team focused on Digital OOH, then the dots connect somewhere down the road.

I asked Garry about the big issue that comes up with broadcast TV and these networks that overlay or squeeze signals. That has mobilized lawyers when others have tried to sell ads that associate themselves with commercial broadcast signals. The difference here is that DIRECTV already licenses these broadcasts so it can sell them as satellite packages. So the legal issue is covered.

Really interesting development. I’m keen to see more at DSE next week.



  1. James says:

    OK, so DTV and RMG are just ignoring the patents in the L category.

    The big guy and his enabler think what the hell they cannot sue us anyway?

    Why bother with the category as it really is going no where and slowly anyway.

  2. Bil Trainor says:

    What patents…If I were CNN though, I would be asking my lawyers to send DirecTV a note. “Please leave my picture alone.” But I’m not CNN and I am not a lawyer.

  3. […] DSE a year ago RMG Networks and DirecTV launched Message Board, a small business product aimed at adding entry-level reverse L marketing messages on TV screens in […]

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