Innovation Scarcity And The Interactive Threat

September 10, 2013 by Dave Haynes


There haven’t been a lot of posts here lately – in part because I’m busy making a buck but more so because most of what I am seeing and hearing about lately generates a bored  “Yeah, whatever …”

I get word of partnerships. Little software deals made out to seem big. Job changes. Very incremental advances in technology. And deployments and projects that are usually pretty pedestrian.

Where’s the innovation and creative spark in this space?

I’ve suggested for a long time now that much of the best work being done in the digital signage sector is being produced by interactive companies. Little shops in NYC and Portland and London and Seoul – working with web services – don’t have to start and end within the bounds of what some CMS or proprietary hardware allows them to do. They work with clients on the vision and aspiration, and then just build it, with browsers as their CMS, or just executable files.

Most of these guys, I’m safely guessing, don’t even use the term digital signage for what they do, and are blissfully unaware of that term or the whole ecosystem the operates around it.

The guy who runs Perch Interactive, Jared Schiffman, was a genuine anomaly in that he showed his little interactive company’s cool projected  merchandising piece at DSE this past winter. What he had at a little table off to the side was considerably more interesting (and immediately relevant to retailers and brands) than the stuff at many much larger booths.

The really big guys like Intel show up with some very nice work, but it’s often eye candy that would A) never truly work in retail or B) costs more than a fighter jet.

The web is democratizing interactive digital, and makes a lot of the little Bink-Bink-Bink touch stuff I see on interactive digital signage seem truly quaint.

You want to see the freaky stuff web services and mobile can now do, go to Arcade Fire’s website (for my fellow aging boomers, an awesome Montreal band) and try the Reflektor experience that uses short codes, phone cameras and web cameras for an interactive experience that I can’t wrap my head fully around. There’s no obvious commercial application in that, but the possibilities are evident.

Compare that, and other stuff going on out there, to the simpleton touch experiences and QR code-snapping stuff that is touted in this space as innovation. How long it will be before brands and major clients start asking if they actually need a CMS. Could they not just extend responsive (malleable) web designs to screens?

We’ve already seen that with a guy who has turned the open-source, hugely popular WordPress blogging CMS into a digital signage management system.

Right now, interactive guys tend to miss the really important stuff like reliability, scale and remote device management. Pat and I worked with a ginormous global brand last year to stabilize a great-looking retail project that didn’t have the basics of remote management down. Interactive designers don’t normally worry about the integrity of the device at the other end, or the state of connectivity, but they’re learning they have to, as this particular agency did.

So the interactive guys will get there, and cover those bases. And when they do get there, my guess is interactive agencies can pose a serious a threat to some mainstream digital signage CMS vendors. Big brands and retailers typically want as few throats to choke as possible, so if their interactive company can can also do the in-store digital thing, they’ll say, “Beautiful!”

The threat is more acute to those companies that don’t have much to say other than the time-worn “Right message, right place, right time” thing. You can already see that in the business state of some companies who clearly don’t have a lot new on the go. To their defence, innovation is likely not something some of them have time for – because they’re building or adding incremental functionality that wins a new deal or keeps a paying client happy, and the lights on.

The smart guys in the digital signage ecosystem are laying the groundwork and doing quiet development that sets them up to handle the changes underway. Going Android attacks a pricing issue, but that’s just one thing and not the start and stop of advances in this space. It’s about processors, different types of connectivity, data and HTML5, to name a few things.

I think smart companies should be looking at fruitful partnerships. The interactive guys, typically, want to focus on creative experience and code. The CMS guys tend to generally be best at scale and management, and understand the realities of working in retail and public settings.

Put them together, and remove legacy CMS constraints, and you have a winning proposition. And produces stuff that makes me (and much more importantly, average consumers) do more than shrug or keep on walking.


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