Samsung got me on a conference call Thursday to provide a thorough rundown on what its new Smart Signage TV is all about, and to clearly make a distinction with the Smart Sign and Smart TV programs already in the marketplace.
I spoke with Kevin Schroll and Michael O’Halloran, guys I’ve known for a few years now in the digital signage space, and they explained the product’s genesis and plans. In a nutshell, it’s all about the very small business market that Samsung can’t reach directly or through its traditional channels and technology partners. This is the digital signage in a box thing that’s been around for a few years, but this time it really will be sold in retail.
In fact, they’re going into Sam’s Clubs in the US by the end of this month, and they’ll follow in US Costco stores in September. So you will walk into one of those giant wholesale club stores, and see a dedicated merchandising piece selling Smart Signage TV. You heave a box (that’s the Sam’s merchandising in the image above) on a cart, and take away a screen loaded with a “prosumer” panel that has a TV tuner, software, a stand, a mini wall mount, backed by a 3-year warranty.
There are two models – a 40″ and a 48″ display, with a 32 and 55 likely to follow in 2015. The street price in the US is $749 (40) and $999 (48).
The idea is these prices are pretty much at parity – minus the software – if someone went out to Costco and bought a TV and bought a wall mount and then sourced a low-cost set-top box or HDMI stick as a media player. The difference is that the end-user doesn’t have to figure that out, if all that just comes in a box from a trusted global brand. Yes you could cobble something together for less with a Chinese TV, and Android stick and SaaS or open source software, but most people running spas and dry cleaners and muffler shops aren’t going go down that path if they can pay a bit more and it’s all there for them.
The software is called MagicInfo Express, but is not a lite or evolved version of the existing Samsung MagicInfo software family, Samsung says. It was developed from scratch, says Schroll, and the North American team spent a lot of time working with the S. Korean developers to deliver a user experience that was simplified as much as possible. Schroll drew the analogy with consumer-level tax preparation software. Clean, simple, dead-easy.
Schroll admits there will be marketplace confusion at first because of Smart TVs, Smart Signage and Smart Signage TV, not to mention the new flavor of MagicInfo. But he expects that will settle out as awareness grows.
This product, he and O’Halloran stressed, does not compete with the existing Smart Signage program, which they say is finding its own path. Samsung looked at the marketplace beginning last year and identified how people were buying displays applied to digital signage. “We saw a huge small business market that wasn’t being tapped,” says Schroll.
Samsung is estimating in the US alone there are some two million businesses – like retail, restaurants and health and wellness – that aren’t being touched by their traditional sales and distribution channels, and don’t really know or think about digital signage. They have 2-4 employees in places like shops, spas, salons and service centers. They all need marketing messaging but don’t need any of the horsepower of more traditional, more powerful networked digital signage.
The analysis of what they had – or more accurately didn’t have – in place in these venues suggested a massive upside if a product could be packaged up that these small business owners could buy and just install themselves.
The solution itself is indeed at the bottom of the digital signage food chain. It runs stills and videos and works off templates, but updating is meant to be done on premise using anything from a USB key to Wifi Direct from a laptop or smartphone. That wifi means firmware can get updated remotely, but it is not intended to put these displays on a mass network and run scores of them across an auto service chain, for example.
The software includes 200 templates that can be changed in terms of messages, images and backgrounds, and run full-screen, partitioned or wrapped around a live TV feed. There are no “apps” like a Samsung Smart TV would have, and the embedded processor is not a rival to the Smart Signage displays that can handle stuff like HTML5-driven motion messaging. It can do basic daypart scheduling, but not a whole pile more.
Schroll said research with more than 450 potential small business buyers revealed a number of things, like a demand for ease of use. But it also provided a clear message on the pricing model. While there were expectations at least a percentage of the user base would would a SaaS/managed service model with a monthly fee, the “resounding” response was in favor of a flat, one-time, buy-it-in-a-box price.
It’s a really interesting move. The signage in a box thing has been tried in the past by all kinds of software companies, and was a big push for LG with its SignNet program launched in 2010. But none stuck.
The very BIG difference here is this is in retail and not SKU’d up in a bottomless directory of some online e-tailer. You can see it, touch it, and as I noted, heave it on a cart.
Phase 2 does involve more traditional channels, but I wonder how successful that will be. Maybe it will if the mindshare builds up in retail and online just removes the hassle for people who don’t want to go to a big box or don’t have a car big enough (or a car period) to hump it back to the shop.
I think the MagicInfo/Smart Signs thing is confusing within the digital signage eco-system, but the small business marketplace won’t be confused because they’ve never heard of MagicInfo or Smart Signage.
This is a global initiative, somewhat led by the US offices. There are plans to roll this into Canadian retail, as well, and no doubt elsewhere.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.