Word got out a few weeks ago that New York-based ComQi had been acquired by Taiwan’s AU Optronics Corporation (AUO), but the two companies have only formally announced and confirmed the deal this week.
The acquisition by OEM display maker AUO – an $11.5 billion company that quietly makes many of the commercial panels and TVs you see with more familiar brand names on the frames – is positioned as a way to broaden its offer in the digital signage market by tapping into revenues from software as licensing and downstream services.
ComQi will continue to operate as a separate business entity, with a primary office in Manhattan, satellite office in London, England and a large software/R&D office about 5 minutes drive from 16:9 world headquarters in Burlington, Ontario.
A couple of weeks ago AUO Chairman and CEO Paul SL Peng was up in Burlington checking out the local office, on a day when I was actually home (lotsa travel lately). So I drove over and had a chance to meet with Peng and a pair of senior execs, who briefed me on the thinking behind the acquisition and their perspective on the space.
In short, AUO is the #1 supplier globally of digital signage displays, but they don’t actually ship anything under the AUO brand. They make the displays for lots of other brands you know, in Taiwan and in China. Acquiring ComQi – which is very active in retail and with verticals like food services – taps into monthly money, as opposed to the one-offs it gets selling to display companies.
AUO has generation 3.5 to 8.5 flat panel display production lines that produce everything from 1.1-inch to 85-inch LCDs for all types of display applications and holds more than 17,800 global patents. But they haven’t really done anything in software – apart from the code for display drivers, etc – and this gets them into that.
“We aim to provide total digital signage solutions to customers,” says Peng. “That’s why we saw the opportunity to combine with ComQi, and offer a complete hardware, software and services solution to our customers. The combination of upstream manufacturing and downstream services is really powerful.”
The turnkey thing is a big deal these days – driven a lot by the need to get beyond the thin margins of selling hardware but also by the increasing demands of end-users to tap into turnkey, single vendor, one invoice services.
Under the arrangement, end-users could in theory buy ComQi software licensing and related services, and use displays sold directly from AUO-ComQi.
“Display is a key element in digital signage projects. With ComQi now an AUO company, customers have direct access to high quality screen technology and a very competitive product portfolio,” says Stuart Armstrong, Group President of ComQi, in a press release. “We think that is going to be good for the market, and good for our clients.”
“We are very proud of the excellent customer work that has gotten us here and attracted such a global powerhouse as AUO. We complement each other,” says Ifti Ifhar, CEO of ComQi. “This greatly enhances our ability to offer full end-to-end solutions with a wider global reach. This collaboration will benefit our customers and grow ComQi sales and market share at a faster pace.”
If you are in business development and sales, and have senior/enterprise-level experience, or are looking for a new gig in managed services or projects, ComQi is actively hiring.
AUO is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, so that will probably be the way to eventually find out what the deal is worth. No deal terms were announced in the press release.
It will be a relatively small number for a company that did $11.5 billion USD in sales revenue in 2017, and has 43,000 staff. Headquarters are in Hsinchu, Taiwan, which is south of Taipei.
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.