DSE 2018 – Day Two Impressions – Slooooooow

March 30, 2018 by Dave Haynes

In the fall of 2008, just as the recession really started to reveal itself on the markets and elsewhere, Philadelphia was host to Digital Signage Expo East.

Foot traffic would be politely described as modest. It was pretty much a ghost town. The story was 900 people in all, but that was doubted.

There’s no way to sugar-coat it, but that’s a bit like how it felt on Day Two of DSE this year. Certainly, it was not a ghost town. But just as certainly, there’s no way it could be described as busy.

I got there around 9:30, a half-hour ahead of opening, and was struck by how few people were hanging around waiting for the doors to open up. I looked around inside at 10:30 and thought, “Man, where is everyone?”

Maybe, I thought, a lot of people got their Vegas on the night before and were just waking up back at hotels.

I grabbed food downstairs at 1 pm and there was one guy ahead of me in the lone checkout open in the food court.

The very large Scala and sister companies booth at the front, by 2 pm, was empty of anyone but the people who were supposed to be there. Lots of people I know who are normally chained to their company stands all day were sitting around in lounges chatting and flipping through their smartphones.

At another large-ish stand near the front, the majority of the team was sitting on the couches, bored silly. One legendarily cranky New Yorker gave me 10 salty minutes on why the whole thing was pointless.

Now, to be fair, there definitely were attendees in the aisles, and I spoke with some companies who felt 2018, overall, was better than 2017. Jeff Hastings and Ann Holland from BrightSign said the show was huge for them, and had not really slowed at the stand until mid-afternoon on day 2, which is normal.

Maybe the attendance numbers, when released, will tell a different story. But if they do, they will be greeted by some serious “Hmmmmms …”

What went wrong, if something did? I dunno. I just “Go” to trade shows, I don’t plan or run them.

Here’s what I do know. In general terms, trade shows are a bit old-fashioned in the age of instant communications, distance learning, video everywhere and so on.

They also cost a fortune for exhibitors.

I also can’t help but think at least some people are choosing, instead to go to other shows. ISE grew by something like 16,000 attendees this year. DSE will not likely be more than 5,000 attendees, if that, in total.

The highly regarded ShopTalk retail conference was just on in Vegas a week earlier, and Globalshop was on this week in Chicago. Retail is certainly not the only vertical targeted for attendees, but it’s a biggee. ShopTalk flies in and puts qualified retailers and brands for the event, with those people agreeing to spend a couple of hours in speed-dating sessions with matched-up vendors. It works and the thing is growing.

It was also spring break for a lot of schools, and heading into a long weekend (Easter).

The Exponation people who run DSE work really, really hard to put on a smoothly run, polished, generally good looking show. The back 40 can tend to look a bit shabby, but that owes a lot to exhibitor budgets that don’t extend much beyond renting a table and stools.

They also work really hard to deliver qualified end-users on the show floor. Maybe they did that, at least for some exhibitors. The general attitude is quality is important, not quantity. 50 great leads beats 500 people wandering in with no real mission, looking for jobs or doing competitor research.

It is a very effective, efficient show for vendors and integrators to collaborate, and for existing clients to come in and see updates on what’s new. But the main game is lead-generation.

So … all that stated, here are some impressions on what I saw walking around.

The most interesting thing was something I’ve now seen three times, but each time got more information on what all is going on with it. A Shenzhen LED manufacturer, CreateLED, has fine pitch display modules that have a thin film coating on them that protects the LEDs. It is described as a cured adhesive layer.

Using this, the LEDs can be exposed to the general public in environments like airport and retail concourses, and elevator lobbies, and not be immediately damaged if bumped. The LED “packages” on conventional surface-mounted LED displays, are fragile and brittle, and if you look closely, you can see particularly at the edges how those packages get damaged.

Create has developed tech that adds this “cured adhesive layer,” but still allows the heat building up from the LEDs to bleed off. It also has low reflection properties and is humidity proof.

I saw the tech, now dubbed Ebony, being used on a 1.2mm pitch display, and it looked really good.

The hitch on this is cost. This tech, at this pitch, was $35,000 a sq. meter. So a sizeable video wall would have a lot of zeroes in the total cost, and this is not something that will be showing up in your regional airport anytime soon.

But it is the future of LED, I think, because it will mean the people who design public, corporate and retail spaces to add active, reasonably rugged LED displays to the consideration set for wall coverings. Marble? Tile? Maple? Or active, changeable digital?

CreateLED is NOT the only company with this. I saw two others at ISE and there’s no doubt others have product in development.

Also interesting around the show floor:

Four color E-Ink displays, in large formats – The tech is still being refined and the things kinda freak out for about 10 seconds as they change visuals. But when they build and lock in they are pretty nice. No light means the color saturation is nothing like an OLED or QLED, but as a poster replacement, not bad. Podcast coming on this.

Gable, up at the front, had an interest demo of thin cement boards that allowed light to pass through, with that light coming from a hidden P6 pitch LED wall. They used IR sensors to track the motion of a device and emulate a spray can doing graffiti on the wall. Kinda cool for a setting like a children’s museum or maybe a club.

A UK company called Ultrahaptics was showing tech that uses ultrasound to create the sensation of touch in mid-air, using a Leap Motion as the tracker, in front of displays. They were demo-ing what that looks like for things like an active movie poster. Not totally sold on it, but the company is testing a new vertical, with the core focus being automotive (car touch screens drivers can “feel” they are using while keeping their eyes on the road).

BrightSign, which is partnering like crazy now with hardware and software guys, has a meeting room sign product now, with a player inside.

Jeremy from Screenfeed showed the early versions of a Slack integration they are field-testing. It is interactive and goes well beyond just being a “channel” showing posts.

Tons of other little things around the how, at various stands, that were brighter, slimmer, lighter, more durable and so on. As said in the past, this is not an industry seeing huge breakthroughs, but rather steady, incremental improvements and enhancements.

On my way home today. I enjoyed the show and always get value from it. I certainly hope there was enough in 2018 to make 2019 viable. I don’t want to go on and on about this, but Day 2 was a little disturbing.


  1. The quality of conversations we had with prospective partners and customers was excellent. The aisles were not packed, but we would much rather have time to spend with those genuinely interested.

    We use DSE as an opportunity to meet and interact with our existing partners and customers, with any new business partnerships and customers considered the icing on the cake.

    We will be back for DSE 2019 with a bigger 30 X 20 booth and would be more than happy if the results next year were the same as this year.

  2. Thanks for the honest look. As the manager for the kiosk association I have worked with them the two prior years to help promote the show to wider audience and seemed to have some success. This year I was unable to work out any marketing arrangement with them. Not for lack of trying.

  3. Eva says:

    We found the content and intel very valuable. Timing with the Easter long weekend was a factor so we crammed in as much as we could into 1 day on the floor. All-in-all the conference is one that is key to all players in the space. We were happy to see a lot of talk about programmatic and look forward to more next year. The traffic was weighted but I hope exhibitors and participants will see the value in having a dedicated digital signage expo year-over-year that allows us to share insights and products that help advance the industry. Geography is a factor so the connections we made at the show are not easily made otherwise. Don’t let quantity override the quality. We had a great DSE 2018!

  4. Ann Holland says:

    Thanks for the quote in your article, Dave. I’m glad it made it in there. We did indeed have a great show this year and all of us from BrightSign agreed that the quality of the new leads was very promising. A big thanks to the Exponation people. We’re looking forward to an even better 2019!

  5. Robert Heise says:

    Our perspective was that perhaps the aisle’s were a little less crowded, but the quality of the attendees seemed to be as good or better than past year’s. Maybe this was due to Exponation’s efforts this year to more strongly police the non-exhibiting manufacturers? If that was part of the reason for the less crowded aisles, kudos to them.

    Also, reports from Global Shop was that it was a huge disappointment in terms of attendees. But what can you expect for a show in Chicago in March?

  6. Robert says:

    I know a lot of people that could not go because of Easter. It was hard for me to go as well, but I’m glad I did. It was the the best DSE I’ve been to so far. Next year its a few weeks before Easter, so my guess is that there will be more people then.
    Either way, a great DSE, and I will be back next year.

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