Mention PowerPoint as a digital signage tool and a lot of industry people go into teenager eye-rolling mode. But that’s a bit unfair, as I don’t think it’s ever wise to dismiss a presentation tool familiar and used by millions and millions of business people, globally.
I got a note the other day from a completely unfamiliar company called Power Digital Signage – which markets a cloud-based content management platform called PowerPlayer, and uses a low-cost Windows 10 PC stick to display PowerPoint presentations on any screen with an HDMI port.
Presentations get developed in PowerPoint, uploaded to the CMS, and then distributed and played out on the targeted PC stick.
The interesting thing is that the whole deal – PC stick, pre-installed client software, and cloud-based CMS – costs $189.95. One-time. No ongoing subscription.
I asked Ken Hilliard – who runs the company in between offices in Seattle, Perth, Australia and Phuket, Thailand (sigh) – how he makes money at $190 lifetime???
“We actually have a pretty healthy profit margin,” says Hilliard. “We developed the software in-house so we have no royalty costs. We buy PC sticks in volume, so we get a very good discount. Our PC stick provider installs the client software and does drop shipping to the customer.”
Hilliard uses automated e-commerce and provisioning software, which hugely reduces labor costs and gives him a lot of elasticity in terms of scaling up and down as needed. Cloud hosting, as many tech people know, is now very inexpensive, even when using Tier 1 providers (and not some Russian guy in Brooklyn … been there, done that).
The Thai office is now staffing up with graphics designers who can create digital menu boards and other digital content for customers, based on custom work or templated subscription material. That fills a need, but also adds a revenue stream. I’m thinking design work in Phuket is cheaper than design work in Chicago or London.
“We aim,” he says, “to provide an affordable, flexible, easy to use plug-and-display digital signage product that works with PowerPoint.”
This, I think, has a role in the marketplace. As noted from the top, a hell of a lot of people know and use PowerPoint. We’ve all seen ghastly PPT decks that look like they were designed by blindfolded three-year-olds. But we’ve all, also, seen very smart-looking decks with great visuals, good color choices and the right fonts. The quality of the creative has much more to do with the brain and skills of the creator than it does with the software.
I have written about and interviewed the CEO of a Belgian company that has focused on PowerPoint because of its live data capabilities. No matter your feelings about the Microsoft Office suite, you have to acknowledge there’s a lot going on under the hood of applications like PowerPoint, which has been developed and enhanced for more than 30 years now. It is older than many end-users.
Day after day after day, the busiest post on 16:9 is the one listing low-cost options for digital signage. There is a vast market of small businesses, schools, churches and other organizations that either don’t have the necessary budget for the more familiar commercial solutions on the market, or have just decided, “I’m not paying $20 a month for some CMS when I can get this for … ”
The entry-level market is always pushing on price, and solutions providers know that if they want to survive and prosper in a commoditized market, they need to find ways to limit their operating costs and, particularly, minimize end-user costs.
PC sticks would probably make a lot of ops people nervous, but I suspect the end-user market for PowerPlayer, in most cases, doesn’t have anyone in the process who is formally an ops person. This is a TV in a nail salon, and a pre-configured stick that shows up in a courier bubble-pack envelope or box. Plug it in, get connected to the Internet, and go. There’s always going to be someone in a small business who knows what an HDMI port is and knows how to find WiFi and add a password.
I don’t see a major retailer or bank going down this path. But there are a LOT of nail salons, and other small businesses, out there. If you had to sell to them one by one, that would be expensive and painful. If you can do it via ecommerce, and minimize inbound support, this can maybe work.
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.