It is 1 pm in Nova Scotia, a Nor’easter is going to brush by world HQ, and I am thinking my afternoon coffee may have a little Bailey’s in it. Yes, drinking on the job …
Some years, I do a look back and a best of. Frankly, 2019 was so nutty-busy I haven’t got the energy to think that through, and there are lots of awards out there to better judge what was done. But … not enough companies enter (and I still don’t get that.)
What’s easier is looking ahead to 2020, which from where I sit starts in half a day.
Industry consolidation is a reliable and obvious prediction. I have been contacted by both buyers and sellers in the past year, looking to make a move, and wanting ideas on how to make that happen, and with whom.
Buyers want to fast-track growth by acquiring the contracts and relationships of competitors, or expand into signage by buying companies and people who have the products, services and insight.
Sellers want to do deals because they’re capped out in terms of growth under their existing circumstances, are in verticals that have too many competitors, or are just plain running on energy and enthusiasm fumes, and want to cash out while they can.
While there are still many, many CMS vendors, most of the big-dollar deals are opportunities for the same handful of vendors, like Stratacache.
Turnkey is a trend that is pretty much baked in now. If you can only offer a piece of the jigsaw puzzle of a digital signage solution, like the display or the CMS software, you’re getting squeezed out by companies that are either vertically integrated or have genuine, operational level working relationships with a tight set of partners.
I endlessly hear these days about end-users of all sizes and stripes greatly preferring to deal with a single solutions provider that can take them all the way from idea through ongoing operations.
If your business operates on the idea that you offer one element that end-users can add to their mix of technologies, you better take a hard look at developing working partnerships that are a lot more meaningful and real than a logo on the partner page of your website.
Software companies are under pressure from a few directions. On one hand, there are a LOT of applications – like data dashboards in production environments – that are only ever going to show one thing, changed dynamically. That application will never use more than a small percentage of what a full commercial CMS can do. Not surprisingly, that has increasingly smart, discerning end-users wondering why they need to subscribe to a SaaS platform and pay monthly fees, when using web technologies might do.
The old answer was back-end tools like device management, which a good CMS offers. But those tools are starting to come available as standalones, and hardware guys like BrightSign, IAdea and Elo are baking those capabilities in with their kit. Integrators like Diversified and SageNet have their own tools.
There are also pressures from new and existing players in the market. Adobe is out there and still developing Screens. Unlike Google, which has a bazillion products (some that come and go like clouds), signage is a more logical extension of their core offer. When you develop creative within Adobe CS and Experience Manager products, being able to push to print, web, mobile AND signage is interesting and attractive.
Right now, the AEM Screens product is not well-known in this industry, but Adobe has the resources and market penetration to make something happen, if it really went at this sector. It is something to watch, and a podcast I’d like to do (nudge, nudge, Jim Stoklosa).
The other tech company to note is Samsung (disclosure – I write lots of stuff for Samsung’s Insights blog), which has had its MagicINFO CMS software in the market for more than a decade. Samsung sales people used to almost apologize for having it when they were around CMS software “partners,” but all those years has led to a CMS I have heard knowledgeable, neutral people say is now pretty good and competitive, and nothing requiring an apology.
I have also had conversations with senior Samsung US people who seem to want to grow the paid subscriber base for that software. My free and largely unsolicited advice has been: “Sure, but you guys need to clearly define its position and capabilities., ‘cuz that’s not really the case at the moment.”
I’d venture to suggest many people in this industry, not knowing, view MagicINFO as free, or tossed-in with display buys, and limited in what it can do.
On the display side, the shift away from LCD is fully on. I have written about many, many direct view LED video wall jobs that, in at least some cases, would have been done in the past using narrow-bezel LCDs. LED was predicted to take over the video wall space from display glass, and that is happening quicker than many analysts expected. Hyper-competition and lowering prices are likely the biggest factors.
LG is shifting its commercial display focus to OLED, and while there are challenges with the premium price and technical issues like burn-in and operating life, it’s reasonable to think time, engineering and commercial adoption will change that.
Samsung is a huge OLED manufacturer, but for smartphone displays, not big commercial screens. Its focus is increasingly on Quantum Dots, a color filter technology that sits on top of an LCD display and gives it OLED-level color volume. Samsung calls its tech QLED, and you will likely see more of that.
Without getting overly technical, there is lots of R&D work underway to marry quantum dots and OLEDs, which would improve the brightness of OLEDs, which is another current limitation.
You will see in 2020 nerdy stuff about using miniLED technology – and maybe even microLED – to improve the picture quality of displays. Packing more tiny LEDs into the rear of an LCD, and having control over each light pixel, enables something called local dimming. In the old days, big light arrays illuminated the full rear of an LCD. Now small zones can be turned off and on, improving contrast and getting LCDs closer to having true blacks reproduced.
Back to LED. You will see many, many more projects in 2020, notably in commercial property lobbies and public spaces. I sense mesh-LED is getting widespread adoption on glass curtain walls and as lighter weight building cladding. I think/hope we’ll also see transparent LED film come off trade show floors and into commercial applications.
Projection is making a comeback on glass and other surfaces, based on lower cost, and far more reliable projection systems.
Analytics will be even more of a thing in 2020, because research is showing tuning content and display placement based on audience measurement can make a bottom-line difference.
Finally (I could go on forever, but …), it’s clear end-users are smarter, the use-cases are expanding, and industry growth will continue. While QSR may seem tapped out, with many operators already doing digital menus, and retail not investing in signage the way it was maybe expected (feature walls and shelf-edge is where it is now going), there are lots of still largely untapped opportunities, most notably non-office workplace communications. Think of all those staffers who don’t have desks, company emails, mail slots or any other conventional communications tools on the job, and how screens fix that.
2019 was going to be the year I did not travel as much, and that was a big fail. It wasn’t as bad as 2018 (when I also, crazily, moved our residence 2,000 km east), but it was bad.
In 2020, I have ISE, DSE and InfoComm trips, plus DSF board obligations, and that … is … maybe … it. No CES (hell, no!), no NRF, no ShopTalk and probably no SID Display Week, though I liked that, but is in San Francisco and $$$. I’d skip NYDSW, as I don’t see the value or point, but the DSF may force me, like this year.
I am closing in, very soon, on 7,000 posts and 200 podcasts. 16:9 started almost 14 years ago, and it continues to be fun and enlightening for me, and hopefully for readers.
Thank you to 16:9’s many advertiser/sponsors, who make this possible, and to readers, who make this viable.
Happy New Year!
BTW – 16:9 DSE Mixer Registration will happen probably end of January. Venue booked, sponsors arranged. Stay tuned.
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.