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The Medium is the Message

May 24, 2010 12:00 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

Content and technology drive digital signage.

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Last month, for Earth Day, Show+Tell brought worldwide interactivity to the Times Square ABC SuperSign on behalf of Siemens and Earth Day Network, posting tweets from around the world on how to go green.

Last month, for Earth Day, Show+Tell brought worldwide interactivity to the Times Square ABC SuperSign on behalf of Siemens and Earth Day Network, posting tweets from around the world on how to go green.
Photo by Jason Woodruff

When Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” it was 1964, and although he meant all media, he foresaw the profound impact of the newest medium: television. Like Einstein imagining relativity with a single equation, in five words, McLuhan summed up the forces of the universe.

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McLuhan’s observation is only more appropriate after 46 years. Just as the broadcast-dominated culture defined a time in human history, today’s on-demand, interactive, media-is-everywhere environment is rapidly changing the laws of cultural physics. It’s also changing the sales process and cycle for AV. How users experience a given medium affects their perception of the message. That means systems design and implementation must serve business and communications objectives more specifically and astutely than ever. The combination of content and technology, medium and message, will drive the next wave of AV.

Digital signage or digital out of home (DOOH) is part of that reality, and it has a long way to go. Though it may seem to be a niche, it is actually representative of an overall trend toward ever-more-integrated systems. It is also a media platform like none pro AV has ever seen. Here’s why: In the past, pro AV systems were imagined, needed, and designed to serve a purpose that was already clearly understood by the customers—we want music in this restaurant; we want to see the ball game in the snack bars; we need a videoconferencing system. Even in entertainment, where AV is at its most creative, clients knew they needed a show. Systems were purpose-built for a relatively narrow purpose.

Digital signage is coming into the world a different way—often as a platform for uses and business models that are just beginning to be understood. Therefore, AV professionals must help make the value proposition clear to potential customers. Digital signage also blurs the lines among stakeholders (content creators, users, systems integrators, technology managers, architects) in new, interdependent ways, which creates a new sales cycle based on customer relationships and knowledge of their business goals.

Don’t think of digital signage as an application. Think of it as a medium. Use that now-tired term “ecosystem” if it helps. Successful digital signage will sell in a variety of ways. Marketers and advertisers will be advocating it to their clients in part because it is an annuity: Once the network exists, it must be fed by content created by the marketer and advertiser. In the past, advertisers, content creators, and marketers did not have to know much about how television commercials were broadcast, how billboards got made, or how magazines got printed. Those delivery mediums were a given. But with digital signage, the content and the delivery medium are developing concurrently. This will drive the collaboration among technical and creative forces.

With that in mind, we talked to two companies that are modern examples of digital signage/DOOH businesses—the kind of business you might want to emulate or partner with as you try to stay current with where AV is going as a whole.

Neither of these companies considers itself a systems integrator, though both are technically experienced and sophisticated. Both companies contract systems integrators and partner with them in other ways, and they are actively looking for partners.

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