The Big Picture
It's time to stop talking about digital signage. What? Stop talking about one of the greatest new revenue opportunities in pro AV? Yes, because digital signage is so much more than, well, digital signage. As any linguist will tell you, the language we use frames the context of our thinking, and when we say “digital signage,” we tend to think of the replacement of static signs with electronic ones.
But digital signage is just one application within a much greater pro AV opportunity that currently has no commonly accepted label and no market ownership. The main reason for such fragmentation is the lack of a clear, comprehensive definition of exactly what this opportunity presents.
Some labels come close to accurately conveying the broader context, such as “digital media networks” and “dynamic visual messaging.” The online media source known as aka.tv lists at least a dozen terms to describe it, with the definition “media networks outside the home with a commercial imperative.” But even this definition excludes non-commercial applications such as wayfinding systems, corporate communications networks, or house of worship applications.
One thing that's clear is that it's a perfect fit for pro AV systems integrators keeping up with AV/IT convergence and technology trends. The end-users and vertical market segments you currently serve are all prime prospects for digital media networks. The functional schematic is the same as with almost any pro AV system: There's a content source that delivers a signal — over some type of transmission system — to one or many endpoints for human consumption. We need to think of digital media networks in these terms, or risk letting this opportunity bypass the pro AV systems integration channel altogether.
Currently, there are a number of large installations of such networks, sometimes including hundreds of widely dispersed video displays, such as Wal-Mart TV. And they work. There's a growing number of case studies that provide quantifiable data on the positive results.
To date, however, the emphasis has been on the content and its delivery, rather than the endpoints. In an interesting case of the tail wagging the dog, the content providers and delivery service providers are taking the lead in hardware system design and installation. But AV pros —the experts who know better than anyone how to deliver the best picture and sound for a given environment — are the missing link in this distribution chain.
What can we do? First, we must make ourselves known in the digital media network world. We need to make the case for our expertise in the effectiveness of these systems. While content may be king, and getting it to its destination is mission critical, presentation quality will ultimately make or break the return on the digital media investment. And that's the job of pro AV.