Usually I take a stab at digital signage predictions at the start of the football season. This year, I let that milestone slide until the postseason. At least it is still January!

As always, we begin by owning last year’s predictions, for better or for worse. Let’s get right to it:

The Checkbooks Are Out, Different Targets: I suggested that vendor side M&A activity would decline, and network activity would increase. I am not sure I got that one right. Vendor activity, and the number of vendors quietly trying to sell themselves, has continued. There has been less network M&A on the DOOH side, while the OOH side has remained active. We will count this one as a miss.

Interactivity Sparks More Interest Than Video Walls: My thought process here was that iconic deployments would start to give way to smaller, more interactive installations. Without doubt, interest in video walls has benefitted from sliding panel prices and emerging LED options. That said, the level of interest in interactive screens, especially in the tablet (11’ to 32”) range, has expanded exponentially. Consumer habits like web searches make properly developed interactive screens both natural and engaging in the right environments, and that spells ROI. That’s a hit.

So Niche To See You: I surmised that both vendors and network operators would move toward specialization. I believe that has been the trend. Vendors have tried to carve out niches in areas such as financial services, higher ed, OOH, ad supported networks, food service and many more. I even see it within our own STRATACACHE Family, where we’ve figured out who does what really well and we have steered customers to the best solution regardless of their entry point. On the network side, the emergence and growth of many cannabis-related networks underscores the attraction that investors have for targeted audiences. That’s a hit (no pun intended).

Industry Events Start to Evolve: My observation was that both exhibitors and industry trade show organizations would respond to the movement toward specialization and evolve their show strategies. At the same time, I thought vertical shows, such as NRF, NACS and HIMMS would embrace OOH a bit more in their strategies. Interestingly, two large exhibitors have bowed out of DSE this year, one because they couldn’t write their own rules, and another because they wanted to invest the dollars into a focused road show effort. Both floor slots have been filled with new or growing exhibitors, but more importantly, DSE’s organizers have embraced their role as facilitators of education and are catering to the audience they get. You will see some new events coming from Exponation as well. The vertical shows remain willing to take exhibit dollars from our sector, but have not really embraced it they way they should, which is strange when you see how much digital signage sits on their show floors. I will call this one neutral.

Beacons and AVA Assume their Proper Roles: Measurement & Triggering: This prediction is self-evident from its title, and it has become truer than ever. Beacons as a push technology are so 2015, and their role as sensors is exploding. Cameras have also become part of the IoT sensor universe. This is a hit, a bit of a no brainer.

People Start To Worry About Leadership: I noted the clear signs of a maturing industry, but lamented the dearth of new, young blood in leadership positions. I predicted this would start to concern many people and steps would be taken to allay those concerns. But alas, these things take time, and there is no perceptible movement across the board. This is an issue that our industry association, the Digital Signage Federation, can play a role in addressing. In addition to efforts to connect with collegiate programs, urging companies to get some of their younger talent exposed through committee works would be helpful. I will take a miss on this one.

International Efforts will Start to Bear Fruit: I predicted that efforts to share ideas, standards and experiences across borders would increase in a demonstrable way, and it has. International attendance at industry events has been steadily rising. DSF’s Global Digital Out of Home Council has attracted enough star power outside of North America to more than earn its global moniker. Keep an eye on this group as they raise the tide for all boats. This one was muy bueno: hit.

So the scorecard for 2018 is 4 hits, 2 misses and a no-decision. Not too bad.

Let’s see if we can do any better in 2019. Since any natural intelligence I had has dwindled as a result of Twitter usage, it has been suggested that I employ artificial intelligence in making this year’s predictions. The AI will have to wait, as I am still trying to knock the biases out of the algorithms. Maybe once Facebook figures that one out, I’ll follow. Here goes:

Privacy Issues Come to the Forefront

Whether it is newsy items like the massive breach of the Marriott database, Facebook’s many deserved travails; strange happenings with voice-activated devices; or The Weather Channel selling location information; or more subtle data collection and placement of devices in homes and public, privacy will be widely discussed. In a culture where consumers willingly and blithely pay for devices with embedded cameras and microphones from companies known for a disregard of privacy, it may get waved aside. But perhaps there will be a tipping point at which the general population decides it is not willing to trade privacy for perceived convenience or “free” apps. Expect the general discussion of privacy and technology to make its way into digital signage. I hope we are ready as an industry.

Measurement Still Matters, Blockchain Makes its First Appearance

Measurability has been an important concept for digital signage from the very beginning. CPM rates of ad-supported networks can only be justified by either evidence (or belief) that messages on the screens are being delivered to targeted and engaged eyeballs. Part of that is confirmation of playout on an operating display. No need to rehash the tragic outcome of trying to game the system, it is costly in many ways. In 2019, I believe we will see two approaches start to take hold. First, rigorous and independent audits will become more commonplace, especially in the medical networks that have suffered from credibility and trust challenges.

Second, 2019 will see the appearance of blockchain in the digital signage space. You can bet that some of the approaches will be simply buzzwords, while others will be first passes at a widely distributed, peer-to-peer network designed to capture and record critical transaction data, from contracts to playout data validation to payments. It is highly unlikely that such an approach will embrace a pure blockchain model, complete with proof of work and payment for the related mining. Rather it will be a “private” blockchain, which skips that step (and forsakes the security and immutability that marks the pure model) to embrace trusted, known actors in the distributed network. Will it work? Will it be widely adopted? It is too early to tell, but the bet here is that we see attempts to make it so.

(Note: If you want to see a passionate debate about the performance/security/trust tradeoffs in the blockchain world, check out this video … 48 minutes, not for beginners!)

Programmatic Buying Deals with Models and Challenges

Without doubt, programmatic platforms are taking hold in the digital signage space. There are a number of startups and emergent players, and some of the online giants are starting to pay attention to our space. As an industry, digital signage still needs to grapple with how it uses programmatic efficiently, and how it protects its higher margin direct sales in so doing. We should see some movement along this line.

It is clearly in the best interest of networks that decide to use programmatic to work with as many of the available platforms as they choose. One higher profile platform has taken a walled garden approach. They have created their own CMS, and demand that customers use their CMS in order to avail themselves of the programmatic platform. Never mind that they can’t compete straight up as a CMS, or that they require a one-to-one player to screen ratio, even when that is not needed for any other reason. The “our way or the highway” approach will fail, and the walls will come down from their garden.

Sea Change in the Display World

2019 will see big changes in the commercial display business. For decades, the dominance of Korean and Japanese manufacturers has been taken for granted. What is happening now in China will change the status quo. High quality commercial displays are being manufactured in Chinese mega-factories as you read this. The strategic view of the owners of those factories is long and aggressive. Their nimbleness is impressive. Their products, of all sizes and even shapes, are going to appear and the price point for the largest capital item in a typical network rollout is going to fall. The impact on the dominant players is likely to be dramatic, forcing some to niches and others to margin killing price battles. Good news for network owners.

Player Wars: The Low End Stays ARMed

Media player prices have continued to ramp downward, and we can probably continue to expect the trend to generally continue. ARM-based chips from a variety of vendors have held an edge in price for some time now, despite some inroads by Intel to find a place at the low end. ARM has traditionally been tightly linked with Android and various proprietary OS platforms, while Intel has of course focused on Windows and to a lesser extent, Linux. Now some of the ARM manufacturers are paying attention to Linux, increasing their appeal in our marketplace. Look for ARM-based chips to parlay that investment into a firmer grip of the lower end players, while at the same time advancing their penetration into the higher performance arena. Like the disruption in the display space, this should portend good things for networks investing in equipment.

Engagement Gives Way to Immersion

Engagement, long the holy grail of network operators and ad buyers alike, is now a given in terms of content objectives. Compelling gave way to relevant, which has given way to targeted and customized. The next step if almost certainly immersive. There is some impressive interactive content out there already, but look for experiential content taking it to the next level with AR and other forms of mobile integration. If a digital installation can entice viewers to immerse themselves in an experience or a presentation, all kinds of good things happen: increased dwell time and recall, learning and decision making, to name a few. Immersion will take on different definitions in different environments. It may mean a 10 second interaction in an airport, or a 3 minute experience in a museum. Either way, immersion as the next logical objective in content development seems certain. Keep your eyes out for content that takes that next step this year.

AI is Coming, but Data Comes First

Artificial intelligence is indeed very buzzy these days. Startups that aim to solve any given problem through the use of AI are attracting untold miilions in capital. You have probably interacted with more AI chatbots than you know. The biggest opportunities for AI in digital signage may well be in driving fine tuned content and experiences based on near real time audience analytics. We may see a smattering of AI use cases in 2019 (if they are publicized be wary of the motives), but for the most part, 2019 will be a year of laying the foundation to make AI possible and useful for digital signage. That means grappling with the collection and analysis of data. The collection points will be a wide variety of IoT devices, from thermostats and pressure mats to cameras, beacons, access points and more. Optimizing the collection and collation of that mountain of data is one large task. Undertaking the analysis of the data, extracting insights and projecting it into machine learning algorithms and practical use cases is another. I think we will see efforts to collect data and learn from it this year, setting the stage for its application in AI in 2020.

That’s the touchdown and the extra point for this year. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll be back to keep score next year.