MediaPost held their annual DOOH Forum in NYC last week in New York, with an impressive array of speakers and panels. I wanted to be there, but had a critical meeting to attend that was well worth the price of missing the forum. Through the magic of the web, videos of all of the sessions were available online. This is one event that manages to attract a lot of the agency types that other industry conferences and seminars long to have in attendance. Having MediaPost as the organizer and New York as the venue certainly help in that regard.  The speakers also included some DOOH network veterans and industry players.

Despite my good intentions I only had time to watch Patrick Quinn’s insightful keynote and one session. I was attracted to the session titled “Assessing DOOH Technology“, as I thought it would have some crossover with my world of digital signage platforms.  The panel included Peter Bowen of SeeSaw, Rob Gorrie of Adcentricity, Jason Kates of rVue and Graeme Spicer of NEC/VUKUNET/DOmedia/EIEIO. Based upon the panel, it sure looked like we were going to hear about ad planning and buying and execution, and not so much digital signage platforms, which people still annoyingly and incorrectly call CMS. That was OK, as I consider Rob and Jason good friends; I remember speaking with SeeSaw founder Monte Zweben in 2005 about the idea of aggregating digital signage networks; and while my opinions never seem to generate goodwill in Itasca, IL, Graeme and I remain friendly. If nothing else, I’d enjoy watching the byplay as the panelists positioned their firms.

From where I sit, the two companies represented that have the most similar business models were SeeSaw and Adcentricity. My quick description would be that they represent a number of networks and actively sell in to them utilizing a number of proprietary tools to ad value to that process. Interestingly, when introducing himself and SeeSaw, Peter Bowen started down that path and then swerved a bit, announcing that SeeSaw “has a Demand Side Platform (DSP)”. That was puzzling on three counts: first, SeeSaw Ads is not a DSP, it is a fine planning tool; second, a cursory look at their web site does not turn up the words Demand Side Platform; and third, that he felt the need to juxtapose SeeSaw with rVue (a DSP) rather than Adcentricity. Hmmmmm. The camera did not show the reactions of the other panelists, but Rob quickly and joyfully described Adcentricity as an ad network with the requisite planning tools and focus, and Jason crisply described what a DSP does. Graeme deferred to all three on the planning side and threw his chips down on ad delivery. OK, then… this was shaping up to be fun.

The session took a thought-provoking turn when an audience member brought up the fact that at other media events focused upon social media and internet, he has never observed the lack of trust in the numbers as he does in DOOH. He correctly asserted that this poses a real hurdle for the industry and applauded the efforts of the panelists as agnostic middlemen who bring a sense of believability to the process. Mr. Mandese postulated that a single industry voice was going to be required. (Uh oh, standards and leadership rear their beautiful heads!) A discussion of DPAA Audience Metrics standards ensued. Then came an exchange in which Jason suggested that digital signage software “has never been better”, which Rob disagreed with, saying that while there is some good stuff out there, there is still lots of software out there that simply can’t do what agencies demand, and even more that do them in non-standard ways.  I think they are both right. I fundamentally agree that there isn’t much “voodoo” left for digital signage platforms, as Jason put it, and I said so here. But I also agree that the fragmentation of the software market has created an equally fragmented market in the network world. That has to drive all four panelists crazy, and it is also an impediment to the flow of advertising dollars, both to the members of the country club, and quite a few scratch golfers who don’t care to join. Looking at the networks on the DPAA roster, the dominant platform is clearly “homegrown”, which doesn’t inspire confidence per se. Until there is a way for agencies to trust networks based upon their platform, the challenge will not go away. You may see some independent efforts to help that along in coming months, but from a market perspective it is going to take a rising tide of concern with standards and what agencies want in order to cull the herd down to a manageable number. And at some point, industry leadership has to materialize and coalesce in a similar way. Neither can happen soon enough for the nervous agencies. Or for those who really care about accelerating the growth of the industry.

Thanks for a lively panel go to MediaPost and the panelists. While the session title may have been a bit misleading, that’s OK. Their discussion brought up important points worth thinking about. A few New York minutes can be time well spent. (Note: A tip of the hat to Dave Haynes for having a faster WordPress trigger finger than me with his take on the same session.)