Let’s start yet another industry association-related commentary with full disclosure. My company is a member of the Digital Signage Association (DSA), and the DSA kindly allows me to post blog entries on their web site. I am also an interim Board member of the Digital Signage Federation (DSF), which was formed in February to offer an independent alternative to DSA. I am on record in previous posts as supporting a shelving of egos and a meeting of the minds to advance a true digital signage industry agenda. Sadly, very few people have responded to that thought, and while I still hold out hope, the latest development in the soap opera leaves me wondering if there will be common ground.

Yesterday, the DSA and the Self Service Kiosk Association (SSKA) announced plans to merge and become… the DSA. Only now, DSA stands for Digital Screenmedia Association, following the trend set by DPAA, nee OVAB, to choose politically expedient and tortuously insipid names to try to please too many people. We’ll get back to that one. I will award style points for the new logo, however.

In a press release replete with two or three more gratuitous sound bites than experts might recommend, there was one particularly curious statement:

“What’s interesting is that board members from the two associations, independent of each another, made the suggestion that we consider a merger,” said David Drain, who serves as executive director for both associations.

Let’s mull that over for a second. The two associations, led by the same man, funded by the same company, with several duplicative Board members, had this miraculous and simultaneous epiphany to join forces “independent of each other”. Yup, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in owning. Can we get this Screenmedia gig off the ground with a little straight talk? Why wasn’t this a brilliant idea eight months ago? Could it be that as two organizations financed by one media company and sharing resources and infrastructure enjoyed double dipping on dues from several members of both associations? Here is a more likely scenario, although I am privy to absolutely no insider information: DSA was under tremendous pressure to become independent of NetWorld Alliance, given the launch of the DSF. While DSA had been talking the talk, they had not been walking the walk, re-electing a Board without a member vote, and leaving NetWorld executives on the Board. Is it possible that they learned that the roots of the Association as a child of NetWorld might imperil their application for 501(c) (6) non-profit status? How might one get around that? Hmmm… maybe form a new association with a new name and a new Board and finally remove NetWorld from the picture, at least financially. That’s the ticket. Hello DSA, part 2!

On the positive side, this adds about 200 new members to DSA, and fuel for their media battle to emerge as victorious against the DSF. Concurrent with the annexation of SSKA, we will hear lots of talk about how this was both brilliant and inevitable, as the convergence of interactive media and digital signage is all but complete. That’s one spin I don’t quite buy into. Interactive media and kiosks are very different disciplines from digital signage. The level of convergence of these disciplines now and in the future is tenuous at best. Their educational, technological and legislative agendas are different. That truth will play out in some really fun Board meetings, I am sure. For a detailed discussion of why convergence is over-hyped, read more here. I think you would be hard pressed to find pure digital signage industry players (networks and solution providers) who truly believe that this merger advances their industry.

As for the Screenmedia part of DSA, for me it is tantamount to going incognito. I know of no digital signage company and no kiosk company that identifies themselves as vital players in the screenmedia industry. Like OVAB, DSA was faced with trying to find a name that would please powerful constituents, but ended up with a name by committee that evokes no image of what any of the members actually do. “Screenmedia” evokes movies, not kiosks or digital signage networks. The word (actually two words) appears to be used in Europe in the intended context, so perhaps that is the origin of its use. I am sure that the spin will be that it can encompass kiosk, digital signage and mobile screens with one word. Perhaps, but even if the three make for interesting exhibit hall mates at a trade show, they aren’t a cohesive industry. Just my opinion, but I think it is a gamble to insist that they are.

Is the merger a bad thing? No, I do not think so, even if I am skeptical of the motivation behind it. The crossover between the three disciplines that DSA wants to advocate for are primarily on the vendor side. There are many hardware companies, integrators and a few software providers that serve both the kiosk and digital signage channels. Mobile integration is the wild card at the table, so it will be good to have all players involved in certain discussions, providing perspective and leverage to each. My issue is that this does little to resolve an industry leadership challenge; it only escalates a slap fight that is becoming tiresome.

I still hold out hope that the DSA and DSF can come together as one. It looks from here that the merger with SSKA is a digital (as in middle digit) signal from DSA that such an approach is not forthcoming. If that were the case, it would seem to me that DSF would be left representing an industry, while DSA attempts to create one. DSA has more numbers, while DSF now has more focus. Neither has an easy road to travel, and no one is benefiting from the power struggle. Our company remains affiliated with both organizations, and hope that egos can be managed and the greater good can be addressed. Frankly, that prospect looks grim at the moment, but it is always darkest before the Solar Place-Based Ascendancy.