I have often written and spoken about how people need to be careful in using WalMart and/or Focus Media as benchmarks for the digital signage industry. When business plans dredge up statistics or anecdotal “evidence” of the sure fire success of their network based on either of these two companies, I tend to stop reading and listening. WalMart enjoys both a uniquely strong position with its vendors and virtually unlimited human and financial capital. Focus Media enjoys a market that can’t be duplicated and labor costs so low that sneaker net costs less than broadband. So to base business assumptions on conditions that can’t be duplicated makes little sense.
At the same time, people love to take shots at big guys, and the recent hullabaloo over the porn videos played in an Arkansas WalMart amounts to a tempest in a teapot. Two employees swapped out DVDs in a device controlling 6 TVs in the furniture department. They got caught and will pay the price for their “prank”. Bloggers and tweeters around the world were quick to jump on this as an example of why you should not give employees local access to a digital signage network, and why security is so important in digital signage. What they fail to understand is that the simple fact that this involved DVDs means that it had nothing to do with WalMartTV and their networked digital signage. Although I have no confirmation from Bentonville, I am guessing that this is a case where a vendor, with WalMart’s blessing and associated invoice, installed a cheap, DVD-based promotional network in the furniture department in order to sell more furniture. It is probably an area of the store underserved by WalMartTV, and ripe for a promotion such as that. Vendor promotional efforts are quite common at WalMart. While the pundits are correct in their statements about security and access, their rush to judgement, and the implication that a high profile, second generation digital signage network was compromised, causes pain for all digital signage industry players. If you want to get porn onto WalMart TV you will need to gain access to a highly secure central application. Good luck with that, but if you can get that done, your criminal skills may be better rewarded by other central systems. But the assumption that someone cracked the network will now result in all kinds of backlash and unfounded fears in potential network owners. The truth is, it is actually an indictment of NOT being networked! I tweeted this yesterday, but the misdirection and hand waving has continued. Someone has to say it definitively: This is a non-issue. If I am proven wrong, I will post an apology.