Tuesday and Wednesday of this week will see the 5th Annual Digital Signage Investor Conference in New York, organized by the Strategy Institute. The conference has a nice history of being a fairly cozy get together for DOOH companies, financiers of many stripes, and industry analysts. The agenda typically has some interesting presentations, with the most compelling ones coming from the actual investors and analysts rather than the DOOH companies.  This year’s agenda is no exception, but the climate seems to be changing relative to past conferences.

There is a different type of buzz around this year’s conference, which I suspect will remain at the typical level of 100 or so participants. There is a palpable sense of anxiety and anticipation in our industry these days, and with good reason. There is little doubt that despite the improving outlook for DOOH spending by advertisers, that change is upon us. There is less new business and more companies competing for it on the software side. Hardware is equally in flux – most of the majors have hedged their bets with software, further muddying two streams in the process. There is more ad money flowing, but more business models and tools for planning, placing and aggregating networks than ever before. Content offerings are popping up at an increasing rate, which will likely put downward pressure on pricing. And the hockey stick phase of the hype cycle for social media and mobile marketing are coinciding with a plateauing of hype on the digital signage side.  (Stephen Randall’s pitch at the conference will address the hype cycle.) This has the dual effect of sending shivers of doubt through digital signage vendors and operators, while shifting the mindshare of typically ADD-afflicted investors toward the “next big thing”. In short, something has to give, and many attendees at the conference will be there trying to figure out what that is.

The conference will kick off with a keynote from Garry McGuire, CEO at RMG, who no doubt will describe how his deep pocketed investors (Kleiner Perkins and DAG Ventures) view the construction of a monolith, and how he expects to execute on that. Afterwards, he’ll be warding off folks asking to be bought. But the RMG keynote is a harbinger of things to come. They are a symbol of consolidation. One can argue with their portfolio or strategy, but their actions are not to be dismissed. The amount of money they have attracted and the steps they have taken in the past year or so is like a deep ocean earthquake. A tsunami of reactive actions will almost surely follow. Other interesting sessions will include those from actual investors, agencies and analysts. Adrian Cotterill, of DailyDOOH fame, will open the second day with remarks. What most people do not know is that Adrian is extremely well connected in the venture marketplace on both sides of the pond. That part of his professional life buys more trans-Atlantic plane rides than blog banner ads do. His thoughts ought to be provocative and tee up a good second day. Overall, it is a good agenda.

I spoke at the conference two or three years ago on a panel with another industry company and two VC-types. My pitch was on raising angel money, something I have some perspective on. I thought it went well and got some good feedback, but have never been asked to return. Perhaps it was the slide that referred to VCs titled “Swimming With Sharks”. So it goes. I would be there this week, but I’ll be doing a customer and prospect road show that takes precedence. I sense that the two day event will provide a barometer on different segments of the industry. I’ll look forward to hearing from those in attendance.

What I learned at the conference I attended a couple of years ago is that the two days are good for networking and listening. The VC and PE folks tend to lay pretty low, as they really don’t need another 100 business plans on their desk. Most are taking the temperature of the industry for current or planned investments rather than combing the buffet line for new deals. But introductions can be had. The real benefit to attendees will be gaining a sense of where different players see the industry going. The forecast may well be for a real global warming in terms of activity in digital signage.