In a deal that some might have code named Little Bighorn, DOmedia and NEC announced a strategic alignment in which DOmedia’s planning tool will be augmented (“powered”) by VUKUNET, the fragments of value in NEC’s failed attempt to enter the digital signage software market. Dave Haynes offers fine, insightful analysis of the deal here, so I will try not to simply regurgitate the news.  Instead, I find myself pondering the implications of the deal, and the many questions that surface as a result of it being done.

What We Think We Know

In decoupling and organizationally re-assigning the digital signage tool formerly known as VUKUNET, now renamed NEC CMS, NEC has stepped out of the mainstream fray with respect to digital signage software platforms. Mr. Haynes suggests that they will be content to compete with lightweight products from display foes Samsung and LG in an attempt to mend channel fences with providers of more heavy duty software platforms, who have access to larger deals. Most have cut NEC out of any customer discussions. Bravo to NEC for retrenching after figuring out what was obvious to just about everyone from the start. The first step of the twelve-step program is admitting that you have a problem, so I am supportive. But they still have work to do. The VUKUNET approach and overhead required to make the system work is still a no-go for many third party systems, including any that run under Linux or that are managed by this writer.

DOmedia, a venture-backed firm, very much needed to make a splash to enhance its profile and increase the speed and value of a potential flip. Presumably, they also needed to gain some functionality that agencies clamor for, most notably ad inventory management. I have not seen the VUKUNET inventory management software, but I assume that proper diligence was performed.

Both companies have proclaimed their respective pieces and the combined offering to be a new standard. Hyperbole like that is exactly what we don’t need: it is the digital signage equivalent of the “Mission Accomplished” fiasco aboard the aircraft carrier. Win market share, establish new relationships, move the needle to the right… then maybe you have fodder for chest pounding. This game won’t be won in the press.

What We Need To Know

How will this be monetized? Is the VUKUNET functionality simply given away free to DOmedia users, or will there be fees involved? Inquiring minds want to know.

How will it really work with someone else’s solution? NEC has decoupled inventory management, reporting and proof of performance from the rest of the legacy CMS. By doing this, they have kept the functions with potential monetary value on the DOmedia side, and minimized the capabilities that they will continue to offer for free through the display side. Probably reasonable logic. In my opinion, most network owners will want to have a single delivery and reporting system for all content, be it advertising or non-advertising content. As important as the basic proof of playout is, the context and timing of the playout are also critical, something that would be missing if you had two separate reporting systems. Those pieces need to run through the resident digital signage platform. I understand that it would be seamless if that resident platform was NEC CMS, but that will be the rare exception. The partners need to entice network owners to demand this functionality and software providers to interoperate.

Where does ad inventory management belong? Ad inventory management administers data that is needed by both the network and the agency/buyer.  Because some ads will be trafficked through DOmedia, and others will be sold directly or via other platforms, that data management task may become messy. I’d suggest that ad inventory management might best be deployed as a standalone (perhaps cloud-based) application, with reads and feeds as needed enabled for the network owner, agencies and trading platforms. Going proprietary may limit the audience.

What is the official standard of DPAA? On Wednesday, the release announcing DPAA’s place-based advertising study results dedicated a third of its editorial space to promoting its “search and discovery planning tool, InfoCenter“, a product of DPAA heavyweight Francois de Gaspe Beaubien’s Ayuda, which by the way launched without a geo search capability. On Thursday, in DOmedia’s release, DPAA’s Susan Danaher provided a quote to endorse two other members offering a model competing with InfoCenter/Ayuda. Let’s just say the carefully worded quote for the DOmedia/VUKUNET venture exhibited the minimum amount of enthusiasm required. The infighting at the country club is only just starting. A review of the membership roster also includes SeeSaw Networks and rVue, both knee-deep in ad planning, buying and execution, and BroadSign, which markets an ad inventory module of its own. Ought to make for some fun meetings of DPAA’s Operations Committee, charged with establishing standards… standards that have already been proclaimed by several entities. Have fun with that.

What will be the next shoe to drop? On the heels of the DOmedia announcement came an announcement from Key Systems throwing their hat into the same ring with signagelive as its first partner. Call me crazy (many do), but I am thinking that deals like this create momentum of their own. The concepts of media planning, ad inventory management, ad serving, trafficking, analytics and reporting are swirling around each other. Other parties will be heard from. The good news is that this is a sure sign that the ad world wants to buy DOOH in a familiar way, and companies are moving to accommodate them. That is very good news, and it is early in the ballgame.