As the digital signage industry prepares to descend upon Las Vegas for the Digital Signage Expo next week, a related and much more mature industry has received somewhat shocking news. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) has taken the bold step of canceling its National Convention, previously scheduled for May in Miami Beach. The OAAA determined from a phone survey that members did not want to invest the time and money in this tough environment to get together around a conference. Seeing the writing on the wall for poor attendance, and seizing the opportunity to lead, the OAAA put the kibosh on the show and refunded all monies collected from attendees and exhibitors. To their credit, the OAAA avoided the temptation to go on with the show, soak the exhibitors to cover costs and hope for the best. In so doing, they demonstrated that they are indeed the voice of their industry.

The outdoor business has been around quite a bit longer than the digital signage industry, and as such, it is not surprising that they have an entity that can step up. Our industry is served primarily by entrepreneur-driven conferences, such as DSE, KioskCom and the Strategy Institute seminar series, and a couple of organizations attempting to establish a leadership mantle, notably OVAB and the Digital Signage Association.

The various conferences offer multiple opportunities for education and solution shopping, and each has its benefits and value. However, at some point we have to wonder how many conferences we need (or can support) in a calendar year, and whether the industry would be best served by bringing them together into one major event, and perhaps one or two minor, targeted events. The pattern in more mature industries, such as outdoor advertising, retail, direct marketing and others, is for the industry association to drive the major events, while entrepreneurs seize the “white space” between shows. We don’t have an industry association quite ready to lead in this fashion, although I would bet on the DSA getting there.

As odd as it may seem in the wake of the OAAA news, our own indicators seem to point toward a busy and productive show next week. Perhaps one result of these difficult economic times will be an acceleration of the evolution of industry leadership and a rationalization of conference scheduling. We’ll be better as a community for it. See you in Las Vegas.