Digital Signage

What’s in a name?

Words and word choice are important. They convey meaning, conjure up images and can even evoke emotions. Words can also be constraining. As much as it pains me to say it, I believe identifying  our industry as “digital signage” has become far too limiting to be useful any longer. Let’s examine why.

Back in the days when I would have public arguments with the late Lyle Bunn over “digital signage” versus “dynamic digital signage”, the discussion was not about what we were doing, but about how we described it.  We hung displays wherever we could, powered them with media players and distributed content to them. There was plenty of intelligence in the content management systems, not much in the media players, and the notion of bespoke content for this type of network was generally still in its infancy. My argument with Lyle was that digital signage didn’t need an adjective in front of it, that it just muddied the waters by implying to the uninitiated that there was non-dynamic digital signage. Sticklers might point out that digital is an adjective already. Besides, if there was going to be an adjective in front of digital signage, “networked” made far more sense to me than “dynamic”. 

Today, what we are doing is far more intelligent, substantially more mainstream in the marketing world and not just about “signs”. The world is digital, not just our endpoints. And network endpoints are often less like signs and more like interfaces to a viewer, consumer or end user. The world has changed, and our industry has changed with it. Look at some of the important trends we’ve seen over the past five years:

Content has Finally Ascended to the Throne

Even though “content is king” quickly became an overused throwaway line, it was never untrue. The issue was that few network operators were invested in that truth. Today, there is a strong correlation between clear content strategy, content quality and network success. The notion of engaging content has largely given way to relevant content as we learn more about our audiences.

Endpoint Diversity

Not long ago the discussion was about choices in the large format display sizes of the day.  Now it is about how to optimize the use of small displays, huge displays, custom shaped displays, LED displays, touch-enabled displays and of course mobile displays to meet network or application objectives. That mobile device? Not a sign.


Early on, there were integrations to pull data from key operational systems to display on a digital sign. Examples include data from telephony switches for call center displays, POS data for menu boards, and box office systems for ticket counter displays. Today, data comes from IoT devices, cameras, sensors, external systems and the Internet, just to name a few. All of this is in the name of making content more timely, and relevant. It has required smarter content, open APIs, and often the support of additional applications on the media player. 


I wrote years ago that cameras, originally touted to measure audiences and justify ad rates, would become more useful by providing real time input for content decisions; and that beacons, hyped beyond belief as a push marketing tool, would become valuable as measurement devices.  Both have certainly found their higher calling and have become cornerstones of analytics in our industry. Analytics that inform content are here to stay. Our own company acquired Walkbase to gain the IP and experience to integrate sensor data into decision-making and of course into content selection. A major display company spent years and millions of dollars to develop their own analytics platform. Neither move was based upon conjecture. Demand for incorporation of analytics into marketing and content strategies is only going to grow. Dumb devices are collecting the data. Smart devices are using it on the fly to make decisions.

We could go on and talk about programmatic advertising and the slow move to make ad buying as easy in out of home as it is online, but with less fraud; the rise of interactive content on digital signage endpoints; the convergence with mobile, and much more. But the point is made: our industry has fundamentally changed in how network operators approach their strategies, in synch with what consumers of our messaging have come to expect. The technical ecosystem has changed with it.

What we have to offer as an industry today has more depth than ever before. We’ve collectively raised the bar and evolved with user expectations and external developments. It’s no longer about a 16×9 display. It’s about insights, intelligence and decision making, and the display is just the surface. We are networked publishers of digital content. We create and enable end user experiences. We ingest data and distribute it in context unlike any alternative. We connect corporations with their employees, brands with their consumers, commuters with their destinations and patients with their providers. We are the last mile. 

Words often matter, and in this evolved marketplace, the term “digital signage” seems outdated. At face value, it doesn’t evoke solutions to the challenges of today’s decision makers who are looking to activate, engage and better understand viewers and customers in order to drive enhanced experiences. Digital signage has served us well for quite a few years, but we are at a crossroad. We can redefine what we are and what we do in order to unlock access to new adopters and new markets, or we can pat ourselves on the back for getting this far. While it won’t be an easy task, it seems like an easy choice.

“Digital signage” is dead.  Long live digital signage.