It was one of those weeks when so many things happened and so many new ideas and old themes surfaced, yet there was not the time to sit down and write about any one issue. Instead, the random threads that have been kicking around need to be cleaned out in short form. Here comes the broom.
The Digital Screenmedia Association kicked off the week (or ended the previous week) by announcing the end of a year long study of “the industry environment” and the naming of CETW as their official trade show of record. First off, congratulations to Joel Davis and Lawrence Dvorchik at JDEvents, who have stuck to their guns and created value. Congrats also to DSA for finding a home. When we set up for CETW’s upcoming New York and San Francisco shows, we look forward to welcoming the DSA Board members on their first appearance. There won’t be lots of tshirt screen printers or cellular retailers there, but you may find some folks engaged in digital signage. As laid out here months ago, this decision was pre-ordained when the DSA Executive Committee was rebuffed in an attempt to strong-arm the folks who run DSE a year ago. They lost their negotiating leverage with JDEvents in the process, and ended up with less than they could have gotten a year ago had they not overplayed their hand. Good for everybody… now let’s get on with the business of talking to customers, agencies and consumers rather than ourselves.
Speaking of talking to ourselves, the live reports via Twitter and various post-conference summaries on the Digital Signage Investor Conference this week in New York raved about the conference program. It looked good on paper, and apparently delivered in reality. However, the wrap-up penned by Stephen Randall of LocaModa was telling in terms of who was and was not there. As recounted in the post, there were about 5 actual investors at the conference who were not speakers. As a result, as Stephen put it, it was the “old boys club” talking to themselves, a few agency and investor types. Great content, good networking, but not a lot of investment activity facilitated. I expected as much, and The Strategy Institute was careful in their marketing not to talk much about the opportunity to find investors at the show. But given the name of the conference, as well as the cost, one might reasonably expect to see some dorsal fins in the crowd. The Strategy Institute has developed a good program, but has yet to get the assembled crowd over 100 people. There is untapped potential here. My unsolicited and likely-to-be-ignored tips:
- Dramatically reduce the costs to attract more attendees
- Add a speed-pitch session wherein 10 pre-qualified investment deals get 10 minutes each to pitch their deals to investors and attendees. Have it judged and guarantee $100,000 equity raise to the winner;
- Have a West Coast-East Coast VC showdown and debate on investment philosophies
- Change the venue (not my idea, but a good one). I would choose Chicago or Dallas to attract people from both coasts.
Intel and Microsoft continued their marketing blitz and exploitation of industry voids in leadership and standards to announce the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS). Read the release if you wish, complete with scripted and edited support videos from NEC and Microsoft, but here is the summary. You will only be successful in digital signage if you run media players with Intel’s highest-priced (Core™) processors, Microsoft’s newest embedded OS, and NEC displays. This is pure marketing hooey, and I am trying hard not to use stronger words, since this is a family-oriented blog. Intel makes great products. We sell media players based on Intel chipsets. We and many others have proven that a digital signage network can scale without premium-priced processors. The market demands lower costs over higher performance. Advanced controls can be achieved through software. The OS has little to do with scalability. Again, huge networks run on both Linux and older Microsoft embedded products. The displays are not worth discussing. All of the bigs have given up on differentiating their products and have gone to pricing, software and financing to attract deals. But money talks loudly, and people will listen, at least until they get the price quotes. Let’s be clear: digital signage success will be dictated far more by applications, content and execution than by choices of chips, OS and displays. Press releases and prototypes do not change reality.
Finally, a tweet from Lionel Tepper at ScreenMedia Daily pointed me at an article on cbsnews.com with the hard to ignore headline, “The Coming Digital Sign Blitz: Help or Horror?”. Certainly have to read that one! It turned out to be a somewhat whimsical article written by Evan Schuman of StoreFront Backtalk, a well-known retail technology web site. He examines the gambit of a Dutch Vodka company to use programmable, digital labels on their bottles, the idea being that the retailer could program them in the store, and the consumer could reprogram them after purchase. A costly gimmick to sell cheap vodka, no doubt. The horror here is that this can be somehow confused with digital signage. One can argue the distinction between a digital sign and digital signage, but the damage is done. Semantics continue to kill us when a giant media company that has invested and squandered tens of millions of dollars in actual digital signage blasts out a headline that feeds misconceptions. The sub-headline, “Retail Realities: The Day May Come When Suppliers Pay for Digital Signs at Retailers” had great promise as the basis for a real article. It could have discussed how vendors may well be network partners with retailers on real digital signage efforts. Instead, we get treated to a discussion of a terrible marketing ploy.
When we get done talking to ourselves and letting others talk for us, perhaps we can make real progress.