Well, our digital signage world just got a lot more interesting with today’s announcement from Exponation, owners of the Digital Signage Expo conference. Exponation has created and provided initial funding for a 501-c non-profit industry association to be called the Digital Signage Federation (DSF). This raises the stakes on the discussion that has gone on here and in other places, including the Digital Signage Association (DSA) web site, regarding the future of industry leadership. By making the announcement, and by taking several very affirmative steps, Exponation has clearly outmaneuvered the DSA and filled a void that has been around the industry for years. If and how DSA responds will be interesting. If and how Exponation walks the walk will be of equal interest. And of course, the end game itself is still an unknown.

Within an hour of DSF coming to light via Twitter and DailyDOOH, I was asked by several people if I was somehow a part of forming the new association. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that question, but to be clear, I was not. While it is flattering to think that previous posts are perceived to have played some role in the announcement, I suspect that wheels were turning well before those were published. Exponation has taken a number of steps that indicate a high level of planning. They appear to have already created the non-profit entity. They have a rudimentary web site up and running. They have an experienced association executive, John Johnson, already on board as a consultant and interim Executive Director. They have thought through membership categories and programming. They have created an ambitious agenda even before they begin. And most cleverly of all, they have timed the announcement one week before every potential member descends upon Las vegas at their captive conference, the DSE. Recent efforts to expand the nature of the DSE web site as an industry news portal are also signs that a plan has been in place for some time.

DSF has also assured itself of many members by creating member rates for DSE conferences, exhibit space and sponsorships that will very likely make the decision to join and pay dues an economically wise one for any company that attends or exhibits at DSE. I have asked Exponation directly what the financial relationship between Exponation/DSE and DSF will be going forward. Specifically, will revenue from Exponation events flow to DSF, and if so, on what basis? I received an email in return promising all answers at the show. Since I am a blogger and not a journalist, I don’t feel the need to wait for an answer. We have a comment section for that. In my opinion, it will be vital to understand the exact nature of the relationship between Exponation and DSF beyond the very generous donation of seed funding to kick the process off. But let’s not be naive here. One can not doubt Exponation’s intent in terms of advancing the industry: it is in their best interest to have a vibrant, healthy non-profit association in place. To have it in their initial control also assures DSE’s place at the vortex of conference activity. How quickly, clearly and effectively DSF becomes truly independent will dictate its survival and effectiveness. I trust that the founders have learned lessons from DSA.

The opportunity for Exponation to take this strategic and altruistic action was created by NetWorld Alliance’s slowness to convert DSA to a 501c, which was no doubt partly due to their pay-to-play Board’s inertia. Nature and business abhor a vacuum. DSA’s planned meeting in Las Vegas next week will have a certain sense of urgency now, and you can bet the cell phones are melting down well in advance. They have options to consider. Here are a few:

1. Proceed and battle: DSA can proceed with the process of becoming a 501c and reorganizing as a non-profit group. That will precipitate a battle for the hearts, minds and checkbooks of members and potential members alike. DSF will have tremendous momentum from their recruiting efforts at their show next week. Some entities will happily join both organizations. Others will simply choose one, or neither. DSA would almost certainly have to go on bended knee to JDEvents to make a deal to have their conferences become official DSA events, given that DSE will not be a choice. Won’t that be an interesting conversation?

2. Capitulate and partner: DSA can go to Exponation and negotiate a deal to smoke the peace pipe and merge the organizations, effectively short-cutting the route to non-profit status, dissolving the DSA Board, reorganizing, and starting over together. That has merits, if Exponation is open to the discussion.

3. Press on with the status quo: DSA can choose to remain a part of NetWorld Alliance, and refocus its activities and agendas to exist in co-opetition with DSF. Their connection to SSKA could give them staying power as is. But the genie is out of the bottle now: most people want an independent voice leading the industry. This choice is not likely to succeed or retain digital signage members.

It is hard to say where this will end, and there are a number of entities that will be heard from before this is over. For starters, how about InfoComm, JDEvents, Platt Retail Institute, Strategy Institute, POPAI, and OVAB? Each has some combination of assets, constituents, members, resources and events that influence our industry. It will be very interesting to see where all the chips fall. This is a good sign of our industry being here to stay. It will all get figured out, and we will press ahead with important business. See you in Las Vegas.