Digital Signage Summit Europe 2018 report: From Mad Men to Math Men

Data is the driving force behind today’s digital signage systems, but there’s a host of other tech at play. Paul Milligan reports from the Digital Signage Summit Europe 2018.

The opening keynote set the tone for entire Digital Signage Summit Europe 2018 in Frankfurt.  The world of digital signage is changing said Florian Rotberg from digital signage consultants Invidis Consulting (it runs the show in conjunction with ISE).  Data is driving every aspect of DOOH systems he said, so much so that the industry has move from solely an advertising opportunity to a data model, or as succinctly put it; “We have gone from Mad Men to Math Men”. 

Elsewhere there are signs the industry is in good health, there were more than 100 M&A deals in the digital signage sector in the last 12 months, and 4K is booming (4K consisted of 6.8% of displays sold in 2017, but this will turn into 21% by end of 2018) and LED is breaking out of 16:9 constraints.  The opportunities for DOOH projects are huge said Rotberg, air traffic will double over the next 15 years, in 2017 only 1 million installations in the corporate sector involved some form of interactivity, and there are now 32 million meeting rooms around the world.  All of those can benefit from DOOH technologies, be it measurement data, room efficiency systems, or presentation technology.   There were words of caution too, AR was still only being used in selected examples said Rotberg, with the real retail innovation happening in China (due to looser legal restrictions), the way e-retailer Alibaba has embraced facial recognition was given as one example.

Up next was Richard Offerman from German OOH advertising company Stroer Group who discussed the digital customer journey.  He had noticed that after years of telling mobile phone users to film everything vertically people were still ignoring that advice, so why not just try and accommodate the vertical format? As he pointed it, the 9:16 format fits perfectly onto digital posters for bus stops, train platforms etc.

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One of the most interesting presentations of the two days was self-confessed technophobe Alistair Kean, from retail design agency Dalziel & Pow.   His talk focused on where retail design meets detail, using a series of incredible case studies from the likes of Chanel, Nike and Harvey Nichols.   Kean felt AR was being far more successful in retail because “VR takes you outside of the shop environment, AR keeps you there. VR only works in travel shops because they want to take you out of the shop”. He talked about the importance of keeping a digital campaign ‘alive’ once it had been installed. “When you employ digital you have to keep reinventing it, who looks after it once it’s installed?”  Kean sees voice becoming the chosen interface between millennials and brands; “Touchscreens were the new interface before voice.  That will be the choice for a new generation.  Remember the video of the baby swiping an iPad thinking it was a book? It will be like that if you speak to a device and it doesn’t speak back.”

Using AR for DOOH was further addressed by creative developer Doruk Eker and Daan Krijnen from Dutch digital consultants ngage media.  Together they had created the Smartscreens concept, which aimed to take out the complication out of AR, instead creating template integrators or clients could use when they wished.  It used a live feed, say of shoppers in a shopping mall or market square, and inserted amusing speech bubbles above people’s heads for everyone to see on a big public screen.  While not really pushing the medium forward, its usefulness could be that it provides a pathway to AR that isn’t there, opening up the technology to a new audience.

The day then moved onto its first panel discussion, looking at changing times for integrators in working in retail projects.  Steve Woohyung Kim from Samsung SDS (the software arm of the Korean electronics giant) has seen the high street model change in recent years.  “The focus is moving from purely ‘selling’ products to more of an experience centre, i.e. these are the brand values, this is how this product is built etc.”  Erik Wolff from German integrator ICT has seen the rise of global retail rollouts.  “It’s a fast moving market, you can’t do it alone, one day you are a competitor then next you are a partner.”  

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Steve Leyland from global integration group Electrosonic was another to highlight change. “The glory days of buying equipment and marking it up 25% are gone, you might get 5% or 10%, the value is brain power.  We can educate the market and our customers to let them know that it might look easy, for it all to work, but it isn’t.  Its easy now cause its cheap, but someone still has to plug it all together.”  Wolff agreed, adding; “It’s very difficult to get people to understand that rollout management is something they need to pay for.   Sometimes you perform a rollout and the next parts of the chain never know its coming, rollout management will do that for you.”  As well as management, other things are changing on eh client side said Woohyung Kim, “Clients want us to provide them something so that when something new comes out it’s a little tweak rather than a complete overhaul to add it. Customers were promised something miraculous five years ago when we went digital but all they got was video streaming.”

Day two began with a look at how shopping centres can survive, give the all encompassing effect the internet has on our lives.   They will simply adapt as they always have said Raphael Gielgen from Vitra, a retail environment design specialist, “Look at markets in Marrakech, they survived – they joining communities, and provide an immersive experience you can’t get elsewhere.”

The next presentation was from Michael Luck Schneider, from experience and engagement consultancy ESI Design.  His company has seen a gap in proving media for the non-traditional media canvas (9:16 video content, Instagram, Facebook etc).   “We are connected to a huge digital space, connected to everyone.  People are often disappointed with the dynamism of physical spaces in relation to virtual worlds.  So we have to make our walls talk.  Common solution is to just put TVs everywhere.  The biggest challenge with that is the speed of the content.  You have two options when you see the content, you leave the space or you ignore it.  How do you put media into a space that doesn’t force you to leave the space, but makes you part of the space? There is a huge Opportunity to make people part of the space.” Part of ESI’s work for clients has included installing transparent LED or long LED columns (in 9:16 format) in foyers and waiting areas, and fitting softly lit LED screens with built-in sensors which have content that reacts to people walking by, because “boring work environments cause unproductive work.”

The next panel discussion looked at AI and the use of sensors in digital signage.  The popularity of sensors was driving system integrators to grab ready-made sensors off the shelf, which are then causing problems once installed as they are not fit for purpose.  Sensors should be used to maximise a shoppers journey said Hubert Van Doorne from retail sensor manufacturer Nexmosphere, “It should be a layered approach, they come in (something happens) when they walk around the shop (something else happens).”

“We are now moving away from push one button you get the whole experience,” added Tore Meyer from AI specialist 4Tiitoo.  “We can understand a human from the perspective of a computer, but we are not yet there to create a standardisation model of a human.  We need to create a rich (in data) digital twin. There are patterns and trends we can see over time in the store, most traffic will be the same, but if we change something, what is the effect? This data can be put into a learning (AI) system.  A learning (AI) system can get historical data, and that data can trigger real time things, then predict future events.”

The final panel looked at digital signage as an experience, and delved into what clients actually wanted in an experience platform; creative content, full AV integration, and project management.  Digital signage is part of the global experience, and is part of the online experience said Michel Baronnier from French integrator TMM, “It’s not a silo anymore. Print, digital – it all has to look the same.” Mitchell Goss from US digital agency Zero-in was left to sum up the changing world of hyper-connected DOOH; “Digital signage can be rebranded as experience. It was a standalone experience for a long time, but it’s not anymore.”

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