Integrate 2014: The discipline of digital signage

AUTHOR: Inavate
Toshiba's proof-of-concept stretched displays.

Integrate 2014, being held at the Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park in Australia, concluded on the 28th of August 2014. InAVate APAC explores the digital signage sector by talking to experts present at the event and products showcased on the floor.

Paul Flanigan has been part of the digital signage industry for over 15 years in different capacities. He has worked in the retail sector, stadium operations and consultancy. At present he serves as an executive director at Digital Screenmedia Association, a body dedicated to the growth of digital signage globally through advocacy, education and networking.

While Flanigan is based primarily in the United States of America, his travels and vast wealth of experience give his opinions weight and credence. Speaking about the digital signage market in Asia he says: “What is interesting is that from the US coming to Australia, the Australians see the States as a saturated market and I think comparatively speaking there are a lot of screen over where I live. But I would argue that from the Asian standpoint, just from a market saturation perspective, they are on the same level. He continues: “For example if you go to major Asian cities like Hong Kong and Tokyo, you look at these cities’ major public areas there is going to be tonnes of digital signage. It is just like the level of signage found at New York City Times Square.”

Although the developed Asian markets may be on par with the Western markets in terms of maturity and saturation, that does not mean there are no opportunities for growth. According to Paul Flanigan, digital signage could and should be applied to a wide variety of uses: “I have yet to see a single vertical that cannot benefit from digital signage of some kind. It doesn't matter. Work places, lobbies, lunch rooms, construction sites, retail healthcare. I have yet to see a vertical that truly could not benefit from it.”

However, this does not mean that end users should just start slapping screens on every surface they can find. Paul Flanigan’s core message revolves around ensuring digital signage is used with the aim to engage customers and deliver a message. He says: “Applying technology for technology’s sake is not correct. You have got to be able to do something with digital signage. In the past everyone would have static signage, such as posters, and so everyone would stare at the one screen that was being used. Now everybody has digital screens and it is harder to grab people’s attention.”

Flanigan continues: “So for the Asian market, the opportunity is tremendous to bring some of the understanding of what truly engages someone to move their eyes over to what you are trying to tell them versus screens that are not engaging. I think it is a huge market.”

According to Flanigan, digital signage must look towards proper content creation and acceptable of mobile devices to continue engaging consumers. The latter in his opinion has become easier with the widespread prevalence of HTML5 which allows for the control of digital screens from a webpage. HTML5 is also a platform that is designed to provide a seamless browsing experience on smart devices.

Once mobile and smart devices start to work in tandem with digital screen, Flanigan foresees a retail experience that may start to mirror the stuff of science fictions. He elaborates: “When you start to see screens that are much more interactive, that are much more connected to mobile devices that learn what is going on in their spaces with things like geo-fencing, NFC, proximity sensors, iBeacon and other such things you are going to see personalized, targeted content on digital signage screens like they showed in the movie Minority Report.”

Additionally, technological and hardware advances will also make digital signage much more effective in its core function of deliver the end user’s message to consumers. One such advance waiting in the wings is augmented reality. Flanigan discusses: “I think augmented reality is a wonderfully explanatory technology where you can see things. It is very explanatory, very educational and very inspiring stuff. I think there will always be people who, for at least for the next several years, will look at augmented reality from a cool factor. But again this is the evolution of technology, it will get to a point where you plug it in and boom there it is."

At the Integrate 2014 showfloor, there was a wide selection of digital signage products to choose from. Manufacturers boasted products with 4K capabilities and built-in media players. Toshiba was even displaying a proof of concept model for stretched digital signage in 38-inch and 28-inch formats. They also had a mirrored front and are intended for use in the high end retail sector.