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Interview: Dusho on apps, platforms, next big things

FRIDAY, 31 MAY 2013 08:49

With late June’s European Sign Expo rapidly approaching, much conversation in the digital out-of-home business will be focused on the issue of how today’s digital signage platforms support the ever more diverse demands of users – and, thanks to the event’s broad graphics focus, how conventional signage suppliers will co-exist with the digital world.

We asked Broadsign CEO Brian Dusho how his company, one of the major sponsors, exhibitors and conference presenters at the Expo, sees the sector developing. Broadsign has been around for a long time by the standards of the digital signage technology sector. How have customer priorities and expectations changed in that time?

Brian Dusho: The digital signage sector has a complex set of requirements. A customer’s functional needs depend on where their screens are situated (the venue) and their associated content strategy, resulting in a wide variety of priorities and expectations. Previously, network operators would find their specific requirements could not be met by any software vendor, whereas today many vendors can adapt to their every need.

The result of this change is that customers are no longer seeking software platforms based on conformance to their requirements alone; they are seeking a stable partner that has a mature ecosystem and will remain in existence for a long time. A frequent topic of debate is whether this is a sector that has “come of age” or if it is still in a formative stage. Which do you think, and why? What are the signs (no pun intended)?

Brian Dusho: The industry has “come of age” in that the major players within the sector are in better financial positions than they were five years ago. We have proof that business models are more mature and sustainable.

With that being said, the industry is also undergoing rapid change. Having hundreds of software providers and a lack of industry standards is not an ideal or maintainable reality. We envision a future where a small number of safe choices will emerge in terms of platforms and partners, Broadsign being one of them. A very large variety of types of applications go under the umbrella headings “digital signage” and “digital out-of-home”. Do you think we will see different platforms emerging for different kinds of application (ranging from menu boards, to corporate networks, to digital billboards, for example), or are there sufficient needs in common that similar platforms will still be used for the whole gamut?

Brian Dusho: The way Broadsign sees the industry is that applications of digital signage carry common functional and administrative requirements and are conceptualised and managed in the same way. There are several mature platforms that can run every application.

In our opinion, the next major development in digital signage will be the emergence of “smart content” as the defining factor and a resulting ecosystem of “smart content developers” creating the applications necessary for the universal digital signage platform to adapt to the specific needs of each vertical market.

Examples of apps include menu board management in restaurants, queue management in doctors’ offices, automatic price updates at points of sale in retail outlets, flight schedules in airports and integration with social media…all of which would run on a universal platform such as Broadsign. Integration of digital signage/digital out-of-home with mobile, social and other channels has been another hot topic in recent years. Is this becoming truly central to the digital signage proposition? Or will always remain an add-on?

Brian Dusho: The integration of digital signage with mobile and social media is a central component to the industry because digital signage alone does not fulfil the so-called digital media promise – a provable, measurable ROI on all advertising activities. Digital signage/DOOH is a great starting point for the dissemination of a message that can then be redistributed ad infinitum via social media channels. Despite the best efforts of many companies and organisations, the sector still lacks a single metrics standard. Can this change? If so, how? Or is it simply an inevitable result of the wide variety of network types and applications?

Brian Dusho: The efforts currently underway to standardise metrics are highly verticalised and regionalised. But it is difficult for vertical- and regional-focused organisations to communicate with each other and this leads to constant reinventions of the wheel.

Broadsign plays a central role in the operation of multiple networks across a plethora of countries and verticals. We hope that our efforts to service our clients will help to solidify a universal standard, but this will take time. Many people, of course, consider “digital signage” a misnomer. Yet at European Sign Expo we will be welcoming many people from the conventional (static) signage industry looking to move into digital. What are the important similarities, and the key differences, between these sectors from the point of view of deploying signs? What pitfalls should these companies look out for? What opportunities can they seize?

Brian Dusho: Conventional signage companies interested in adding digital to their product portfolios should be happy to know that similar to static signs, the location of digital signs and the thought process behind making content visible and effective is of utmost importance.

The difference here, however, is that the best practices for static sign content will not always apply to digital and the creative possibilities of the latter stretch far beyond what static is able to deliver, including social media and live data feed integration, as well as full-motion video and interactivity.

Pitfalls can be encountered when conventional companies attempt to do digital without any help from partners or educational resources such as those from the Digital Signage Federation (DSF) and the Digital Place-based Advertising Association (DPAA). Serving on the board of directors of both organisations, I can vouch for the work being done to push the industry forward and believe that everyone should use this material to their advantage.

It is possible to run digital signage without any external help, but it will be more of a costly and time-consuming endeavour. Whether alone or with assistance, opportunities exist for static companies to generate recurring revenue from ongoing services of digital screens in the form of content creation, work operations and advertising sales. Finally – and a very broad, open-ended question to finish! – everyone’s looking for “the next big thing”. What is it, and why will it be so big?

Brian Dusho: There are three significant game-changing factors in place at the moment.

The introduction of Android-based hardware will reduce the capital cost for a typical deployment by as much as 30 percent, allowing companies to expand their networks while keeping the same budget. Broadsign is launching a product called Broadsign Xpress, a fully-featured and fully-supported smart player that will allow network operators to deploy digital signage at a fraction of the cost of PC-based alternatives.

The coming apps-plosion is a product of the maturation and decrease in selection of digital signage platforms. The future of innovation relies on startups developing “smart content” that acts as an additional layer to remaining platforms and allows for a much more engaging experience with the message through integration with mobile, social, cloud and m-commerce extensions.

Finally, the conversion of static to digital solutions providers will accelerate over the next couple of years. Conventional signage companies are finding incremental revenue opportunities by complementing their offerings with digital options. We foresee a tighter coupling of the pro AV and static signage industries in the form of mergers, acquisitions and partnerships.