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Reading the Fine Print: European Sign Expo 2013

Roaming the floor of this year’s FESPA/European Sign Expo, it is likely that the first word to come to mind of any attendee would have been a simple “BIG”. Said to have held over 700 exhibitors alone, there’s no denying that the London show was impressive in scale.
A big event requires an even bigger space, making ExCeL London an appropriate choice for the occasion. ExCeL should be looked at not simply as a convention centre but a village, situated within a 100 acre campus inclusive of six hotels, many bars and restaurants, convenience stores and a hub that will take you from the Royal London Docks to the rest of the city via train, the “Tube”, taxi or cable car. The centre itself was abuzz with activity and a playground for those interested in the print industry.
Colour-coded for the sake of convenience, changes in the hue of the show’s carpet transported spectators from gigantic printing machines used for signs and textiles to live demonstrations of printers decorating cars and even a digital mural by TATTOOWALL. Moving toward ESE, distinguished by the area’s royal blue flooring, LED lights and touch screens (notably the Giant iPad interactive tablets) became the norm. There was also one exhibitor that couldn’t keep still, being the Adscreen carrier that had a lot of ground to cover over several days.

Printing machines in action.
Printing machines in action.

It was promising to see that a print show as big as FESPA was able to make room for ESE, measuring ten percent of its size in terms of exhibitors. As opposed to the 2013 International Sign Association’s Sign Expo, another large print show that incorporated digital place-based media in a Dynamic Digital Signage Park, ESE was held as its own show, with out-of-home and digital signage blended into the mix. Similar to Sign Expo, however, were the on-floor presentations that took place in the Sign Forum and Screenmedia Theatre.
Two exhibitors that stood out were the European Sign Federation and the group behind The Guide to Dynamic Digital Communication. The former is an international federation for national sign associations ranging from Austria to Turkey that, as a global partner of FESPA, assisted with the organization of ESE. Mentioned earlier, the ISA happens to be an associate member of the ESF.
The latter, The Guide to Dynamic Digital Communication, is an interesting initiative that was launched at ESE. It seeks to represent the industry to end users by providing brand agnostic advice, creating enthusiasm and directing buyers to the most fitting suppliers. This guide to digital signage, kiosks, projection, NFC, 3D, gesture, augmented reality, mobile interactivity and beyond is composed in part by an Online Strategy Planner, pre-formatted RFI’s and RFQ’s, as well as an industry encyclopaedia where DOOH vendors are invited to explain their offering free of charge.
The Guide to Dynamic Digital Communication can be seen as a response to digital suppliers’, network operators’ and advertisers’ relentless demand for a cohesive industry that is able to generate interest from a larger market. FESPA and ESE were two shows with two audiences: one that is digital signage ready and another that is hesitant to dip its toes into the digital realm. In order to extract added value from both groups, cross-pollination and relationship-building must occur.
Of course, approaching a new relationship can be a daunting task. The shared fear that audio visual companies will come to dominate the marketplace looms over printers. While this is understandable, printers should feel secure in that the Pro AV industry is a tenth of the size of the $10 billion print industry. The transition of traditional print to digital is not so much an imposition but an opportunity to share knowledge and reap viable benefits.

Daniel Parisien is interviewed for FESPA TV.
Daniel Parisien is interviewed for FESPA TV.

Another erroneous qualm felt by printers is that the operating systems required to run a digital signage network are complicated and entrance costs are high, whereas the opposite is now true. The emergence of intuitive systems such as Windows 8 removes the need for extensive technical know-how. Furthermore, the decline in the cost of screens, software and hardware (the new Android-based Broadsign Xpress is available at a tenth of the price of other media players) makes the establishment of a digital place-based network, no matter the scale, a feasible endeavour. Finally, for every printer that does not wish to go it alone, there is a Pro AV integrator happy to partner up and lend a hand.
Neil Felton, Managing Director of FESPA, summed it up in SignLink’s “Take the leap”, saying “it’s about getting the mix right and combining the strengths and skills of the industry as a whole to take key message delivery to the next level. FESPA and the European Sign Expo is the perfect place to start this ball rolling and we look forward to helping visitors capitalise on the opportunities available.” Such a statement suggests the print and digital industries are ready and willing to take a big step toward this cause.