Digital Signage: The Top 10 Trends for 2010

Digital signage/DOOH has come of age and 2010 will be a stellar year for this industry. Even with a phenomenal 25 percent growth in a down economy in 2009, we are now approaching the one millionth networked screen mark. The epiphany moment will go unnoticed by the installation crew, the consumer and the industry. We will not know when or which one or what type of network it will be on, but it is, by all estimates, already planned for deployment.  

This is simply a historic year for digital signage. As I contemplate the trends for 2010, I find myself on the edge of my seat as our industry is filled equally with enthusiasm and promise and yes, orders for new networks.  Here are the top 10 trends to look for in 2010:

1. Content will continue to be the No. 1 trend

Content strategies and discussions will dominate the launch of new networks and the re-thinking of older networks. Content began to rise to the top of the agenda in 2009 and now in 2010 it takes a front and center seat.

No matter what shape or size the display is, content is the fundamental element which ultimately leads to the very success, or failure, of a digital signage deployment. Some of the greatest success for brands in 2009 has been achieved by creating content that is relevant to the experience and activities that the consumers are engaged with at the time of interaction.

Any team that is operating a digital signage network or is planning a network has a unique opportunity to bring excellence to this emerging industry and set some precedents. We can see this already in the work of some networks that have focused on research with innovative approaches using content as the source and cause for relevant messaging that is useful, helpful and provides a positive experience for the viewer.

Content for DOOH will stand alone during its creative production, but content will have more continuity in 2010 with the other four screens (cinema, TV, PC and mobile) to echo its message across the digital landscape of screens. As for every screen that is put into this new landscape, it will be the experience that the consumers will take away, and what better way to impact that experience than with great content.

Kicking things off in 2010 around content are the Digital Signage Expo in February, with the Content Seminar Tracks and the first book dedicated to content, “Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage – Content Strategies for the 5th Screen.” In spring of this year, The Digital Signage Show and the Strategy Institute’s Fifth Annual Content Summit coincide in April and Screen Media Expo will host a Content Track in London in May.

2. Experience, engagement and interaction 

The engagement factor in digital signage took huge leaps in late 2009 with various implementations, including Gesturetek’s new CUBE and new multitouch monitors. But most significant news came from DOOH billboard interactions with mobile and User Generated Content (UGC). 

How does digital signage work with user-generated content and what purpose does that serve? In 2009 Razorfish released a Digital Brand Study which reported that digital brand experiences create customers. In fact, 65 percent of consumers reported that “a digital brand experience has changed their opinion of the brand,” and 97 percent of the consumers in the study stated that the digital experience influenced purchase decisions.  

These types of experiences can also bridge online and mobile experiences with DOOH.  This year the trend will continue to explode as new methods of engagement are deployed. I predict that more engagement with digital signage and mobile will be the leading the way.  

For retail, DOOH brings the influence nearer to the place and time of sale. This will occur with the shopper in Point of Sale Networks, with the “on-the-go” consumer in Point of Transit Networks, and in Point of Wait Networks where we find “dwell time viewers.”

We are entering the next confluence of buying, and it will be anything, anyplace, anytime, and digital signage will be a key activator of this newfound commerce. With companies like Google getting into the mobile marketplace on the ad delivery side, interaction with mobile will be near the top of everyone’s list for 2010.

3. Strategic sensibility

Any new network, large or small, that plans to be a success will take a new strategic approach to creating what I call a “Strategic Blue Print.” In addition, those networks will also create a “Network Guideline” - the details and plan for acceptable content that runs on the network.   

Experts agree that strategic planning is the best way to ensure a successful network. The knowledge base has grown over the last few years and has reached the point where we now understand what it takes to meet the ROI (Return on Investment) and ROO (Return on Objective). Consulting firms are on the rise to help guide the uninitiated into creating successful networks.  

Pat Hellberg, a partner in The Preset Group who also formerly ran the Nike Network for seven years, agrees that planning is critical. 

“Clear vision and the road map really provides the network a reason to be and, in turn, the audience a reason to watch,” he said. “Those two are huge issues that require planning.” 

And thus by considering how the particular digital signage network will interact with other types of communication between an organization and its target audience, a marketer can help ensure that the work of digital signage reinforces business goals, sales campaigns or other objectives. I believe this trend will help us get to Trend No. 7.

4. Measurement and acceptance

In 2009 there was a lot of headway made with agencies, partly due to the economic turmoil at hand, but let us remember the impact of aggregators like SeeSaw and Adcentricity and frankly, the ad-based networks themselves that have made significant inroads into the agencies and brands. This of course could not have been accomplished without the widely acclaimed and accepted OVAB standards.  

Francois Beaubien, CEO and founder of Zoom Media is one that is on the road educating advertisers:

“I’m evangelizing on behalf of all of us, because the more of us who embrace the opportunity of having measurement, the better off we will all be. I used to ask agency clients, what was their number one issue they’re dealing with? Before, it used to be proof of performance. Did my ad go up? That’s pretty much been answered. Now it’s who is seeing it? Or, how many people are seeing it?”

Getting qualified data from highly respected measurement companies (Nielsen, Arbitron, People Count) is the key to getting agencies and brands on board. Other technologies helping to automate this trend to the next level are DSIQ’s retail analytics and Cognovision’s facial recognition software and data driven statistics. Nielsen’s fascinating method of slicing up demographics called PRIZM also will have an impact on ad networks. It is based on “Lifestage” groups and income levels.  

Neuromarketing will also make it presence known in the digital signage world at POS networks.  This is where neuroscience meets the marketer and is the latest in the biological study of the human brain and advertising. The goal is to understand how the brain produces behavior and how people choose and how the beginning of that choice is a process that is purely biological. And according to neuromarking researchers, it is the act of deciding whether to make that purchase in 2.5 seconds.

5. Software improvements in delivery of messages and ads

Delivering the right message to the right audience is still no easy task. It usually is a manual process and takes time. Rule-based software and intelligent dynamic delivery of each and every piece of content will make some more strides in 2010. This in connection with building content in layers as individual components will create a new dynamic that will allow anyone to book an ad and have it delivered automatically to any audience on any network in any geographic location and be relevant.

We have a number of new ad delivery booking systems like and with the latest entry from NEC, VUKUNET. I like the concepts and I like the direction. There may however be a conflict with how agencies do business and make recommendations to clients. This is what agencies are paid to do; create, research and book the media for their clients. There is a comfort level for brands knowing that the network on the other side is what it says it is. The agencies are giving their stamp of approval based on real audience studies with transparency from the networks (thanks OVAB). It takes time to educate the brand, get the quality network, create the appropriate media and book the time. SeeSaw and Adcentricity continue to make great strides in this area. Software delivery will help speed the process up in 2010.

6. Progress in content standards

This has been on the industry agenda for many years now. POPAI has made some progress in this area, but adoption is coming out of the need for advertising agencies to book across diverse networks with different needs and formats. It is a huge problem for agencies and brands, especially for the creative types.  

It is a twofold problem. One, defining the standard for the type of media, such H.264, MPEG2, AVI, 16:9, 4:3, is going to be a challenge. And two, the creative types are beginning to understand that this is a new medium and it needs a unique approach. 

So I predict that a lot more progress will be made on this front. Every digital signage software company will begin to accept wider array of content on their system and have open APIs that will help connect content, metadata, playlists and networks together. Those companies that do so now are already ahead of the game. This is a must for new ad networks that are built in 2010. Some will say create a standard media that everyone can accept first. Flash and H.264 are more than likely the long term winners for this trend (just make it 16:9, please).

7. We will hit the “tipping point” in 2010

Many in the industry have said that we have hit a tipping point. But which one? The difference in 2010 is that this tipping point has all the legs of the stool to stand on. The strides that the industry has taken in 2009 were tremendous on several accounts:
1) High growth in the industry (considering the economy) 
2) Ad-based network revenues were up 
3) Mergers and acquisitions were at reasonable numbers that actually made sense 
4) Investment was significant even in a down economy 
5) The Digital Signage Association hit 400 members and now has clout.  
7) Education has been excellent at the industry events 
8) More agency and brand acceptance (because of the economy) 
9) OVAB Standards are accepted by agencies and are here to stay.
8. Large-scale 2010 projects will be at an all-time high

There are significant number of RFPs and large projects that are slated for 2010. Why? Digital signage and DOOH is getting its head on straight about what works and what doesn’t and the proof is in. And if one doesn’t know what works, then take a look at Trend No. 3 again. What is working? Is it about the eyeballs? In certain networks, yes. In others it is about the sales lift and for some it is just about information. And elsewhere the criteria for success has been proven with hard methodical time demonstrated proof of something not even remotely related to eyeballs.  

9. More mergers and acquisitions and more investment into the space 

Where the sound proven business models prevail, the money follows. Consolidation through mergers and new investment will be one of the hottest trends in 2010. With less than a million screens penetrated into the marketplace, DOOH made news on every VC’s and investment banker’s desk in 2009. Media companies like TV and Internet will certainly look to digital signage as a new horizon once they figure it out. The funds for this media growth are going to be divided between mobile and digital signage as these two new mediums battle for attention.

10. Growth in ad-based networks and shift in ad dollars

The shift in ad dollars was in my 2009 Top Ten and we saw it work. This shift is still trending for 2010. The success of ad networks in 2009 (brands looking to reach the consumer in more relevant ways) was remarkable and 2010 will find more networks being built to service the relevant markets. Expanding networks are finding that the business models they worked so hard on refining are going to pay off with viable profitable companies in 2010. This, in combination with the proof behind us, will help new networks sprout and ad dollars flow.  

It takes hard work, relationships and proof of audience for these networks to be successful. The average engaged national brand took one year to make a buying decision on large networks. The good news is now they are hungry for more similar opportunities thanks to the pioneers of these networks.  

One other major factor is costs of building networks are way down. To build the same network that was built in 2005-06, including the experimental business models, mistakes, and software and gear, is far less than half of the original investment. 
Keith Kelsen is author of "Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage" and CEO of the 5th Screen.

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