Sizing Up Digital Signage at NAB

The allure of digital signage has gotten enough attention by a growing number of broadcasters in the past year that it will get its own Super Session at the NAB Show. “Digital Signage and Broadcasters: A New Business Model” will convene at 10:30 a.m. April 16, in S222/223 of the LVCC.

Digital signage—as defined by Super Session moderator Jimmy Schaeffler of The Carmel Group in his just-published book, to be available at the NAB Show—includes digital hardware that displays digital software in the form of on-screen content that is featured on thin plasma or LCD screens of various sizes, which is typically constantly refreshed (often shown on several sectors of a single screen, or a series of screens), and capable of delivery instantly (usually via satellite or the Internet) from a server or computer.

The source of the content can be onsite with the digital signage itself, or on the other side of the globe via online commands, Schaeffler said. Digital signage ads and other content are intended to be particularly relevant to mostly large out-of-home mobile or otherwise moving audiences who are often held momentarily “captive” by a particular situation or environment—such as airports, transit systems, highways, and urban centers (such as Times Square in New York).

According to Schaeffler and other digital signage proponents, digital signage’s growth is coming at a time when traditional TV advertising and subscription-based services appear to be weakening (perhaps exacerbated earlier this year by the TV writers’ strike in Hollywood). But similar to mobile TV, interested broadcasters are being urged to get into digital signage sooner rather than later because local stations are hardly the only players.

(click thumbnail)This Helius/HughesNet display brings multiple content elements.“Chief competitors would be companies that are not necessarily broadcasters and that have been in the business since the earliest days,” said Schaeffler. “These include the ‘turnkey’ companies like HughesNet that do it all, as well as those concentrated more specifically on the hardware, software, or the operational areas of digital signage.”

Technically, digital signage does require a fair amount of computer savvy, since PCs and servers are the core of the medium’s infrastructure and functionality.

“However, there are a lot of pretty savvy technical people out there and they can handle most of what any digital signage entrepreneur would throw at them, including a broadcaster new to the business,” Schaeffler said.

The NAB Super Session, he said, will focus on “the challenges and opportunities, the stakeholders and where and how digital signage gets deployed. We’re trying to point out in this time of changing assets and advertising challenges, why digital signage might be an answer.”


Lyle Bunn, another super session panelist and principal/strategy architect at the Bunn Company of Toronto, Canada, believes digital signage is a prime example of the marriage of available technology and business priorities.

“Wherever technology can serve business objectives, it will find its place,” Bunn said. “Broadcasting and the Internet have found theirs, and have served advertisers and other communicators well. The integration of technologies that offer the inherent value of ‘digital signage’ offers new economies in achieving both business and communicators’ objectives—therein, its explosive growth.” Digital Signage is a messaging platform, Bunn said, that extends and challenges the “value of broadcast.” As an out-of-home, digital-display medium that can enable the presentation of video, animation or text on individual display devices from a central control point, he said, “All indicators are that digital signage will extend the reach provided by TV and radio while reinforcing the value of centrally controlled media and messaging, as we see advancements in social networking and viral marketing.”

Another panelist, Ralph Bachofen, the senior director for product management and marketing at Triveni Digital in Princeton Junction, N.J., is distributing its Triveni Digital SkyScraper system to stations looking for digital signage applications. With the system in place, he said, the transition to digital signage is a software upgrade away.

(click thumbnail)Digital signage in places like airports can give tailored information to captive audiences.“The broadcaster would simply deploy receiver/player products that receive the DTV signal, extract the data, and display it on a screen,” Bachofen said.

Triveni Digital will demonstrate its Ensignia digital signage system at NAB.

Bachofen said a key challenge in maintaining any successful digital signage operation is the effective distribution of constantly updated content to dozens or hundreds of display sites.

“The Internet works well for delivering HTML pages and audio clips to individual users, but not so well for delivering high-quality multimedia files to numerous sites,” he said. “Satellite delivery can be used, but at a high cost for satellite equipment and transponder capacity. But a very convenient and cost-effective solution is digital TV data broadcasting, which leverages individual public or private stations for local content distribution applications such as news, public affairs, special environmental reports, and so on. And larger station groups can utilize their nationwide footprint for national applications.”


Harris Corp. also plans to show its digital signage applications at NAB with its InfoCaster product line. According to Doug Collins, strategic marketing manager, for Harris Digital Signage Solutions, “Our initiative with digital signage is very much in line with our ‘one’ philosophy, which, in part, means we treat the larger problem of supporting a content delivery chain holistically—helping customers manage a day-in-the-life of a piece of content, if you will, from its creation to its presentation.”

Collins said a local station with no background in digital signage could start with something basic to tackle the learning curve (such as implementing digital signage in the lobby of its own facility) to enable the production staff to experiment with the medium and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

“From there, the next logical step might be to develop a strategy and business model for reaching a specific demographic in their area, which would include identifying the likely venues,” he said. “The content strategy is important, as is the approach taken to build an inventory valuable to the local advertising community.”

At the NAB Show, Collins said Harris plans to demonstrate how it can provide support for an overall content delivery chain for digital signage—from creation and ingest through scheduling and presentation, including how a broadcaster can target content by various criteria. Harris also plans to use its capabilities to meet its own marketing needs by driving digital signage throughout its NAB Show booth (N2502) using its own signage systems to promote its wares.


Clear Channel is one broadcast group that already knows something about outdoor advertising (albeit for a long time of the more traditional, passive billboard variety).

Michael Hudes, a NAB digital signage panelist and director of Clear Channel Outdoor, thinks the ability to replace their traditional billboards and other signage with digital displays is creating a “renaissance” for so-called out-of-home media.

“Overnight, [Clear Channel] Outdoor has been turned into the most dynamic, flexible and targeted of all ‘traditional’ and non-Internet media,” Hudes said.

Clear Channel has partnered with broadcasters in every market where it has have deployed digital billboards. “The broadcasters see tremendous value in a medium that allows them to deliver breaking news-oriented content across day parts and geographic boundaries, while also promoting the breadth and depth of their station’s programming throughout the day,” Hudes said. “What better way for a broadcaster to define his brand proposition then to dynamically present his content to an interested public?”

Fellow panelist Joe Amor, president of Microspace (owned by Capitol Broadcasting), believes some of the most significant trends to occur in recent months is the entry into digital signage by the traditional networks.

“The recent TV network acquisitions [such as CBS Outernet’s purchase of SignStorey last fall for more than $70 million] send a message that after years of trying to be taken seriously as a viable advertising alternative to traditional means, digital signage is coming of age,” he said.

“When the largest television broadcasters [including ABC and NBC] throw their collective hats into the ring, as now, digital signage has become a legitimate advertising venue.”

Other NAB panelists will include Virginia Cargill, CEO of CBS Outernet, and Jeff Curtis, senior vice president for sales and marketing at Helius/HughesNet. “The greater challenges with digital signage systems often have little to do with the technology and more to do with the right focus on content,” said Curtis. “For broadcasters, digital signage could represent a new revenue source.”