Making a Better "Back to Normal"


by Stephen Atwood

Spring is here, at least for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and along with the change of weather, the annual Display Week events are fast approaching. Last year at about this time, we were very apprehensive over the plummeting economy and not sure what the rest of the year would bring. But as I mentioned last fall, and many others have observed, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and it was not an oncoming train. The world economy does appear to be stabilizing and there are many pockets of economic growth showing up if you know where to look. Even the more mainstream metrics of TV sales, panel shipments, portable electronics sales, and similar indicators are all trending positive as we move into the better part of 2010. For example, given strong results in the flat-panel-TV market in 2009, and the recent positive influence of new technology such as 3-D and LED backlighting, DisplaySearch has increased its worldwide TV market forecast for 2010 by more than 10 million units, to a total of 228 million units.1In the mobile-phone space, Gartner, Inc., reports that despite flat growth for 2009 overall, the fourth quarter of 2009 showed an 8% uptick, and sales are expected to return to low-double-digit growth (albeit with smaller margins for vendors) in 2010.2

Unfortunately, what comes out of any economic crisis after the downsizing and the consolidations are finished is a new state of "normalcy" that is not always better. Many display companies have reduced their staffing levels as well as their research and marketing budgets. Generally, the work has not slowed down; instead, the people remaining find themselves ever-more burdened. Budgets for creative activities get further constrained as well. As the economy begins to recover, management teams may look at their budgets and be tempted not to backfill, but rather to take advantage of the short-term productivity gains and expense reductions that enabled them to return to higher levels of profitability faster. There is nothing wrong with this in the abstract: business is about making money, and display companies must constantly find ways to improve efficiency and streamline costs in order to stay competitive.

However, my concern is that in examining this new state of efficiency, companies may become comfortable or even invigorated by the short-term savings they have achieved. And I contend that these short-term gains can potentially translate into longer-term handicaps that stifle innovation and affect a company's ability to capture market share in the long term.

As scientists and engineers, we all know the long-term value of R&D investments, and it is easy to appreciate how cuts in this area can translate to reduced innovation, loss of market share and declining competitiveness overall. But how often do we really consider the impact of other forms of cost containment, such as reduced investment in marketing activities? In this context, I'm thinking more broadly than just tactical advertising. I'm referring to image and brand building, evangelizing technology, and positioning our companies as technology leaders, which includes investing in those activities that further the industry as a whole.

Events like DisplayWeek, for example, do much more than provide a venue for exhibits and a place for engineers to publish. Through SID, members and attendees can access one of the richest resources for education and training of the next generation of designers and scientists. The money that companies invest in this event through sponsorships and exhibits goes a long way to furthering the goals of everyone in our industry as well as building the image of the supporting companies. Essentially all of the leaders in today's display community showcased their new technologies at one time or another through SID events, and in doing so achieved a very high level of visibility and respect in their mainstream marketplaces. That is money well spent.

Just as I cannot imagine the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) surviving without the support of all the major automakers, I cannot imagine the future of SID without the generous and enabling support of all the major display companies. I also do not think it is wise for any display company to trim its marketing budget too far today, at a time when competition for the best differentiating IP and the brightest engineering talent has never been greater. What better way to ensure the success of your company than to invest in the things that make your technical leadership stronger and more efficient than ever before?

I sincerely hope that as we shake off the last 18 months of economic challenges, we do not get too focused on the short term and that we all make the effort to preserve the things that were working for us before the new "normal" came upon us.

So look at re-funding the long-term market-ing and sponsorship activities at your company as soon as you can for all the reasons I have described above. It is a worthwhile investment in your industry as well as your own business.

This month we present to you our April issue, which combines the theme of Digital Signage with our annual Display Week preview. Our guest editor, Bob Rushby from Christie Digital Systems, has assembled some great articles for us that address many of the fundamental technical advancements in the field of digital signage. In the first Frontline Technology article, "Contrast Ratios in Outdoor LED Displays," author Ryan Hansen explains how designers are using innovative techniques to improve the sunlight viewability of LED-based outdoor signs. At a slightly higher level, author Don Shaw takes us through the many recent evolutions in digital-signage technology in his article, "Display Technologies Evolve for Indoor Digital Signage." Last, guest-editor Rushby offers a great thumbnail view of the state of the field in his Guest Editorial, where he introduces us to the term "fifth screen."

Chris Connery from DisplaySearch provides our monthly Display Marketplace feature, "Digital Signage: Is the Business Model Finally Catching Up with the Technology?" and includes several examples of real leading-edge but fully viable installations and new concepts that have the potential to be financially successful as well as technically exciting.

Because this is also our last issue of ID before Display Week 2010, we wanted to give you as much information as possible about all the great things coming up at next month's event. You can find a nice overview of new paper sessions on Solid-State Lighting and 3-D technology, as well as previews of all the major topical sessions in the Symposium. Last, but not least, we feature reviews of two new and important display industry books: Transflective Liquid Crystal Displays, by Zhibing Ge and Shin-Tson Wu, and Liquid Crystal Displays: Addressing Schemes and Electro-Optical Effects, 2nd edition, by Ernst Lueder.

So, as you sit back and enjoy another month of Information Display magazine, I hope you are looking forward to your upcoming trip to Seattle to join the rest of us at Display Week 2010 as well as looking at a promising business future. I hope you can influence your company not to embrace the new "normal" too closely and to look for creative ways to invest back into the industry as much as possible.


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