The Future of the Fifth Screen


by Bob Rushby

Christie Digital Systems, like many companies in the display industry, has been deeply involved in exploring opportunities, developing and deploying solutions, and tracking growth in the digital-signage market, also referred to as the Digital-Out-Of-Home (DOOH) market. After all, for years most of us have been told by industry analysts that digital signage is the "next big thing" for the display industry; the so-called "fifth screen," after cinemas, television, personal computers, and handheld/mobile devices.

Yet, while growth has been steady over the past decade, and even remained positive during one of the worst economic recessions in our lifetimes, digital signage has yet to realize the rapid growth that many had been hoping for. One major factor is that a whole infrastructure has had to develop: widespread proliferation of digital signage has required much more than just a display and a wall to hang a screen on. It has needed the development of networks and network management capability, content creation tools and skills, content distribution and content management, playback solutions, and system deployment and maintenance capability not just at an individual site level, but at regional, national, and, in some cases, international scales, all focused on the unique requirements of digital signage.

Furthermore, this maturing industry has needed retailers, brands, content developers, and advertising agencies to embrace digital signage and adapt their strategies to go beyond traditional mediums such as television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and, yes, even mobile devices and the Internet. No longer does content developed for broadcast suffice for digital signage. Today, we are constantly bombarded with messages from a variety of media sources, forcing us to passively dismiss all but the most compelling display solutions and content.

At last, though, it seems many in the industry feel that we may have reached a tipping point and that the next few years will be an era of strong growth in the digital-signage market.

As you read the articles in this special issue of Information Display on digital signage, you will notice a recurring message – that digital-signage solutions must engage, captivate, and inform their intended audience. Today, people "tune out" poorly designed or irrelevant content and commonplace formats. Indeed, the familiar 16:9 portrait and landscape formats are quickly becoming ubiquitous and consumers are more and more simply not noticing the message. Fortunately, the display industry is responding to these needs with new and innovative solutions you will see discussed in the articles in this issue.

Some key elements to engage and captivate in digital signage are:

• The display itself needs to be interesting; either by virtue of size, unique shape, stunning picture quality, or some combination thereof.

• The display needs to be carefully blended into its design environment; it cannot simply appear as an add-on or afterthought that further clutters the space around it.

• The human factors in each environment must be carefully considered, including optimum contrast, brightness, resolution, viewing angles, etc.

• The content on the display needs to be spectacular – colorful, easy to read at a glance, visually appealing, and highly relevant for the intended audience.

• The well thought-out use of interactive and responsive display solutions to attract attention, improve message targeting, increase consumer dwell time, and improve message retention in measurable, quantitative ways is imperative.

• And, of course, digital-signage solutions must be affordable, robust, installable, and maintainable in often challenging and unforgiving environments.

For this issue, we have rounded up a stellar group of authors with a broad range of business credentials in the digital-signage industry. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as I have enjoyed being guest editor and that it gives you new insight into this exciting industry. •


Bob Rushby is Chief Technology Officer at Christie Digital Systems. He can be reached at or at 519/ 744-8005.