Digital Signage that Captivates

Digital Signage that Captivates

by Terry Schmidt

What catches your eye enough to make you pause?  As we drive along a freeway, walk a shopping mall, or just hurry though the airport to catch a flight, we are bombarded with hundreds of messages from advertisers every day.  What constitutes effective advertising?  What messages, what types of displays, work best?  Digital signage is a relatively young market with a wide variety of applications, venues, and hardware.  This makes global tracking of this industry very difficult, but the industry appears to be burgeoning.

Dave Haynes is a co-founder of The Preset Group, which advises end users and vendors on digital-signage projects.  David says: “The digital-signage industry has seen rapid growth in the last 2 or 3 years – after many years of ‘next year is going to be the year this takes off.’  What finally made it happen was the reduction in the costs of large-format display panels, better energy efficiency, and slimmer bezels (the frames of these displays).  What has also helped are much more ubiquitous and reliable broadband, better video-compression technology (smaller file sizes), and a crazy amount of software providers, which has forced down costs.”  Certainly, digital signage appears to be a multibillion dollar industry with healthy growth, from U.S. $1.3 billion in 2010, projected to grow to $4.5 billion in 2016 (ABI Research) and $13.8 billion in 2017 (Global Industry Analysts).

Various building blocks of a digital-signage system encompass hardware such as eye-catching displays, servers, and media players, as well as software to organize, distribute, and display.  Ultimately, however, the success of a digital-signage project boils down to the content and the content-creation software, which must satisfy the business objectives and the ROI of the customer.  Simplicity and low cost are the keys to widespread adoption.  Also, matching the right display technology to the application is essential.  Very-large direct-view LED displays can be effective for outdoor signs such as roadside electronic billboards, but for closer viewing, high-resolution video walls can be custom designed from stackable components that range from small rear-projection displays (e.g., Christie MicroTiles) to narrow-bezel LCD flat panels.

New low-cost ARM-processor-based media players, HTML5 content-creation software, and exciting new video-wall and projection-mapping displays are all contributing to make digital signage a dynamic and exciting business opportunity.  Recently, the support of rich content at relatively low cost is now possible with HTML5 on affordable hardware.  A notable example of this is the PiCube from Finnish company FirstView Digital Signage, which is able to display full HD (1080p) video and images from a credit-card-sized single-board computer (the Raspberry Pi from the UK initiative of the same name).  The media-player hardware itself is free; FairView charges a monthly subscription fee for an online account with associated services to manage the content.

However, the ability of digital-signage content to captivate an audience and effectively transmit a message is greatly dependant on the display that is used.  A number of promising new display technologies are in development and there are also advances in the use of sensors to make digital-signage displays more interactive.  Ted Sun of Sun Innovations, who presented two interesting papers on his eye-catching, transparent-screen projection technology at Display Week 2013, has written an article for this issue.  He explains how this and other novel display innovations can be used to capture the attention of an increasingly difficult-to-reach target audience.  If you can capture someone’s attention for a few moments on a busy escalator at an airport, for example, the potential reach of each advertising dollar may be very large.

Even theater exhibitors, who are masters of advertising to specific captive target audiences in their pre-shows, are showing interest in digital signage as a business.  For example, Canada’s largest theater exhibitor, Cineplex Odeon, recently completed a $40+ million deal to buy EK3 Technologies, a digital-signage company in London, Ontario.  Cineplex Odeon surely has big plans for EK3’s patented technology both inside theater lobbies as well as for advertising in other locations.

The displays typically used for digital signage range from large, daylight-readable direct-view LEDs employed for roadside billboards and marquees (the Las Vegas strip comes to mind) to TV-sized conventional LCD panels that are used, for example, to show menus in fast-food restaurants and coffee shops.  Special temporary venues can also present opportunities for “projection mapping,” where cleverly designed advertising can be projected on outdoor buildings during evening-hour special events such as trade shows.

In many cases, while the display itself may be only a small part of the total cost of a digital-signage system, it plays an essential role in the system’s impact and effectiveness.  As such, innovative new display technologies such as smaller seams for video walls, larger flat panels, transparent seamless glass displays, and larger, lower-cost OLED panels will always be well received in the digital-signage arena.

The opportunities in digital signage are many, as are the pitfalls.  Most developers learn the hard way to heed the 3–7-sec attention-span rule-of-thumb for content creation!  To assist in education on effective techniques, several organizations, blogs, and trade shows have sprung up.  For example, a prominent web organization at serves what is called the Digital Out Of Home market (DOOH).  Digital Signage Today ( has well-organized research papers in addition to its regular newsletter.  Futuristic videos of what soon may be possible, as well as countless news items and links to other resources for planning of new systems, can be found with keyword searches online.  Take a look at these web sites to gain a sense of the near-limitless possibilities of this exciting and growing area of display technology and applications.


Terry Schmidt is a pioneer and recognized expert in the field of high-performance projection.  He can be reached at