The Truth About Pro AV and Digital Signage

Digitalsignage_450x300It’s fitting that a few of my favorite topics come full circle for this, my final post as a member of the InfoComm team. I’ll always have my eye on the AV industry, and may share a view or two down the road, but I’m returning to some of my former ways, namely in the IT space, where I hope to convey to the uninitiated the power of AV communications in a converged world.

But enough of that. Since I was editor of Pro AV magazine, I’ve been a voracious reader of InfoComm’s regular Economic Snapshot studies. Separately, I’ve been agitated by some around the AV industry who warn that digital signage is passing us by; that digital signage is this huge market and AV firms are ceding the lion’s share of it to IT companies and a host of others because, to put it bluntly, AV companies don’t get it.

Rubbish. I’ve always believed that definitions of “doing digital signage” needed more careful consideration, and that although not every firm can build and manage a huge DOOH display network the way certain specialized companies can, I couldn’t imagine an AV installation of any appreciable scale that didn’t include some form of digital signage (requiring the same skill, planning, and solutions as any other digital signage network). So it stands to reason that lots of AV companies are “doing digital signage,” contrary to some perceptions.

And then a draft of the December 2013 InfoComm Economic Snapshot study crosses my desk. Before I get too far, let me say this: The Snapshots have only improved with age. If you’re not reading them, you’re missing out. InfoComm Senior Market Research Analyst Matt Robbins has breathed new life into the study. Not only does the research now reflect the feedback of many, MANY more AV professionals, it contains fresh analysis of timely subjects — like digital signage.

The December study reflects survey responses from more than 2,400 professionals (including end users). That’s the largest sample ever. It may take a research geek to appreciate, but it’s important to state: No one — anywhere — is doing this kind of global research into the AV market. And I’m told InfoComm will be doing it quarterly in 2014, in addition to other expansive research.

This latest Snapshot doesn’t show dramatic spikes or dips in AV professionals’ assessment of the financial health of the industry, though it does show a very slight overperformance in end-user demand over the last study, published in June 2013. (The notable exception is government demand — you only have to watch the news on TV to surmise that the government isn’t spending a lot on technology these days.) Check InfoComm’s research resources and download the December study when it’s online to compare current and recent InfoComm Performance Index (IPI) and InfoComm Demand Index (IDI) scores, as well as metrics based on company size, specialty, geographic location, and much more.

What really caught my eye in the December study is the special survey of the digital signage market (the December study also delves into unified communications and collaboration — bonus!). In a nutshell:

  • Nearly 75% of AV providers surveyed are involved with digital signage.
  • Over 50% actually provide full digital signage solutions.
  • Also nearly 75% expect their digital signage revenue to increase over the next few years.

This doesn’t sound to me like an industry that’s missing the boat when it comes to digital signage. Granted, companies don’t report earning a ton in digital signage — overall, respondents say it accounts for 18.7% of revenue, on average. But it’s not like they aren’t busy handling a lot of other AV projects.

What about the content question? We sometimes hammer on AV companies to develop digital signage content in order to offer a more complete package. It looks as if maybe 25% of firms do so, while another 40% partner with third parties. (Interestingly, rental and staging companies are most likely to produce digital signage content in-house.)

Yes, if you have people on-staff who are creative and good at content creation, by all means, offer it. But it’s not a deal-breaker if you decide to be really good at designing and building digital signage solutions that meet clients’ needs — sans the content.

This is telling: When asked about digital signage, end-user respondents reported that 62.4% of them produced all their content in-house. Fewer than 3% said they outsource most of their content developement. Somewhere in between are clients who do some themselves and seek help from others.

Again, although offering content development as a service may prove lucrative (if you do it well), I don’t hear a screaming need for it. If anything, end users in the December Snapshot seem to be asking for better technology solutions that make it easier for them to create their own content. When AV companies started installing presentation systems, was there overwhelming demand for those same companies to create PowerPoints?

Feel free to agree/disagree. My thoughts boil down to these: Digital signage is a big opportunity — everyone knows it. I can’t imagine many general AV installations that don’t include some degree of signage. It takes special knowledge and skill to “do digital signage” well. There is certainly a lot to learn, but I think AV companies have a good handle on it, thanks very much. If you want to offer content services, do it well, and more power to you. But if you only build great digital signage networks, you’ll go far.

Best of luck in 2014. Have a great year. Read the Economic Snapshots as they come out. And thanks for everything.





About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is the Director of Communications for InfoComm International and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 25 years.

4 Responses to “The Truth About Pro AV and Digital Signage”

  1. Thanks for sharing this post! It s informative blog very nice about Digital Signage

  2. Whew, I just got an email from Brad saying that he wasn’t talking about me in this column. 🙂

    We agreed to disagree.

    I won’t name names, but the manufacturers who consistently sell thousands (and that’s literally thousands) of monitors per month to ad agencies NOT through AV companies, this isn’t good news for AV. And, you know who you are. 8300 were sold this week alone via a manufacturer selling them direct to a fast food restaurant. Yes, direct to a fast food restaurant. Not via an AV dealer.

    To me, this seems bad for AV. Maybe Brad and I have differing views on what can be defined as bad vs good? 🙂

    • Yes, we have agreed to disagree. My message is that there need to be points of entry for AV professionals in the digital signage business (and other pros, for that matter). Few can/want to/will win the 8300-screen business. That doesn’t mean they’re missing out. According to their own feedback, half provide what they consider full solutions. 8,300-screen solutions? Maybe not. Five screens in a corporate office connected via LAN and managed by the office administrator? As long as the client is happy, good work! It’s not up to me or anyone else to determine whether that rises to the level of “doing digital signage.” If the vast share of AV companies expects their digital signage revenue to increase–no matter how much or to what amount—that’s as a positive sign.

      Here’s a government RFI for a 5-screen wayfinding solution at a Veterans Affairs medical center: He/she who wins it will be doing digital signage. I’d encourage AV companies, if they aren’t already, to perfect their skill in delivering high-quality digital signage solutions. Gary and I would agree it’s not just a matter of hanging screens. And if they’re able, wrap some value-added services around them, like they might for other AV solutions. Where we all agree: Digital signage is a big business opportunity. Good luck!

  3. Good luck with the future Brad, I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts on our industry. 🙂