No business like show business

No business like show business

Growth in the digital signage market is accelerating and most resellers already have the smarts to make it big.

The quiet revolution probably started in a hotel foyer. There at the base of a flight of stairs, winding their way up to the meeting rooms, sat an unassuming LCD monitor rotating its way through a list of different events and where they were to be found.

At the top of the stairs another monitor flashed advertisements for the sponsors attending the events. More than a PowerPoint, but not quite a corporate video, the presentation featured a neat mixture of data and audio-visual content, attracting passers-by to stop for a moment or two.

We'd all seen displays based on LED technology, dating back to the 1980s. We'd seen plasma screens appear in pubs and swanky nightclubs back in the 1990s.

But this was different.

Smaller, lighter and cheaper LCD monitors are making inroads into the market for digital displays. And, suddenly, everybody wants a piece of the action.

We're seeing them replace the information board at the local shopping mall, used as an advertising display in jewellery shops, or as a noticeboard at the local doctors' surgery. Call centres, pubs, churches, schools, bowling alleys, you name it, if it has a wall and information to provide, if it isn't already porting an LCD display, there's an AV or IT reseller missing out on an opportunity.

After three decades in the digital signage business, general manager of Computronics, Ossic Cesaro, said the market was booming - with price, availability, ease of use and flexibility all feeding the growth.

"The market is already growing fast and I think it's going to explode," he said. "The retail market is using more and more LCD technology, the market in factories and for general signage type situations is growing, even real estate offices are starting to use LCD rather than light boxes. Fashion shops are putting them up in windows, we're seeing them in hotels and airports, they are turning up everywhere."

Having spent the last four years focusing on digital signage, general manager for display systems integrator Communitech, Gary Else, is also riding the wave of falling prices and increased recognition of LCD display technology.

"We've see exponential growth over the last 18 months, and while you can't expect that kind of growth to keep going forever, it's still looking like early days for this kind of market," he said. "There's huge potential there for companies with the right skills mix who understand the market."

According to product manager for digital signage at NEC Australia, Andrew Shearer, however, the spike in interest in digital signage is about more than cheap, accessible technology.

"Research into the effectiveness of digital signs is undeniable; only 17 per cent of people will look at a traditional poster as they go past, whereas 42 per cent will look at a dynamic moving digital image," he said, citing research carried out by NEC. "In terms of getting somebody to read your message, digital signage is undoubtedly better than traditional methods of advertising communication."

Whatever the drivers, growth in demand for digital signs, especially LCD panels, represents a tremendous opportunity for AV and IT resellers, according to product marketing manager for business display technologies at Sony Australia, Les Boros.

"It's hard to measure because a single solution might feature technology from lots of different vendors, but there is already substantial growth, and judging from the level of enquiries we are receiving, we're going to see an exponential increase in sales," he said. "I have no doubt the market will double at the very least, because LCD panels are going up everywhere."

Where's it all coming from?
Digital signage in the form of tiny light emitting diodes (LEDs) has been around for decades, and many of the first movers in the LCD signage space are still involved in manufacturing and installing this super-bright and remarkably flexible technology.

However, with LCD panel prices falling, better quality Internet infrastructure and a widespread understanding of the technology, punters remain divided as to whether LCD signs will replace or complement their LED counterparts.

Managing director of signage technology distributor Image Design Technology, Gerry Wilkins, said LCD panels were replacing LED displays in sectors as varied as retail, manufacturing, houses of worship, corporate offices and education.

"It's happening, particularly in indoor environments, because LCDs provide much higher resolution than LED even though LED can still provide bigger screens," Wilkins said.

Director of digital signage integrator Screentech, Charles Ho, suggested centralised control, the sheer range of information that could be displayed, and the ability to regularly and easily update information meant LCD display technology suited many different markets. While he still saw a role for LED technology, because of its brightness and flexibility of purpose, he predicted the market for LCD signage would ultimately be much larger than that of its predecessor.

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