Digital signs of the times

Digital signage is being deployed right across the business spectrum. NZBusiness asks Wallflower CEO Tony Scott why the technology is now gaining widespread popularity. 

The Wallflower Company began life in 1992 under the name Synergetix. Until 2002 its main specialty was distributing business intelligence software.

“A lot of work was done with retailers and out of this came the concept of playing ads on a second screen attached to a retail POS terminal,” recalls Wallflower CEO Tony Scott. “This grew into a concept of flowing images across a wall using projectors and large screens, hence the name ‘Wallflower’.”

There’ve been many advances in digital signage (DS) technology since then, he says.

“The explosive growth of the Internet and smart devices, and steeply falling hardware costs, has broadened the marketplace considerably. Ten years ago only major corporates were able to spend up to $5000 on screens and expensive DS hardware. The dramatic lowering of prices now allows almost every operation to implement DS, including schools, retailers, corporate offices, advertising networks and restaurants.”

Tony says the development of alternative OS platforms, such as Android, has allowed suppliers to deliver low cost, simple DS solutions for many undemanding applications. Screens and projectors are more reliable too, and perform better thanks to LCD and LED technology.

“The growth of reliable fast Internet technology has also allowed nationwide networks and SaaS delivery to become a reality,” he says.

Tony says it is easy to be blinded by DS technology and lose a common sense approach.

“It is very difficult to deploy DS advertising networks dependent upon ad income for funding. In New Zealand at least five such networks have tried and failed.

“To create a profitable network investors must be prepared to invest considerable sums to allow enough high profile screens to be deployed to attract high value clients.”
He says New Zealand is a repetition of overseas DS networks where only those operated by corporations engaged in other ad-related activities have been able to make it worthwhile.

“DS, if properly implemented, can be an asset to a company in many areas such as corporate communications,” he says. “If not implemented properly it can easily fall into disuse.”

Export focus
Tony says there is insufficient business in New Zealand to support a viable DS developer such as Wallflower, so exports are a major focus.

“We had initial success in Australia and then expanded into the UK. Both markets are comparatively mature with entrenched players.

“Then an opportunity arose to build a distribution and marketing operation in India using ex-New Zealand staff. This has proved very successful. Over 80 percent of Wallflower revenue now comes from exports.”

While satisfying local DS demand with over ten new Wallflower networks delivered in 2015, Tony says Wallflower will continue to expand overseas – led by India, and to a lesser extent the US. Software development is undertaken in Australia and India with hardware development taking place in the UK.

“Wallflower spends a large percentage of revenue on R&D each year to keep it ahead of competitors,” he says.

Implementing a DS system
Tony says business owners must decide what they want their DS system to do, before proceeding. Establish a budget and then approach several suppliers; avoid implementing an expensive system that exceeds requirements.

Establish a team responsible for liaising with suppliers and driving the project. Ideally have a ‘go to’ contact at the highest level. Of all IT projects, DS usually involves the most inter-departmental collaboration, he says.

Looking at the broader picture, Tony predicts more consolidation of suppliers worldwide as well as more M&A activity in ad networks.

“Displays will continue to have finer pixel counts and we’ll see a lot more flexible displays wrapped around pillars.”

“More UHD content will appear too. However, the uptake is difficult to judge as current bandwidth availability on the Internet and in many corporate LANs affects the viability of transmitting very large video files to playing devices.”

Costs of player hardware will continue to fall. “For example, we now deploy using Intel Compute sticks that are very low cost compared with similarly powered devices two years ago.”

End-users will become more aware of the potential for DS, he adds. They’ll involve their ad agencies and marketing departments in ever more sophisticated media plays.
Interactivity between DS networks and ‘the Internet of Things’ or mobile devices will increase too – “this will lead to enhanced wayfinding with routes delivered to handheld devices”.

Handheld and other devices will interact with DS networks to provide GPS data. Visitor information will be gathered by facial recognition and from mobile devices – then used to refine display content and provide targeted advertising.

After a slow start, digital signage is finally making its presence felt.

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