As practically everyone involved in this industry knows, the 2008 Digital Signage Expo was held last week at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  I saw lots of you there, and for the most part you looked like you were having a pretty good time learning about what's new and exciting in the world of digital signage and out-of-home media. (Or maybe you just looked happy about whatever else you were doing in Las Vegas -- naughty you!)  Rather than the typical post-show writeup, I'd like to take a moment to point out some of the great things I saw, as well as a few areas that could still use some improvement.

The good

Overall, the show was very well-organized, and the staff were quite helpful. If you've ever been to an event at the Las Vegas Convention Center, you know how difficult it can be to find your way around.  ExpoNation had plenty of people on the floor to make sure we didn't get too lost, and as a navigationally-challenged individual, I thank them for that. Next, the slate of seminars was truly great -- we have Laura Davis-Taylor to thank for that.  The sessions covered a wide range of topics and featured a panel of industry pioneers, experts, and me (can't fault 'em for that, though). The expo hall was thoughtfully laid-out and fairly easy-to-navigate, and was centrally located next to a Starbucks. As we know, that's the de facto location for getting "real business" done -- and at something less than the 5,000 decibel roar of the show floor, too.

Also, Titan Worldwide ran an impromptu session encouraging us digital signage software vendors to play nice with one another, or else get out of the sandbox.  Well, they didn't put it quite that way, but their message was clear: there are too many proprietary systems out there making deployments more difficult than necessary, and it would be in everyone's best interest to fix that by implementing some interoperability standards.  Now, as a user and advocate of standards-based technologies, I'm all for this sort of thing.  However, I've seen astonishingly few situations that actually do benefit all involved parties, so I'll remain cautiously optimistic for now.  It looks like POPAI's Digital Signage Standards group will be taking the lead on this project, and there should be more news about it in the near future. Want to join in the fun? Email for details.

The bad

Those seminars were great -- or at least the few I actually got to see were.  Annoyingly, the show organizers insisted on running multiple "tracks" of seminars at the same time. Thus, at any given time you could only go to one of three or four seminars. Since no seminar was repeated, if you missed it, you missed it. Likewise, there was too much time between seminars. This actually worked fine for me, since I had plenty of meetings to attend, but I heard a number of people grumbling about being herded back into the expo hall while waiting for their next session to begin.  I can guess why ExpoNation did this (those expo hall exhibitors are paying their bills, after all), but reducing the time between seminars would have allowed people to fit more into a single day. And with less overlap between seminars, visitors could attend more of them.

On a related note, there were two hours between each seminar.  Why then, I ask, were co-presenter Axel Vera and I shooed out of our room only 30 minutes after our session ended, even though there were dozens of people still sitting there asking tons of questions? These people (who paid for session tickets, by the way) obviously valued the time at the session, but ExpoNation made them leave -- no doubt to get them to go back to the Exhibit hall, as per my aforementioned conspiracy theory.

The ugly

I'm a reasonably young guy, but I could happily live the rest of my (hopefully long) life never feeling the need to go back to Vegas.  Every show/seminar/expo I attend there gives me this weird feeling of déjà vu, like I'm running in circles doing the same thing over and over again. It's a personal gripe for sure, and I know lots of people love visiting America's playground. But personally, I feel like I need a long, hot shower to scrub it all off after I return home.  And for those of you who will immediately point out how much nicer the weather is in Vegas this time of year... I live in Fort Lauderdale, otherwise known as the spring break capital of the planet.  There's a reason why every year, tens-of-thousands of college students make their way down to this very spot in February and March.  It's much nicer than anywhere in Nevada. But I digress.

Other miscellany

No, WireSpring wasn't exhibiting, and to all of you folks wandering around looking for us: I'm really sorry for any confusion; we should have communicated our intentions better.  I'm not going to give you a long diatribe with my true feelings about trade shows, our ROI-based marketing programs or the way we chart sales leads, but suffice it to say that skipping the show was an experiment on our part.  If it doesn't work, I expect that Mike Smith (our VP of Sales) will probably have me locked up in a small cage where he can walk by periodically and poke me with a sharp stick.

Finally, though I'm almost embarassed to have to say this after being in the business more than seven years: WireSpring makes digital signage playback software and content management software.  Yup, we're a software company, not a consulting firm, creative/media house, or anything having to do with advertising sales.  Apparently, we need to work on getting that message out there more clearly. While I hate using this blog for promotional purposes (which is probably a big part of the problem, though it won't change), I'd be doing my entire staff a disservice if I didn't at least mention it once -- since I must have explained what we do 50 or 60 times to blog readers and others who "know" us over the course of the two-day show.

Well, those are my primary memories of the 2008 Digital Signage Expo. Were you there too? If so, what did you think?


-1 # Tim 2008-03-04 22:52
Bill, I agree with you on several key points about the show, the schedule of seminars could be improved. And yes, after about 1.25 days of being in Las Vegas, I am over it! So plastic and everyone is looking to get your tourist dollar out of your pocket. The show was huge this year and there were ten of each kind of vendor (at least), but a few stand out tools and items. I liked the remote book signing tool which combined video conferencing with a robotic hand to allow an author to do a book signing from his office! I also liked the facial recognition software to track who is looking at signage. I think they are not 100% accurate but do a decent job of getting numbers that are close. And I liked the models and gimicks that vendors used to draw attention to themselves. Tradeshows are great for that. We will be exhibiting at KioskCom Vegas in April at Mandalay Bay conference center. It should be a huge show, and this year they have a digital signage show too... imagine that. Everyone wants to include digital signage.
+1 # Axel Vera 2008-03-05 04:10
Bill. I totally agree with you on the part where you mention about the timing. Last year in Chicago, I wasn't able to finish my presentation because I was the last one from three presenters and I only got around 10 minutes for me and they rushed every one out of the room because the next session was starting. This year in LV again with one hour sessions and almost another hour until the next, it would've be great that they let us share our experiences with those interested what we can say if the room wasn't going to be used and people were interested, after all, they paid a great deal of money to hear us and help this industry grow. Anyhow, if anyone here reading needs more info on the session we gave, and exactly on what I said, please contact me. Axel
-1 # Minicom 2008-03-05 09:44
Vegas is becoming a cliche as it could be if you had it in NY but wherever you have it there will be pros and cons. 10 years ago we could have had the show in a phonebox but as Digital Signage grows so to the size of these shows grows.
-1 # Bill Gerba 2008-03-05 15:14
All: thanks for the input. Having every show in Vegas is definitely one of my pet peeves, though I of course do recognize that there are pros and cons for everywhere else (though the POPAI and Strategy Institute NYC conferences in mid-fall during Advertising Week are hard to beat, IMO). Tim: I liked the book signing app too, though I wonder if it'll really be practical. After all, one of the reasons I go to booksignings is to actually meet the author. If I wanted to see his/her face on video, I could do that on the web, from home. There's certainly a gimmick to seeing the robotic hand sign your book, and of course there's the potential for great interaction, Q&A, etc., but that could be an example of an application that winds up taking away from the customer experience instead of building upon it.
-1 # Pat Hellberg 2008-03-06 19:09
Bill Yes, Las Vegas is bizarre, surreal, pick your adjective. It's a dry cleaner's dream. Didn't all of us immediately dump our convention clothes at the neighborhood dry cleaner to get rid of the smell of smoke? But there's something to be said for the show being held in a city that knows how to put on a show. In Vegas, the airport is close, there are cabs, buses, monorails, etc. for easy transportation, the convention center is user friendly (save for the overcrowded Starbucks and cafeteria), there are thousands of hotel rooms and judging by the number of cranes in the skyline, they are building thousands more. Plus, there's digital signage everywhere. That huge sign outside of Wynn's with the animated/mechanical "wipe" was worth the trip alone. I had no desire to stay another minute but 2-3 days in Las Vegas, once a year, is fine and I hope the show stays there.
-1 # Bill Gerba 2008-03-06 19:27
Pat: Excellent points, well taken. I think I wouldn't mind it so much if I weren't: (a) there too damned often, and (b) less jaded :) Like you said, though, it's clearly a well thought-out place to have such a show.
-1 # Jason Goldberg 2008-03-12 00:24
I'll echo everyone's sentiments about not enjoying Las Vegas; but as an exhibitor I have to say I prefer it to other common trade show cities due to cost. The problem is that with all the expenses for exhibiting going up and up every year, Las Vegas is a comparative bargain. I had about 20 rooms at the show that I paid $60/night for, versus the $200/night ITMll pay for a similar amount of rooms in Chicago next week. Airfare to Vegas is cheaper, Union rules in Las Vegas allow me to use more of my own setup labor than I can do in Chicago, etc All told a similar tradeshow presence in Chicago probably costs me $30K-$40K more than in Las Vegas. I also agree with Bill that the conference scheduling and spacing was a bit odd. I spoke on a panel and it seemed we stayed in the room longer than 30 minutes after the scheduled conclusion and werenTMt chased out, so hopefully BillTMs experience was an anomaly. As an exhibitor, I hate it when an event has a great conference schedule that overlaps the exhibit hours. ITMd rather see a smaller amount of exhibit hours with no counter scheduling, maybe itTMs a 3 day show with conferences from 9 to 11 and 4:30 to 6, and make attendees walk through the tradeshow floor to get to the on-site restaurant. WhatTMs driving me crazy at the moment is all these trade shows popping up in the space. DSE announced a second show this year! So now just in the U.S. you have DSEx2, KioskComx2, Global Shop, At-Retail Media, Infocom, In-Store Marketing Expo, and more that ITMm sure ITMve forgotten about (and as a retail only guy, I donTMt even have to attend the advertising oriented ones). Oh and while your attending all those shows be sure to join the 6 different trade orgs! ItTMs just diluting the attendance. ITMm frankly eager to see some of these shows fail, so that we can all make more serious efforts to support 1 or 2 events a year.
+1 # Shane Riddle 2008-03-12 23:08
As an end user of the technologies I'd say it was a great show. I do agree with Bill though about the timing of seminars. I really enjoyed hearing from the speakers, but the most insightful times were when the audience was allowed to interact with the panel; that was when we had opportunity to actually hear from peers about what they were doing, what real life business concerns they had, etc. There was no need to rush us out of the seminars like happened a couple of times.
-1 # zensufi 2008-03-14 07:07
Love the flash and high energy of Las Vegas, but hate the smokey environment! How about more re the key exhibitors?
+1 # Bill Gerba 2008-03-14 13:25
Jason: Glad you found it worthwhile, both as an exhibitor and a speaker. Apparently Shane (above) found that, like me, the sessions were cut short at inopportune times. Such is the nature of trade shows, I suppose. You also make a good point about doing the show in Vegas - it will remain a personal gripe for me, but from a business perspective it makes a lot of sense. I also agree with your opinion that these new shows, seminars and "organizations" that are seemingly coming out of the woodwork may do us all more harm than good. I'd love to have a single show, set of conferences, and governing body/industry association and be done with the rest! Zensufi: There are lots of sites (including Digital Signage Today and the Minicom blog) that have show reviews that focused on the exhibitors. Since I only spent a total of about a half hour on the show floor, I don't really have much to comment on about it.
+1 # Joyce 2008-03-31 19:13
All--I have a comment regarding key exhibitors...We need to proceed with standards and some player consolidation. This "category" is getting SOOO hard for customers to shop. I feel like I know this industry and its specifics pretty well, and yet, I found it very difficult to understand the role each player had in the full solution. I think we have way too many vendors that are trying to be all things to all people. It seemed to me like there were way too many vendors with a single important client that were convinced they were the next big thing. Seems like some industry consolidation is in order. And what about content? I didn't see more than one content provider. Is this now assumed the "come-along" with other solutions...a commodity of sorts? Would love your thoughts?
-1 # Rebeca Chan 2008-04-06 19:15
There seemed to be an incredibly large number of companies offering players(at least 20, possibly more). That's a lot, considering that a player is merely a mini-pc in a small box. The players range from $300 to $2000 and most come with some type of content management software. It would be very nice if someone were to write an article to sort out all the differences, like a Buyers Guide to players and content management solutions with reviews; inclusion of a shootout would also be nice.
-1 # Bill Gerba 2008-04-09 14:11
Joyce and Rebecca, Yours is definitely a common complaint of the show, and it's one of the reasons we didn't exhibit. DS software is still a pretty complex undertaking, and there's simply no way to adequately explain if your product is the right one without getting a good understanding of a new sales prospect's needs. Ditto for players, which can be optimized for low-cost, high-flexibility, or some combination of the two, again depending on the client's needs. There will probably be some degree of software consolidation (see BroadSign purchasing Navori and NetKey buying Webpavement, for example), but more than likely a good number of the current companies vying for marketshare will either change strategies or go out of business altogether. We're also embarking on a pretty major project to forge industry standards for software interoperability, which means that the companies that remain will be able to focus their attention on their core differentiators instead of re-inventing the wheel for problems like content transfer and screen zoning, which will be part of a standard specification. HTH, Bill
+1 # Lean Education 2011-01-22 06:56
The digital signage industry has yet to cement a leading position in the mind of venture capitalists. Digital signage suffers from the "chicken and egg" problem that has befallen many other industries with so much promise. Without a sizeable footprint, a digital signage network cannot scale. It can't garner the attention of serious advertisers or investors. Networks that grow from the minds of entrepreneurs who act more like 19th century speculators than true businessmen impact the entire industry's ability to garner funding. While the industry's growth projections are very promising, the ad-funded digital signage model has yet to be proven.

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