We are at the very beginning of a transformative communications revolution where technology has enabled the "un-tethering" of the masses from fixed communications points. The cell phone, lap top computer and wireless Internet have made communications mobile and persistent. Digital signage has taken digital video screens out of the home and in to virtually every location imaginable.
Digital signage is most often viewed with a relatively micro lens that is largely focused on its current and emerging capabilities in the context of the 21st century marketing mix. This is fair enough, as those who decide to deploy screens into a vast array of locations need to find a way to justify these deployments through a variety of ways including a number of "ROI" measurements that include everything from the average size of a market basket to advertising revenue generated. As a result the hundreds, and eventually thousands, of digital signage networks and millions of locations that will be "screened up" over the next decade need to start considering what this means in the larger scheme of things.
Digital signage is on the verge of becoming a truly mass media that, within a decade, should reach more people on a daily basis than traditional television, radio or newspapers. It is not television and it is not the Internet. It is a little of both and a lot of neither. It is an "opt-in" medium that must work in both a sounded and non-sounded environment. It is a communications medium, a marketing and promotional medium and a CRM medium. And, in combination with all of these attributes, it may well also end up an entertainment, news and public safety medium.
My hypothesis is this: Digital signage will become the "third leg" of the media stool, sitting side by side with television and the Internet. It will achieve this status at the expense of printed newspapers, broadcast radio, circulars and some broadcast television – but not cable television. It will develop its own, unique creative formats that will look a lot more like Second Life and video games than television. It will also be largely unsounded, relying on text, animation, graphics and, potentially, podcast/bluetooth downloads to message to the consumer.
This is both the great opportunity and daunting task of this emerging media. What exactly, is this thing going to look like and how do we get there sooner than later? It is also the responsibility of those of "us" who wish to be a part of this story to get straight on what exactly it’s going to take to drive digital signage to its greatest potential. And, to be clear, "us" isn’t just the screen owner, the location owner or the content provider. It is incumbent upon the marketer to become a part of "us" sooner than later, as they are now facing an enormous generational shift in both media consumption and buying habits that will drive brand awareness and adoption for decades to come. This is not a curve anyone wants to get behind.
Digital signage can be a leader in the transformation of communications or allow other media like mobile media and the Internet to lead as we follow. Personally, leadership works a lot better for me.