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Digital Signage: What Do You Expect? What Do They Expect?

May 7, 2008
Whether it's suspended from the ceiling of a retail store, positioned near a gate in an airport terminal, or stationed in a hotel lobby, a digital sign has one basic function: to communicate.

Clearly, the types of communication -informational, promotional or advertising-related- are unique and different. What's the same is the expectation of the person responsible for the digital sign that it will convey a bit of information to its intended audience. All other expectations for the sign -like connecting emotionally with a viewer, branding a store or a product, or promoting a specific product or offer- are built on this single foundation.

However, identifying the core function of a digital sign is quite a bit easier than actually executing that function. Why? Simply stated it is because digital signs exist in a media milieu that inundates, saturates and dominates the comings and goings of the public as it attends to its daily affairs. In other words, a digital sign has to compete with hundreds of other messages bombarding its audience throughout the day, cut through the noise and connect -even for one brief moment- with its audience just to deliver a few bits of information.

Granted, if that information is something a member of the intended audience is seeking out -such as directions or information to confirm what's going on in a specific conference room- making that connection will be much easier. But if the goal is to promote or advertise a service or product that passersby are only mildly interested in -or even worse- unaware of, making that connection to communicate becomes a more difficult challenge.

Fortunately, the tools and expertise to communicate with text, graphics, animation and video are widely available, relatively affordable and well understood. With 60-plus years of television under the nation's belt, both those imparting information with video and those receiving that communication have a long track record of communicating via TV.

Without question, digital signs aren't television, but they're about as close as one can get to TV without mounting an antenna to a tower and firing up a transmitter. As a result, digital signage communicators can use the common elements digital signs share with television to present their messages in a visual shorthand that anyone who watches TV understands.

It is worth mentioning, however, that the visual shorthand of television is in flux. The old nearly square picture tube that dominated the living rooms of America for the past six decades is giving way to the wider, clearer flat panel display that's capturing a growing share of the home TV market. In fact, that latest survey from Frank N. Magid Associates finds that 25 percent of U.S. television households now own HDTVs. That's 28 million dwellings in the United States where television viewing is done on a sharp, wide television screen.

The same survey found that the pace at which younger adults -ages 21 to 34- are buying HDTVs has quickened. It also found 28 percent of those buyers purchased an HDTV to connect the high definition set to a game console, such as a Sony PlayStation 3 or Microsoft Xbox 360.

The growth of U.S. HDTV households in general and the significant number of younger adults connecting them to a game console speaks to other side of the digital signage expectation equation: specifically what the digital signage audience expects.

Those responsible for digital signage content must take into account that their audience is developing an increasingly sophisticated visual appetite. Where standard definition video was once the cost of admission into the video game, high definition video will soon become the base line. Where organization of content on a relatively square, relatively low-resolution screen dominated TV, digital signage content increasingly will be organized into zones on a high-resolution, rectangular screen.

And finally, where rather artificial representations of reality once dominated TV animation, true-to-life-looking animated elements are quickly becoming the norm. Given the Magid finding related to how many young adults are buying HDTVs to connect to a game console coupled with the stunning, life-like animation that's common in video games like Madden NFL 08 from EA Sports, it's clear the bar is being raised dramatically.

None of this is to say that digital signage content producers must hirer teams of digital cinematographers and 3-D artists. Rather, it's only a reminder of where the visual tastes of digital signage audiences in this country are headed. Keeping the viewer's expectations foremost in mind while creating digital signage content is the first step to realizing the only reasonable expectation a digital signage user can have: namely, to communicate.
About the Author
David Little is a digital signage enthusiast with 20 years of experience helping professionals use technology to expand their marketing messages with alternative media . Visit http://www.keywesttechnology.com and find how you can expand your marketing horizons.
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