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Neil Felton and Daniel Parisien

Brendan Perring speaks to Neil Felton, managing director of FESPA, and Daniel Parisien, vice president of marketing and strategy at Broadsign, about how sign-makers and wide-format printers can make a strategic move into digital signage

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Neil Felton, managing director of FESPA says a wealth of information on digital signage will be available at European Sign Expo

Take the leap

Is the convergence of digital and conventional signage really an opportunity for sign-makers and wide format printers, or are the motivational messages of ‘greater revenue’ and ‘business expansion’ just offering false hope?

Neil Felton (NF): It is entirely understandable that some may see the move into digital as being a leap into the unknown, but this is largely due to a gap in knowledge. The opportunities are real, but industry feedback suggests there just hasn’t been enough practical advice offered on how to do it in a considered and measured way. The print community has been edging closer to digital signage for some time – 30 per cent of our exhibition visitors are interested in this arena – but it has needed someone to acknowledge this convergence and help sign-makers grasp the real opportunities.

Clearly when considering the investment required – in terms of both time and finance – it is critical to understand how the shape of the ‘new’ business will look and, ultimately, how to get there without taking big risks.

The opportunities are real, but industry feedback suggests there just hasn’t been enough practical advice offered on how to do it in a considered and measured way

Daniel Parisien (DP): The fear that the bigger audio visual companies (Pro AVs) will dominate this marketplace, whilst being understandable, is erroneous. Looking at the relative size of the two industries, particularly in the US, you will find that print is a $10bn (£6.5bn) industry while Pro AV is less than $1bn (£0.65bn), demonstrating that print is still much larger and has more clout with brand owners who are entering the digital out-of-home space. The real issue is in the education gap, but obtaining the necessary expertise is not impossible.

Explain the ‘education gap’ – does this mean that conventional sign-makers need to learn the skills of the Pro AV companies in order to succeed going forward?

DP: When digital signage networks were first being rolled-out a decade ago, the operating systems that people had to access in order to run software were complicated. The emergence of systems such as Windows 7 and 8 means that extensive technical knowledge is not needed and trouble-shooting is simple. With technology being more accessible and user-friendly, it is arguably easier for a creative team to learn basic technological skills than for a technician to acquire a creative eye. With that being said, if sign-makers lack technical know-how and do not wish to bring it in-house, there are great opportunities to partner with Pro AV companies that possess a deep understanding of the technology.

NF: There is huge scope for companies to join forces and call upon each others’ skills to take a powerful combined offering to the market. For those who want to consider digital signage as a viable option and get a greater understanding of how to approach it, there are training courses available that are specifically designed to bring participants up-to-speed quickly with the workings of this growing industry.

If sign-makers lack technical know-how and do not wish to bring it in-house, there are great opportunities to partner with Pro AV companies

Who are the courses available to and how can they be found?

DP: Professional industry certifications are available for those at all levels in the digital signage industry – from companies just starting to look at a digital signage offering to those running established networks. For beginners in the industry, a program that covers the seven key elements of digital signage and offers specific guidance on hardware and software selection, deployment, content and ROI for digital signage is a good starting point.

Daniel Parisien, vice president of marketing and strategy at Broadsign, advises sign-makers to start small and gradually build an understanding of digital signage




NF: If you’re looking for an entry point, this kind of training gives business owners a blueprint for how their business would look with the integration, and highlights the talent that would be needed to make along with the relevant industry partnerships. Typically a sign-maker would need to partner with one of the main screen manufacturers, a playback device manufacturer, a software manufacturer or provider, and then enlist the talents of digital creatives and IT personnel who can monitor and run operations on the network. Don’t forget the plethora of content available at European Sign Expo, including the Screenmedia Theatre, Sign Forum, Creative Corner and Print Inspiration Runway.

Are there any examples of this happening in practice?

NF: It has been happening worldwide, albeit behind the scenes in many cases. Possibly the most recent case is Samsung Electronics America, partnering with static signage companies Fastsigns and N. Glantz and Son. Reportedly, Samsung’s partnership with Texas-based Fastsigns will make the company’s digital signage solutions available to Fastsigns’ network of 460 franchise locations nationwide. This just goes to show that it is possible to form these partnerships and address a whole new group of potential customers.

In terms of financial investment, entry cost is not the barrier it once was. Screens and playback devices are now significantly cheaper; you can buy a really decent LCD full HD screen for under £1000

Do conventional sign-makers or wide-format printers need to ‘take a leap into the unknown’ or is there a way of starting small and growing into the marketplace gradually?

DP: Conventional sign-makers can be successful by starting small and gradually building an understanding of and contact base within the digital signage industry. This process should begin by obtaining some form of training in order to close the ‘education gap’ and build a solid foundation for growth. The ‘leap’ becomes more of a ‘considered step’ when working from an informed starting point. In terms of financial investment, entry cost is not the barrier it once was. Screens and playback devices are now significantly cheaper; you can buy a really decent LCD full HD screen for under £1000. In terms of hardware, Broadsign has launched a product, Broadsign Xpress, which is ideal for new networks looking for an economical, highly-capable player. It boasts all the features of players which ordinarily cost more than €400 (£350) for less than €100 (£85). Software costs around €25 (£21) per month and then all that remains is the creative input.

So there is hope for conventional signage?

DP: The motivational messages are absolutely correct and conventional sign-makers should feel secure in knowing that they have a solid core business that can grow, generate profit and be complemented with a digital branch that is becoming more attainable. In challenging economic times, companies in industries such as print, outdoor advertising and cinema, have been more resilient compared to those whose customer base is comprised of people selling screens and relying on securing enough advertising revenue to pay for them.

NF: It is an exciting time and, as Daniel said, the way forward is by gaining knowledge and building up contacts. Ultimately, the goal for any business is to offer the customer the best solution, and blending communication channels, such as conventional and digital, is already delivering powerful results. It’s not about a ‘survival of the fittest’; these are complementary applications —it’s about getting the mix right and combining the strengths and skills of the industry as a whole to take key message delivery to the next level. FESPA and the European Sign Expo is the perfect place to start this ball rolling and we look forward to helping visitors capitalise on the opportunities available.
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