When you mention digital signage, many people think of the old LED signs on the highway telling you there's an Amber Alert or a detour up ahead. What many videographers don't realize is that producing content for digital signage is a lucrative market that is expanding exponentially as technology changes advertising in the world around us. If you've been looking for ways to expand your business, digital signage just might be the answer.
Digital signage is a comprehensive term that includes electronic signs that are used to inform, educate, entertain, persuade or advertise in public places. Digital signage integrates software and hardware solutions to allow inexpensive, custom signage that can be updated quickly, even remotely. The digital signage revolution has occurred, in part, due to increasing technological advancements including the increase in inexpensive displays, more dynamic codecs such as H.264 that offer small files sizes with high quality color and resolution, and the ability to stream video either remotely via web, through a local network or directly from a media player attached to or embedded inside the monitor.
Digital signage includes electronic signs that are used to inform, educate, entertain, persuade or advertise in public places.
Digital Signage is Everywhere!
Digital signage, also referred to as dynamic signage, has become so commonplace that we often don't think about its uses and applications, yet we are surrounded by this content. Consider this consumer scenario:
Driving the car, one passes several electronic billboards that are running loops of digital stills of upcoming television premieres. While stopping and pumping gas, there's digital signage with a looping video on top of the pump that includes travel tips, products that would improve your car's performance and snacks on sale inside the store. Next stop is a drive-through for coffee; in addition to the static video display of breakfast items, there's a panel that includes a video loop enticing you to buy the latest and greatest new breakfast additions.
A trip to a trade show at the local convention center features monitors in the lobby with advertisements for restaurants and tourist information. Inside the exhibit hall, exhibitors have digital signage on large video walls advertising their company with different, longer loops on interactive video kiosks inside their booth informing buyers of their various products.
A visit to the mall reveals that digital signage is everywhere from the food court to the department stores. Unlike other signage at the mall, the cosmetic counter has an interactive kiosk that includes “how-to” videos. A stop at the bank features short loops on home loans and credit cards. The doctor's office features a long 30 minute video loop with information on various diseases, their symptoms and treatments, advertisements from pharmaceutical companies and tips on diet and healthy exercise
At the grocery store, the bakery department has signage on cakes for special occasions, while elsewhere in the store there’s a video loop on pet food and how to increase your pet's health and an infomercial about the freshness of the produce. In line at the check-out counter, digital signage promotes products on sale.
A restaurant includes digital signage that features trivia, daily news, clips of the top ten Billboard songs and menu item specials, while the neighborhood bar features signage that has karaoke lyrics mixed with advertisements. Completing the evening, one drives by the same billboards from the morning which now feature a completely different set of TV advertisements.
For many, the fact that these various types of digital signage could appear in so many different places is mind boggling partly because we are so accustomed to the pervasive use of technology; yet, the videographer should be consciously studying these placements and applications because there is potential for profit creating content in this burgeoning market.
The Hardware to Make it Happen
The biggest consideration is how you will deliver content to your display monitor. As part of your new job description as a digital signage guru, you will probably be the one handling the installation of the signage, so don't sell what you can't install. Remember, there are many options to consider from Smart TVs to media players. Budget will probably play a part, but you should keep in mind the demands of the environment where you will be placing the signage.
Professional high-end digital signage uses large monitors with built in computers and may include motion sensors. Interactive touch screen kiosks are also fairly popular. If your client wants these options, do your homework and see if you can deliver this type of package. Fortunately, there is an abundance of low cost consumer products that will probably satisfy most of your clients’ needs. Once you determine your budget and your monitor size, you’ll need to consider how you will get your content on to the display.
Will you stream your video feed via Wi-Fi? While that allows for up-to-date news feeds and the ability to change your advertising at a moment's notice, what happens when your content is hacked or your Internet feed fails? If you have a steady Wi-Fi signal, consider a Smart TV or a Wi-Fi media player attached to an HDTV. You’ll want your media player to be thin enough so it can be concealed behind the display monitor. You can purchase a 60” Smart TV for less than $1000. That's a lot of advertising bang for your buck! You just want to hide the remote and child-lock the front control panel so the employees aren't watching YouTube all day on your digital signage.
If security is a concern or you just don't want to use a wireless network, consider a video loop on a Smart TV or an HDTV with a media player. For ultimate flexibility, use Wi-Fi with a backup of looping video on a flash drive for when your Internet feed fails. In this case, you (or your client) would need to make sure that employees know how to use the remote and switch from Wi-Fi to your pre-recorded content.
You'll need to pay attention to the file formats supported by your media player as well as the resolutions it supports. On the higher budget end, you can create stunning 4K content using Sony's new 4K digital media player and output on a 4K monitor. That certainly would be an attention grabber!
The Software to Sell It
Similar to the hardware, there is professional software that makes digital signage a breeze, particularly for interactive kiosks and Wi-Fi, multi-screen driven content. Once your digital signage business expands, you may want to consider these options, but for now look to the tools within your current editing software. Remember that programs like After Effects can really enhance your videos with professional looking motion graphics and visual effects.
Unlike a budget for a video shoot, you will also have to consider the costs of the equipment. Knowing the specs of the equipment is critical and cannot be stressed enough. What if the storage space for your content is only 4GB? What if your client wants to turn the monitor on its end for a portrait-style format? Remember that inexpensive monitors usually don’t scale well, so you’ll want to render your video for the native resolution of the monitor it will be playing on.
There are various factors to consider when creating a digital sign including the budget, the environment in which the display will be placed, hardware limitations, and time considerations. You have to consider all of these elements collectively because each one influences the other.
Whenever you're placing a monitor for digital signage or you're creating content for digital signage, you need to think about the ambient light that's going to affect the monitor. If it's in a very dark area like a restaurant or a bar, lower contrast images are going to be more effective because they won't be as jarring to the viewer as high contrast images. Conversely, if the monitor is exposed to a lot of light, you'll want to use high contrast images so detail will be more easily seen. Using a calibrated preview monitor can help to insure that you get the proper contrast levels that you want for your digital signage content.
Advertisers view digital signage as a way to market to a captive audience; however, if your content is a string of commercials, viewers will tune out immediately. When creating longer content for digital signage, you'll want to blend education, entertainment, and advertising. If you're not using a motion sensor on your monitor, you'll probably want to place the company logo on the screen at all times in a static, fixed position so the viewer sees the company information regardless of when they're exposed to the loop. For much shorter loops (a minute or less), a commercial or series of billboard-style stills might be more effective.
Expanding your videography practice to include digital signage puts you one step closer to an advertising agency. You'll need to have this mindset to create effective digital signage content for your customers. Know their business inside and out so you can create interesting videos that compliment their ads.
Digital Signage Visuals
Consider the time your audience will engage in your video. Should you steer away from busy backgrounds and too many visual effects? If your audience is standing in a line at the supermarket, you can entertain them for a few minutes. If they are driving down the freeway, your video has to be short, with big bold simple-to-read fonts, large plain images and little else. Nothing hurts a billboard’s message more than a driver thinking, “what was that about? Oh well…” as they’re zooming by at 55mph. If the video is outdoors or on a small screen, a busy background might take away from the message. Before you know your visual needs, know your distribution site.
Finding Work Creating Digital Signage
Start with your existing customers. Consider the physical location of their business. Are there digital signage opportunities available in a lobby, waiting room, dining room, bathroom, or store? When you suggest digital signage solutions, be prepared to discuss price ranges of initial setup costs for displays. If you can use assets you have already created for their commercials or web video, make sure to mention this as a cost saving method. Digital signage also offers opportunities for businesses to cross promote or to sell advertisements to companies that offer complementary services.
What about advertising opportunities off site? Who's creating their digital signage for trade shows or conferences? Is digital billboard content a viable option? What current print advertisements can be replaced with digital ones? Use the rapport and trust you've built in your current trade relationship to help guide your client into this new mode of advertising. Once you've built up your portfolio of digital signage solutions, start targeting advertising firms and digital signage companies who outsource content production. Digital Signage Expo, the leading trade show for the industry, might provide some good leads.
Finally, don't forget to be your best advertisement. Integrate digital signage solutions into your own business practices at your office, at trade shows and at cross promotional locations. Advertising your services through this method also showcases your talent and capabilities in the digital signage arena. It's easy to excite your customers about these new opportunities when you can talk about the benefits you've seen in your own business.
Low Cost Signage Solutions
Consider digital photo frames for creating budget-friendly digital signage. For less than $40, you can buy a 9” 16:9 photo frame that has adjustable brightness. If you turn it sideways, you'll have a portrait-style canvas to create digital signs that are cheaper than the cost of printing. While the photo frame can expand with memory cards, the internal memory holds twenty jpegs which is sufficient to place on a counter to notify customers of billing policies, check and credit card policies, sales, new products and even hours of operation. You can replace twenty handwritten signs with one convenient picture frame. Jpegs can be created in professional software such as Photoshop or simply with Paint or Gimp, allowing them to be easily updated.
On the slightly higher end, you can buy an 18.5” frame (1366 x 768 pixels) that plays stills and video with its internal 4GB memory. It has a motion sensor so your loop will play when customers pass by, allowing you to use your best hook to grab their attention and keep them watching. This type of frame retails for less than $260 providing affordable advertising solutions to every videographer.
White Hawk Bourne wears many hats. In addition to her work in journalism and corporate video, she is a screenwriter and an award-winning director. Odin Lindblom is a director, cinematographer and award-winning editor whose work includes film, commercials, corporate video, and digital signage.