I’m not a fan of the term ‘digital signage.’

Seems a strange admission, right? But I think it can be a little confusing.

The term “signage” indicates something that tells people where to be or what time to be there but, more often than not, digital signs are used to advertise products. Think billboards on the London underground, for example.

Different associations applied to the terms “digital” and “signage” over the years have meant that the phrase has become a little murky.

So let’s take a look at some examples to get a clearer view of what digital signage actually is in this day and age.

Piccadilly Circus Digital Signage Airport Digital Signage Waterloo station London digital signage

What do these digital signs have in common?

Well, apart from the departures board, they don’t show any information, directions, or warnings that you might expect from traditional signs.

Instead, their main goal is to display digital advertising in engaging formats.

This kind of signage is popping up more and more as the cost of large screens and software is going down. Moving, digital adverts are much more eye-catching and allow advertisers to me more creative.

So what’s the big deal?

You might be thinking that the examples above just show ordinary screens – some large, some small – playing a loop of video, so what’s so special about them?

Let’s take another, closer look at the example from the London Underground.

Digital signage London underground  London underground Digital Signage

If you’ve been on the London underground any time in the last couple of years, you’ll have seen these engaging signs dotted up and down the escalators, capturing travellers’ attention while they wait to get from one part of the station to the next.

But a lot more goes into creating these than simply uploading a video file and hitting the “loop” button:

  • The screens are monitored remotely so all tech issues can be addressed and resolved immediately
  • They are synchronised to display the adverts in a particular sequence
  • New adverts can be uploaded remotely and slotted into the loop – but they can also be added to individual boards
  • Every time an advert is played, it is recorded in a system so the airtime statistics can be provided to advertisers
  • Each advert or loop of adverts can be scheduled so they show up at a particular time on specific days (for example, a theatre company might want to advertise their latest show during the evening, when travellers might be on their way to the theatre or on their way home from the theatre)

The monitoring of ads and the combined footfall and traffic data means advertisers can discover which times of the day are most valuable – and the prices will reflect that. Therefore, digital signage needs to undergo some kind of bidding process for media buyers in order to maximise revenue.

Now, this is just a quick look into what goes on behind the scenes of digital signage.

Not only is it engaging consumers at a surface level, but there is plenty of monitoring and activity that goes on behind closed doors.

And bear in mind here that we’ve only been looking at one escalator at one station.

Managing hundreds of screens around hundreds of different stations is a whole other beast, which is why it makes sense to manage all screens centrally, but to also be able to customise each screen based on its location.

But as is the way with most things, the more detailed you get with reporting like this, the more complicated it gets.

Here’s where it gets scary: the software that manages these networks of screens has to be designed by – you guessed it – software developers. This means it’s almost impossible to operate a fleet of digital signs if you’re just a mere human (software developers are prone to creating unnecessarily complicated interfaces that can be difficult to get your head around).

Let’s take a look at the backend to put that into perspective.

Digital Signage Backend

Now you can hopefully see why the companies that sell these intricate digital signage systems need their customers to attend a three-day training (which we’re sure is an absolute blast!).

But when a digital signage system works, and it works well, it can really boost customer or visitor experience by giving timely information when it’s needed and creating an attractive and engaging space to place ads.

Eventignite Digital Signage at Vitafoods Europe  EventIgnite Digital Signage at WTM15

In Short…

Digital signage refers to public screens that display ads and timely information on a variety of screens. At events, temporary digital signage fulfils the same role except that the content is even more customised – depending on the time of day and location of each digital sign.

Thomas Walczak

By Thomas Walczak

I am the Founder and Managing Director of EventIgnite, a technology company dedicated to creating an effortless experience at events. EventIgnite develops professional digital signage systems, including interactive and large-format digital signs. Don't hesitate to send me an email at [email protected]