Digital Signage, also known as Digital Out Of Home (DOOH), is a form of new media where digital screens are used in public locations for advertisements. It offers the promise of accountability and dynamism for advertisers. This dynamic medium allows multiple advertisements to be displayed and changed based on the time/ day/ event, beneficial to advertisers, media owners, and the venue of the medium as well.
Back in 2009 when we entered the world of Digital Signage, it was poised to be the next big thing in the advertising industry. Screens seemed to be mushrooming around us, but something seemed to be hampering this otherwise beautiful growth story. Looking back, we now know that the Indian market simply was not ready to take on this modern medium.
Despite the scale that some DOOH network operators had achieved, advertisers did not seem to buy in convincingly and sustainably. Today, it feels like we are once again standing before a massive explosion of this industry. Only this time, it seems to have become a reality.
Traditionally, Digital Signage in India started off by being nothing but a dynamic replacement of static billboards. As we all know, Digital Signage of this kind hasn’t taken off in India yet, with advertisers limiting their spends to initial experimentation. Even though the sector has been around in India for more than 6 years now, it’s market size is nowhere near those of the US or China. Indian Digital Signage players do not typically disclose their billings, but analyst estimates see India's Digital Signage industry size somewhere between 1/8thand 1/10thof what it is in China today, and about 1/100th of what it is in USA today.
It is these numbers that reveal just how much potential this sector holds in the country. It is also part of the reason why we were so excited to jump into this field. However having been in this industry for a few years now, we believe there are several areas that need to be improved to turn around the fate of this extremely flexible and promising new medium:
1. Content: This is the main reason why Digital Signage has not succeeded yet. If any screen wants to go beyond being just a digital billboard, it needs to incentivize viewers to look at it for a longer time. It’s simple: if no one is looking at your screen, you don’t have a medium. Some of the players have added some semblance of relevant content by including news updates or cricket scores, but there is still a long way to go, and a lot to learn from advanced networks in the USA such as PumpTop TV, who have a strong focus on content.
2. Pricing and market education: Most networks have usually used a per-play pricing. However, through several interactions with many advertisers and media agencies, we believe this is not the easiest to purchase. It either needs to adopt a metric that is already widely used (CPM, CPL, etc.) or create one that truly reflects the benefits of the medium.
3. Transparent metrics: Networks in public places such as malls or railway stations, typically use the total footfalls of the venue to estimate the exposures of the screen. This is obviously much higher than how many people actually see the screen; networks need to apply sensible discounts to these numbers to build trust with advertisers.
4. Placement: Screens placed in locations with very low foot traffic, or no opportunity for any dwell time are never going to be useful for the advertiser, will reduce RoI and faith in the medium.
5. Creative adjustment: Typically TVCs have been used on screens which don’t even have sound. This removes a majority of the impact from the ad, and drastically reduces brand recall when compared to that achieved by TV itself. To best leverage the medium, either the creative teams need to create ads specifically for the medium, or at least have sound-enabled screens.
So how do we ring-in a New Dawn in Digital Signage?
We predict the next wave of sustainable Digital Signage growth will come from placement of Digital Signage in locations which provide a captive medium – locations where the screens can first add significant value to the audience. This includes transit and retail (inside shops to serve as a value add, not just in the malls). These kind of media will find it easiest to address the issues that plague the industry in its current avatar.
Additionally, what will give a real push to rapid acceptance of and recurring advertising on Digital Signage networks is the provision of internet-like accountability by tracking every single view. Advertisers are getting used to the measurability of the internet and are unlikely to experiment with new platforms unless it can bring them the desired ROI. Bringing such analytics to the medium would even give it a leg-up over more mass media such as TV, Print and Radio.
Here are a few key trends that have come out of conversations we have had with various creative and media agencies, and also our own R&D at En Route Media. The trends are aimed at getting better targetting, and better engagement out of this medium. We expect advertisers to leverage these options over the next 12-18 months to allow two-way communication between the audience and the brand.
For better targetting:
GPS: Let the customer find restaurants/movie details according to the area they are in!
Day-parting: Select relevant advertisements and display them in a time specific way (morning, afternoon, night, etc)
For better engagement:
QR Codes, SMS Short codes & Missed Call services: Everything and more that calls for instant action from the customer.
Touch interactivity: Let customers feel more involved, instead of just watching ads on screens.
Appification: Present brand promotions in a fun and interactive manner.
NFC tags: Connect phones to screens, imagine downloading and uploading from and to the digital screen. It truly reinforces the future buzz word for digital screens, convergence.
Fulfilling DOOH's real potential and promising the advertiser more than just the same three seconds exposure is both, a fantastic opportunity and a great challenge. By cleverly combining the advantages of highly captive environments with the latest trends and advances in technology a media owner can now present something that every brand craves for: measurable engagement.
(Paul Schwarz and Varun Jain are Co-Founders of En Route Media, a new media firm that introduced the country’s first in-taxi entertainment and advertising network.)