If you live in an urban or suburban area chances are you run into digital signage screens several times a week, possibly several times a day. The screens that tell you what’s on the menu at your local fast food restaurant, let you know which terminal for your flight, give you information about events in your area, promote a new iPhone launch as you drive along the freeway. The list is endless. These screens are everywhere but not many people realize there’s a multi-billion-dollar industry behind the screens. A whole bunch of technology and people making sure these screens do what they’re supposed to do – engage you, inform you and help you make great buying decisions when you’re out and about in the world. They’re everywhere and the industry behind them is the digital signage industry, also known as Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH). But what exactly is digital signage and how does it work? 

A whole bunch of technology and people making sure these screens do what they’re supposed to do – engage you, inform you and help you make great buying decisions when you’re out and about in the world. Click To Tweet


Why “Digital” Signage? Isn’t everything Digital?

There are two reasons for the digital moniker. The first is very simple, digital screens replacing paper signs in restaurants, stores, malls, airports, train stations, billboards, etc. You’ve probably noticed this evolution over time – your local taco joint replacing its paper menus with digital menu boards, or your auto dealer swapping out paper for digital with the latest information on tire prices, wheel alignment or brake maintenance.

There are many reasons for this shift but the most obvious are cost and flexibility. With digital signage solutions becoming more and more affordable, businesses are recognizing that replacing paper with digital screens is operationally cheaper, virtually eliminates compliance problems, and drives customer engagement and ultimately sales.

Think about it, you’re a retail chain and you have a price promotion for a new product in 100 or 500 or even 1000 stores. How much easier to display this information on strategically placed screens in the relevant department than ship out 100s or 1000s of paper signs that each store has to receive and display correctly before the promotion runs out…an impossible task with 0% chance of chainwide success!!!


And the Second Reason? Video Content

We live in such the digital age many people forget (or weren’t around to remember) that it’s only been 10 years since the switch from analog to digital television in the U.S. After June 12th, 2009 every home needed a digital cable or satellite box to tune into TV – the inflection point for the age of digital content. Video, music and other content were now packaged up in bits and bytes and delivered to viewers over cable and satellite networks and of course the Internet.

And that’s also what happened to analog video networks outside the home in airports, business lobbies, and retail stores. These private TV networks reaching shoppers, employees, travelers etc. also made the switch moving from analog to Digital Out-of-Home.

Video, music and other content were now packaged up in bits and bytes and delivered to viewers over cable and satellite networks and of course the Internet. Click To Tweet

So How Does Digital Signage Work? Everything You Need to Know 

At the core, it’s about moving digital content from a server to a networked device – a media player – that can decode the digital signage content for display on a screen. It’s really that simple. Whether the digital signage content is images, videos, RSS feeds, web pages, etc. the concept is the same. So, the building blocks for a digital signage network are software + media player + screen + content + some way of getting the digital signage content to the media player – usually the Internet.

Today’s advanced digital signage networks are powered by digital signage content management software that allows for very sophisticated network programming. Targeting content to play in certain locations, scheduling content to play at certain days/times, content playback through audience interactivity or other external triggers, monitoring and reporting of all network activity – these and more are all important capabilities that are now standard for the industry. So, the software is a very important consideration for new digital signage initiatives.


Then there’s the hardware. Successful digital signage networks use professional grade displays because they can run throughout the day (sometimes 24×7) for several years without breaking. Yes, more expensive than commercial TVs but well worth the investment in the long run.

Media players come in all shapes and sizes running on different operating systems such as Linux, Chrome, and Android. You can go for a top-of-the-line 4K HDR player if content quality is super important, or a much cheaper solution with the media player built into the display if cost trumps pristine quality. What’s most important is to choose a media player that’s proven in large scale deployments and is supported by your chosen content management software.


And Of Course, Engaging Digital Signage Content is Key

It’s critical to lead with the strategy, the experience, the desired ROI when planning a digital signage deployment. The technology can likely support any desired outcome but without a strategy, you’ll just end up with a bunch of expensive tech that don’t achieve very much.

An important part of this is content. How much content do you need every week/month/year? Where is this coming from? Does delivery need to be integrated with other systems such as point-of-sale systems? For digital menu boards, wayfinding and other text/image based non-video networks the content question is much less of a challenge than making sure the content displayed is data-driven and correct in every location. That today’s special really is $6.99.

For video-based digital signage networks keeping content fresh, engaging and relevant can be more challenging. These networks are typically in high “dwell” areas where consumers are waiting for service or browsing merchandise. Healthcare waiting rooms, auto dealerships, retail departments for example. For these networks, it’s important to think about how to fill the programming pie – how to have enough content for a 30- or 60-minute loop that needs to be refreshed frequently.

The good news is for these networks content production does not have to be done exclusively in-house, the best strategy is to selectively produce your branded content and look to fill the pie with 3rd party digital signage content that resonates with your brand. Just make sure any 3rd party provider you choose has rights-cleared content for Digital Out-of-Home.

To Maximize Success With Digital Signage 

If you’re testing the water with a new digital signage initiative or looking to upgrade an existing network there are some great tech and digital signage content options out there that can soak up much of the heavy lifting. Most software companies can also help you stitch it all together with supporting services such as equipment purchasing, logistics management, and installation. 

 Written by Susie Opare-Abetia


About the author
Susie has 20+ years’ experience bringing groundbreaking media services and technologies to market in Europe and the US. She has worked for a number of companies in various technology, product development and senior management roles including the BBC, Abekas, Virage, and Premier Retail Networks. In late 2010 Susie saw a unique opportunity for a solution that would allow marketers and network operators to manage their own branded video networks on TV, web and mobile screens with a combination of easy to use programming, tools, and access to premium content. Wovenmedia was launched in 2011 and the company’s vision continues to grow and evolve under Susie’s leadership.