Signs of the Future

Walmart uses electronic signage in stores as part of its “Smart Network.” Source: Digital Signage Today.

A typical electronic sign in the halls of MIT. The university’s in-plant, MIT Copytech, manages the electronic signage service on campus, which has so far proven to be a very successful endeavor.

As in-plants move into wide-format printing to expand their services and revenue, how will this business be impacted by the growth of electronic signage? An analysis of the flat panel display market reveals a number of challenges.

Wide-format signage has been one of the most visible areas of interest for printers looking to expand their offerings and revenue. With the advent of more productive wide-format inkjet digital printing equipment—including eco-solvent, latex and UV-curable ink technologies—in-plants and commercial printers have been able to extend their product offerings to their existing client base with relatively small investments that provide far greater margins than one is able to obtain in document printing.

Digital wide-format signage printing is not a new industry nor is it immune from the impact of electronic technologies. Electronic signage can be defined in many different ways by different segments of the industry. To avoid confusion between signage that may be printed digitally and displayed electronically, I.T. Strategies defines electronic screens as those with the capability of being controlled electronically using a computer or other devices, and allow individuals to remotely change and control their content. We do not include electronic billboards in this definition.

Industry experts estimate that in North America in 2012 there were 837,000 display screens installed. Of these, 43 percent are used primarily for third-party advertising. Other displays are used for location branding and staff or patron communications. Displays not currently carrying advertising or sponsored messaging (such as menu boards in fast food restaurants) are growing the fastest.

With the falling cost of flat-panel displays, large national retailers like Wal-Mart and shopping mall operators have been trying to introduce electronic signage into their retail stores for several years with limited success so far. The reasons for the limited success of electronic signage have less to do with short-term economic recession issues and more to do with the larger, longer-term structural issues, which include:

  • Cost of building out the electrical infrastructure.
  • Cost of developing new content—video rather than static, or greater amount of static content to drive sufficient advertising revenues to create a return on investment (ROI).
  • Uncertainty of regulatory issues with wireless transmittal of content.
  • Transmission security—concern that rogue entities could hijack the screen to display unauthorized content.
  • Potential vandalism of the electronic display.

Electrical Infrastructure Costs

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