Seeking Signage Integrators


"We're seeing a new type of reseller emerge," says John Becconsall, director of sales at Philips Consumer Electronics North America. "You're finally starting to see the pro A/V guys crossing over into the IT space. Customers want their displays to have intelligence."

Like Philips, other vendors and distributors over the past few months have rolled out new hardware and software solutions to attract these integrators. The moves come as businesses of all sizes begin to realize the ROI delivered from these new technologies. Airports, train stations, schools, museums, conference and convention centers, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants and others are looking to displace analog signage with fully controlled and managed display solutions. Such locations seek these solutions to help them sell specific products at specific times or deliver information that adds value to the customer experience.

Dynatek Media, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based digital integrator, is creating and leveraging new solutions to tap the emerging market. The company was founded about two years ago, bringing together principals with experience in IT networking and pro A/V implementation. After spending about three-quarters of its existence investigating market opportunities and developing solutions, the company won a contract for the integration of digital signage at the CNN Center in Atlanta and has several other large and smaller jobs in the pipeline, says CEO Ron Gross. "Digital signage is not pure A/V, nor is it pure IT; it's a convergence of multiple technologies that have to work collectively or else it's an ineffective solution," he says.

Dynatek, Gross says, developed much of its own software, hardware and management portal and built a full production studio for content creation. The company also formed relationships with major OEMs, including Samsung, which supports the company with demos, special product pricing and marketing support at major trade shows.

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Gross and others note the importance of forming relationships with the creators of presentation and advertising content, companies that often control a large portion of the signage sale and can offer integrators residual revenue through advertising and marketing strategies. "The industry is not for a lack of good hardware and software products," Gross says. "There's the challenge of getting the ideas across to the advertising industry that the versatility of signage is far better than other means of advertising."

Dynatek is building a channel of integrators to resell its solutions. ActiveLight, a display and projection distributor in Poulsbo, Wash., is doing the same with ActiveSource. Launched in June, ActiveSource is a program that provides training, leads and project management to what executives hope will be a nationwide network of digital signage content providers and integrators. The network currently includes about six content providers but needs signage integrators, says ActiveLight CEO Bradley Gleeson. "The missing piece to [the solution] is the IT-centric integrator," Gleeson says. "More and more signage is networked displays, and nothing gets done until the IT part gets done. They are the gatekeepers."

Most industry experts say integrators that specialize in signage solutions as a niche are better positioned to grab an early share of this multibillion-dollar market. Because the market is so new, integrators are hiring pro A/V or IT networking specialists or partnering with others to augment their core competencies. "From my perspective, this is a more specialized business," says Chris Connery, vice president of monitor market research at DisplaySearch. "The A/V guys might have a leg up because they're more familiar with the market, but the IT guys are tech-savvy and can pick up on the full solution quickly. There's a lot of opportunity for both sides."

That's what IT distributor Tech Data, Clearwater, Fla., believed when it started its Digital Environment Special Business Unit—with a strong focus on signage—about 18 months ago. Since then, the company doubled revenue based on signage solutions and tripled the number of integrators buying products related to that space, says Bob O'Malley, Tech Data's senior vice president of marketing. About 90 percent of those new integrators come from the pro-A/V side, or outside of Tech Data's traditional customer base, O'Malley says. "But that doesn't mean that as the IT side picks up the applications the business won't start to flow to them," he adds. "We really have to support both sides."

Distributors Electrograph, Hauppauge, N.Y., and Ingram Micro, Santa Ana, Calif., also are building up their digital signage solution offerings.

Vendors also agree they have to support both IT- and A/V-focused installers and have rolled out products and programs to help them tap a growing market. "Digital signage is such a big umbrella because it can go anywhere," says Bruce Messman, product manager of commercial lines at LG Electronics, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., which recently released a new 60-inch plasma and 42- and 32-inch LCDs. "Integrators want and need access to the full breadth of products."

They also need full solutions. Philips will continue to host national training for integrators on its Adtraxion Digital Signage System, a full hardware and software solution that includes remote management capabilities, the linchpin of today's signage solutions. "Unless you are able to deploy and manage the content, you'll miss out on the most important part of the solution, which is the ability to remotely manage it," says Dynatek's Gross. Meanwhile, ViewSonic, Irvine, Calif., plans to release a full signage and POS solution based on its Wireless Media Adapter, Wireless Media Gateway, scheduling software and displays. The company is initially focusing on about 180 of its A/V partners to sell the solution, but will target IT solution providers once the company chooses distributors, says Jeff Volpe, ViewSonic's vice president of marketing.

Samsung is also increasing its focus on the space. The vendor recently added a new line of plasma displays, including 42- and 50-inch sizes with increased brightness and contrast ratios, as well as 32-, 40- and 46-inch LCDs. The new PN plasma lines ship with an integrated Windows CE platform for better network communications. Samsung also developed its MagicNet display management and control software. Like Philips, LG and many other display vendors, Samsung hopes to boost the number of its integrator partners focused on signage to about 100 within a year.

"The integrators we're looking for have to understand computer networking and how that plays into today's pro A/V world," says Mark Pickard, Samsung's senior product marketing manager. "They also have to have the foresight of seeing new markets that didn't exist."