What is digital signage?

Digital signage is a collective term describing everything that has to do with public TV screens, LED signs and similar - indoors and outdoors. It is often also referred to as "digital out of home" (DOOH) and in some countries as "narrowcasting". Digital signage is used to communicate directly to a local audience with a single message or a sequence of messages. Well known examples are:

  • Large screens with advertisements in a mall
  • Digital menu boards in a restaurant
  • Screens at the hospital with general information
  • Arrival and departure times at public transport hubs

Digital signage at an airport

In addition to the use of external digital signage (customers, patients, visitors), digital signage can also be used for internal communication (staff). Large companies use digital signage to easily communicate with staff. Screens in the corridors and at the coffee machine show recent news and developments in the company.

Components of digital signage

The content

It all starts with the content: single message or -more often- a sequence of messages (presentation) that you like to present to your audience. In its simplest form these are a sequence of static images or videos created by creative professionals in regular design tools.

Nowadays, interactive digital signage is also increasingly applied. This gives customers, for example, the opportunity to browse products or services.

The content management system (CMS)

The individual messages are loaded into software called a content management system (CMS). This is where you put the messages in a sequence to form a presentation.

In the digital signage CMS you also have an overview of all the tv screens under your control that you can publish your content to. When you publish a presentation, it will be sent TV screens you select where it will start running at the time you chose.

Digital signage CMS’s come in all sorts of forms. The simplest ones just allow you to put uploaded media files in a playback sequence. The actual content creation needs to be done entirely in external tools. Then there are the high-end tools for creating all sorts of slick presentations with hundreds of variables, effects, timelines, etc. These target the content professional that work with these kinds of tools daily. In the middle you will find tools that enable you to upload media, but also add and manage your own content in, just as you would in a Powerpoint presentation, for example. These target the people who like a decent degree of design freedom whilst benefiting from the system being easy enough to use for virtually anyone.

A computer to create and manage content with

As a content creator and/or manager you need a computer with which you create and manage your content. In a very simple setup this is one computer on which the digital signage CMS is installed. When you create your content you immediately publish it to the relevant playback devices, shutdown your computer and go home.

Digital signage with single workstation

In its simplicity lies its main limitation: practically, there is only one user that can manage the content. Also, that user needs to install the digital signage CMS software and keep it up to date herself.

A central server to run the digital signage CMS on

If more people need to be able to create and manage content then it makes more sense to move to a setup where the digital signage CMS runs on a central computer (server) to which you log in from your computer.

Digital signage with server

Even though it’s clear that you gain flexibility with this setup, you also see that the complexity increases: you now have to buy and maintain a server as well and install the digital signage CMS software and keep it up to date. Luckily internet has brought a lot of good to the world, including “software as a service”. Instead of fiddling with hardware and digital signage CMS software yourself you can choose to use a web-based digital signage CMS. All you need is a web browser on your computer and you log in to a website where you create, manage and publish all your content.

Cloud based digital signage

This gives you less hardware to buy, manage and maintain. Morevoer, you are always guaranteed to run the latest version of the software without having to install anything.

Playback devices or "media players"

A playback device is a little computer that runs software that can read the content you created in the digital signage CMS and display it on the (TV) screen it is connected to.

Digital signage media players

There are different types of playback devices:

  • an individual small computer mounted to the back of each TV screen;
  • a small computer built into the encasing of the TV, for example a consumer smart TV running Tizen (from Samsung) or WebOS (from LG) or a professional TV screen running Android or even Windows;
  • a central computer running one or more presentations simultaneously and sending each to one specific screen. In most cases this requires extra hardware to communicate between this central computer and each screen.

Many digital signage CMS’s require you to buy specific playback devices, mostly at relatively high prices for type of hardware that you are getting. Other digital signage CMS's only work with specific playback software that needs to be installed on the playback device. However, some web-based digital signage CMS’s will playback in any standard web browser. This not only saves you from having to install and manage vendor-specific software but allows you to choose from many different types of hardware to fit your needs and budget.

TV screens and other digital displays

A TV screen or another digital display, like a large LED screen, is what your audience sees your presentation on. It will display the output of the playback device.

Digital signage TV screens

In many cases a regular consumer TV can be used for digital signage purposes. But not all environments are well suited for a consumer TV, for example:

  • a store window that catches a lot of sunlight needs an extra bright screen for its picture to be sufficiently visible;
  • an outdoor screen needs to be weather-proof;
  • an unattended screen in a sports stadium needs to be "vandal proof";
  • professional screens are available longer should one of an array of the same screens need to be replaced.

Benefits of digital signage

  • Generating attention
    By using attractive visuals and animations, the attention of the target group is automatically drawn to the digital signage screens.
  • Dynamic
    Create interactive content and respond to the target group. The content is quickly adaptable so that the message is perfectly tailored to the audience. Ideal for moments or events that attract a specific target group, such as career evenings or networking drinks.
  • Cost effective
    With digital signage, less investment is needed in, for example, print media and distribution.
  • Sustainable
    Digital information provision replaces traditional media, resulting in major savings in the use of paper and other raw materials (such as plastic and ink).
  • Widely usable
    Digital signage supports a wide range of technologies and apps, so there is a solution for every technical challenge.
  • Maximum flexibility
    Digital signage can be managed centrally. The displayed content can be adjusted via the internet with one click - worldwide and up to thousands of information screens at the same time.
  • Improved communication
    Messages are always up to date and can be adjusted quickly and easily, unlike traditional media.

Examples of digital signage

We already mentioned some examples of digital signage at the beginning of this article. Digital signage can be used for all kinds of purposes.

A well-known example is the use of digital signage in the waiting room of a dentist or doctor, for example. For example, the screens in the waiting room indicate how long the waiting times are or you will receive a message when it is your turn. This is often interspersed with (local) weather, news reports and health tips. Digital signage in this example is a good solution to make the waiting time more pleasant for patients.

Screens in a store are another well-known example of digital signage. You often see this in large electronics and white goods stores. For example, the screens inform you about offers and new products, and in the case of interactive screens, customers can obtain more information and browse products. Usually this is interspersed with video clips or film clips. Digital signage is in this case a good way to stimulate purchases and to improve the atmosphere in the store.

A third widely used application of digital signage is the display of menus and offers in restaurants, entertainment venues and snack bars. By using such digital menus and price lists, new products or offers can be quickly added to the menu. Changing prices can also be implemented quickly and it is very easy to periodically highlight products. Think of a monthly offer or products that are new to the range.

Digital signage is also used for internal communication within large companies. While waiting in the elevator or at the coffee maker, the latest news from the company is shown and, for example, who's birthday is within the company that day. An easy way to keep staff informed and involved.

What to watch out for in digital signage?

For the correct application of digital signage, there are a number of points that you should pay extra attention to. We list a number of points for attention:

  1. The size of the screen
    There are several factors that need to be taken into account when determining the size of the screen. The average viewing distance of the screen is one of them. The screen must be large enough to ensure that all content is legible. A screen is not too large, but an unnecessarily large screen naturally leads to a higher investment. The ideal screen size differs per situation and finding the ideal screen size therefore always remains a challenge. To help you find the ideal screen size, we have created a handy tool for you. This tells you exactly how large your screen must be to keep the content legible.
  2. The size of the content
    Depending on the average viewing distance, the size of the content can be determined. It is important that the content is legible. A digital signage screen positioned as a billboard along the highway will have larger content than the digital signage screen in the waiting room at the dentist.
  3. Links with other software
    When choosing a content management system for digital signage, software integrations play a major role. You want to spend as little time as possible with manual updating. By choosing a management system with extensive software links you can automate the content to a large extent. Consider, for example, the display of the latest news items, the weather forecast, agenda items or Facebook messages.
  4. The right screen
    As mentioned, not all consumer TVs are equally suitable for digital signage. That is why there are special digital signage screens on the market. These screens have a longer and more extensive warranty that also offers coverage for commercial use. Screens designed for commercial use offer guarantees that are not offered on consumer screens. Many manufacturers offer guarantees for several years on screens that are in use 24/7. For digital signage setups with multiple screens side by side, a digital signage screen is almost indispensable. Digital signage screens are usually provided with a very thin border, so that you can create a seamless image. Moreover, this type of screen is often available for much longer, so that you can easily replace a defective screen in your setup. With 33% market share, Samsung is by far the largest manufacturer of digital signage screens. The main competitors are LG, Goodview and NEW. This mutual competition is positive for the consumer, since it increases the supply, reduces prices and stimulates innovation.
  5. The right media player
    To play your content on digital screens, a media player is required: this can vary from a smart TV to a fully-fledged desktop computer. In the case of a smart TV you can opt for the built-in internet browser, but these often have a limited processing speed. Therefore choose an external media player that is connected to the internet and that you can tune into your digital signage channel. There is a very large selection of media players and the choice of a good media player depends on the situation. Therefore, be well advised before purchasing a media player or check out our help page for more information about the popular options.
  6. Security
    Ensure good security on your digital signage network. The choice for a content management system plays a major role here, but hardware security is also important. This way you prevent your digital signage channel or digital signage screens from displaying content from malicious parties.
  7. Choose a good management system
    Choose a user-friendly operating system that is easy to work with. There are many different providers with user-friendly operating systems that offer a lot of support. Take the time to make an informed decision. This prevents you from being burdened with an unnecessarily complicated system.

Conclusion

There are many approaches to setting up digital signage. Each with its own pros and cons. We wouldn't be surprised if this brief overview leaves you with some more questions. In that case don't hesitate to ask. We are more than happy to answer them for you.