"We don't need your products!"...Yet

August 11, 2012

That's what the email said, from a notable East Coast hardware distributor. I added the 'Yet".

You see, this company distributes 'Digital Signage' products. Monitors and flat panels that display benign content that no one looks at or remembers in the first place. This once $10 BILLION dollar business is dying fast. Fact is, it was doomed from birth. I know, I was there when it was invented.

I worked at Premier Retail Networks and we created the worlds first 'Out of Home' network for Wal-Mart, or, the first nationwide deployment of what came to be called, 'Digital Signage'.

I was the R&D guy that put all these pieces together, 40 workstations, 16 servers, T-1 backbone, satellite uplink. Installed in over 3000 Wal-Mart stores nationwide.

One particular device I created was a touch screen equipped barcode scanner, that was the size of a CD, the screen actually displayed CD covers, and we put these in the CD racks. Scan a CD, the tracks were displayed, and using the touch screen and provided head sets, listen to the track that you chose. You could touch it, control your experience.

That a big deal, a milestone if you will, interactive touch screens that empowered the user to control their experience. It was indeed, the first product in what I saw as a logical emerging market, 'Interactive Digital Signage'.

Well Interactive Digital Signage did not evolve at that time, guys above my pay grade decided to monitize these screens using a standard 'Broadcast Model' instead of the 'Engagement Model' I fought desperately for. They brought in a bunch of 'Broadcast Guys'. The PRN system became Nielsen rated and used the same model to monitize as if you were sitting on your couch watching TV. The fact that you were in a public store and had no access to 'the remote' was disregarded. In fact, this decision and lack of imagination was the moment that doomed 'Digital Signage'.

In no time at all, Digital Signage grew quickly, over 800 companies would rush to market, displaying marginally interesting content on flat panels, everywhere. Yes, you can get the weather report in an elevator! Breath taking! If your company was named 'Your Ad Here', you did very well. For the most part, I cannot imagine anyone, ever, bought a Ford F-150 because they saw it on a flat panel, in a bagel shop.

Companies that will go unnamed pursued this market, requiring huge capital outlays to build their networks, to monitize 'eyeballs', to compete with broadcast TV advertising dollars.

Now lets see if I got this right:

High capital costs for entry? Check,

Extremely low revenue potential? Check

Zero consumer interest or engagement? Check

And this is still a business 14 years later! 800 companies are now under a dozen.

What about my little CD touch screen product I invented in 1998? What did that do differently?

It 'empowered the user and promoted engagement and interactivity'.

Just like every iPhone in your pocket.

And what is the Future for Digital Signage? Interactive.

I designed a line of 'Interactive Digital Signage ' products that allow for consumer engagement and interactivity, in public spaces. They can be installed in counter tops, booths, tables, walls, windows, taxi's, buses. Anywhere where people are.

I am always looking for sales and distribution partners, hence my rejection email of a week ago.

"We don't need your products!"

'Everyone has eyes but few have vision' I always say.

'We don't need your products...Yet.

Its amazing how your eye sight improves when you have lost enough money!


© John Steven Calder 2004–2023