Sign of the Times

By Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas | Aug 15, 2008




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You may have noticed digital signage all aroudn, but you may not have realized this niche market is a potential work opportunity for electrical contractors. The broad-based term, digital signage, actually encompasses the technology that allows information to be transmitted and displayed on screens, and the signs are actually part of a larger system.

The large displays showing travel information in airports and train stations are digital signage systems. Cisco also uses such networks to communicate internally to company employees.

The technology layer of digital signage, which combines data, video and possibly voice communications, renders the information for display. Digital signage networks offer data, but by tacking on video displays, the overall experience is enhanced.

“There is almost no limit to what you can render on the video display,” said John Delay, director of strategic management, government solutions unit, Harris Broadcast Communications. Users are finding more creative and relevant ways to use such networks.

Delay also said the media and entertainment industry are big users of the technology to enhance the audience and guest experience.

Furthermore, one of the fastest growing markets, according to Delay, is the commercial point-of-sale market. This includes companies, such as Wal-Mart, CVS, Rite Aid and other stores, that have multiple locations that all work off of a primary network.

Delay noted this growing market is a key area and niche market that contractors could potentially focus on to sell into. End-users generally recoup their initial investment rather quickly because digital signage networks often are used for advertising, and those advertising dollars help deflect the initial cost.

“A lot of these networks are out of home networks, and those who operate them run them as a business. They sell advertising space. It is a financially attractive business,” Delay said.

The information delivered through the network is generally displayed on an LCD screen and is transmitted through either hardwired solutions or an 802.11 wireless network. Electrical contractors have experience installing both variations. Delay said that electrical contractors also work on the wiring associated with hanging the LCD displays. With such networks, there are ample opportunities for electrical wiring. As with most other network-based solutions, Delay said, even for those that are rooted in or partially supported by wireless networks, there is always a fixed network connection somewhere. The choice between wired and wireless is up to the user, and some digital signage networks are a hybrid of both.

Opportunity exists

Delay recommended contractors who intend to join this market familiarize themselves with the products and solutions first. He also suggested that contractors would be helped by learning about companies that have in-depth technical experience in deploying digital signage systems.

“Signage networks can range from small ones housed within one building and having 10 displays, such as those within a movie theater, to large national ones with 10,000 locations,” Delay said.

As it stands, the equipment side of the digital signage business is a multibillion-dollar industry. As with other fringe technologies and systems, this requires a supporting infrastructure to run, and that is where contractors come in.

He mentioned that contractors are able to do full turnkey projects, but that the large-scale projects are generally reserved for niche integrators and large national prime contractors. However, such projects can be spread across multiple regions and, therefore, employ a slew of contractors and subcontractors to do the actual installation work.

“Contractors can create a nice niche business for themselves by getting into the digital signage market and offering things like installation, system setup and maintenance,” Delay said. “There are a handful of integrators within this space. There is opportunity there for electrical contractors to work on projects, mainly in the small- to mid-sized network space. The majority of the large projects are done by the big integrators.”

But even those large, integrator-reserved projects have potential for work, as contractors know that integrators routinely contract work out to ECs.

Contractors should learn more about digital signage networks. The more it is understood, the more it becomes relevant in contractors’ own business endeavors.

Delay said contractors who have the initiative can make it part of their business and take the lead by engaging and educating customers.

“People at this point just do not know how to implement it. They know it is cool, but they do not know that it is relatively simple to do,” Delay said.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at [email protected].

About The Author

Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas is a freelance writer who lives in central Pennsylvania.





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