As one of the world’s biggest events for users of screen technology draws close, Barnaby Page looks at the benefits to attractions of replacing old-fashioned signs with digital displays.
Digital screens are such an integral part of modern life that it’s difficult to imagine a day without them. And parks and attractions are increasingly using them to replace signs, posters and other printed material, displaying multimedia content that can be instantaneously changed, and providing opportunities for interaction that were barely possible with static signage.
Digital displays can entertain and inform customers, deliver commercial messaging, and develop revenue. The potential of screen media – often called “digital signage” or “digital out-of-home” – is limited largely by operators’ imagination. But rather than just rolling out a screen network because it’s what everyone else is doing, and hoping some fairy dust will rub off on the bottom line, it’s essential to rigorously define the business rationale for digital displays:
Meeting with suppliers and other users to gain intelligence on these vital considerations will be high on the agenda for many of the attractions industry visitors to Screenmedia Expo Europe next month in London (see panel). But before we draw up a shopping list let’s consider the general advantages that screens have over printed signage.
They are changeable: they can show moving video, or a rotation of still pictures. What is shown can be altered instantly, or automatically varied according to a set schedule. They can provide audio as well as visuals, and they can provide opportunities for interaction with customers, either through the screen itself– these days, generally using a touch-sensitive surface – or through the consumer’s own mobile device.
But how, in practice, do they provide a commercial edge? Perhaps the simplest way to gain a return on investment from screens is by using them to cross sell and up sell. Screens can be a powerful way to nudge the visitor into sampling elements of the offer that they may not have considered, such as food service and retail.
This requires a deep understanding of the customer and their journey, both through the physical premises and through the day. For example, the guest sitting at a restaurant table is unlikely to be interested in an entertainment event that starts in five minutes, but may be tempted by a dessert special – unless it is breakfast time, in which case information on events later in the day could well be appropriate, because they are probably still in planning mood.
Other applications for screens have softer benefits, improving the customer experience even if they don’t give a direct bottom-line boost. For example, it’s well-documented that dead time spent waiting in queue lines seems briefer, and less annoying, if there’s a distraction like a screen.
Another soft benefit is in-park navigation. While conventional signage and maps can help the customer with orientation, screens – particularly interactive, touch-enabled ones – can do much more. For example, they can highlight routes between two spots selected by the customer. They can be updated in real time to reflect issues like out-of-service rides, or retail and restaurant opening hours. Digital signage can also be integrated with queue-management systems to provide real-time queue information around the park.
And that just scratches the surface. Anywhere that the business needs to communicate anything more than the very simplest, never-changing information to its patrons, there is a strong chance that screens will achieve that more effectively than conventional signage, as long as the ROI – hard or soft – justifies the investment.
Ah yes, that investment. How much are we looking at? The answer, of course, is that it is impossible to give a definitive budget, because screen networks vary so much in their size and complexity and according to the venue. However, the American digital signage software provider WireSpring recently published some calculations indicating that the single biggest costs, leaving aside content production, are management software and technological support, followed by screens and media players.
Finally, don’t overlook the peripherals like screen guards, screen mounts and cabling. They won’t make a network successful if the concept, the content or the management software are wrong, but they are essential to keeping it running smoothly – bringing benefits to both your business and your customers.
The place to be screen
Imagine a whole trade show dedicated exclusively to digital signage. Welcome to Screenmedia Expo, which takes place at Earls Court in London on May 18 and 19.
Alongside big names in the sector such as software suppliers BroadSign and Scala, there will be contributions from technology giants including AMD, Cisco, HP and Intel. The attention they’re now paying to digital screens in public places is a strong indication that the technology is growing more stable and mature, enabling businesses such as parks and attractions operators to invest with confidence.
Also present will be a host of specialists. They include Harris, a major player in broadcast technology, as well as innovators such as Minicom, dZine and Omnivex. Add to this an extensive conference and education programme running alongside the event, and Screenmedia really will be the place to be “screen” this May. Now that the season is up and running, go along and check out some ideas for the summer and beyond.