Watching and waiting: European Sign Expo

European Sign Expo will co-locate with FESPA 2013 at London's Excel – but who is actually exhibiting?

European Sign Expo will co-locate with FESPA 2013 at London’s Excel – but who is actually exhibiting?

European Sign Expo will co-locate with FESPA 2013 at London’s Excel – but who is actually exhibiting?

European Sign Expo (ESE), organised by FESPA and the European Sign Federation (ESF), will open its doors in two months. But who will be on the show floor?

For those outside the print market, FESPA is a global federation of wide-format print associations with events running world-wide. In November last year it teamed up with ESF to launch ESE. FESPA acquired Screenmedia Expo (SME) at the end of January, adding digital signage to its new mixture of print and signage systems. Resultantly, it will now form part of the main FESPA/ESE colocation at Excel on June 25th to 27th, expecting to welcome 23,000 visitors; the majority will be print-related but 28 percent of those pre-registered have expressed interest in the new zone.

Neil Felton, managing director of exhibitions and events at FESPA, says the show will demonstrate the full spectrum of print and non-print display technologies, giving exhibitors the chance to reach a new key audience not addressed by other events. He also emphasises FESPA’s role as a not-for-profit and, therefore, an educational entity. This sounds like a promising proposition – so what support has there been from the digital signage side?

BroadSign has been confirmed as platinum sponsor for the event, and Felton says more than 20 digital signage companies have already signed up, with some 15 more in the pipeline. However, this is not yet apparent when looking at the floor plan: only BrightSign and Barco add to the list of heavyweights. A further dozen offers everything from embedded computers to digital scoreboards – products which may appeal at the lower end, but none is a major name.

For Brant Eckett, director of marketing EMEA at Christie, there is one concern that overrides all others. “In these cost-sensitive times, tradeshows need to deliver not only brand promotion and opportunities to educate the market – they need to deliver new business,” he emphasises.

Steve Robinson, product manager for Onelan, notes that the digital signage market is changing rapidly. “Once the hardware and services are fully commoditised, I strongly feel that digital signage will simply become part of the wider digital marketing landscape,” he warns. “If the ESE and FESPA can fulfil their goal of bringing ‘marketers, advertisers, brand owners, buyers and specifiers of advertising’ together, then this will be great for Onelan and the industry as a whole.”

Denys Lavigne of Arsenal Media is also cautious, but for a different reason. Arsenal Media was an exhibitor at SME but works broadly across the visual communications spectrum, and is a company indicative of the target audience FESPA and ESE both would like to attract. “I haven’t seen any event where print and digital have truly been successful together as an integrated solution context,” he says. “I think it hurts the digital side to be too closely associated with print because of the culture shock and different market interests.”

For two years in a row DOOH taxi-top creator Eyetease exhibited at SME, but its chief executive, Richard Corbett, doesn’t believe that a marriage with print is the way forward. “DOOH is a powerful medium and holds a key position in the consumer’s daily journey,” he states. “We should encourage the association of DOOH exhibitions with online and mobile – rather than with print.”

Jason Cremins, chief executive of signagelive, was one vendor ‘disappointed’ with last year’s SME; he says his company will wait to see how the new show performs. Others, however, are more positive about the combination – including NEC’s Northern Europe vice-president Simon Jackson, despite his company not intending to be present. “The purchase of SME makes some sense for FESPA, as the print world is rapidly being absorbed by digital media,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how many of the brands on board [with SME] migrate to the FESPA show.”

These observations from key stakeholders are ones that FESPA may very well answer. However, it has two other challenges. The NEC Showcase, now in its fifth year, lists 44 sector-relevant ‘solutions partners’ as exhibitors. Marketing Week Live, which runs at the same time as ESE, has added a new out-of-home section and appears to be more in keeping with the type of interplay the digital signage sector is looking for.

Digital signage vendors are looking for a real business proposition, and ESE must meet this in order to succeed. So far, the event hasn’t projected a clear enough profile or thorough understanding of the market to convince the major
screen, media player and software manufacturers onto the show floor.

First published 25 April 2013 – Output

OpenSplash: adoption and opportunity

OpenSplash's only requirement is that its logo be displayed clearly for three seconds at start-up (image © Sergej Khackimullin / Fotolia, adapted)

OpenSplash’s only requirement is that its logo be displayed clearly for three seconds at start-up (image © Sergej Khackimullin / Fotolia, adapted)

It’s been over a year since Ayuda’s open-source digital signage player, OpenSplash, was donated to the industry. OpenSplash is a free, multi-platform media player designed to be driven by any network-based content management system (CMS). A few companies, including ComQi, Onelan, X20 Media and signagelive, have taken up the opportunity that this player offers. But the question is, why aren’t more businesses adopting it?

Andrew Neale is a digital signage expert who has been involved with OpenSplash from the very beginning, and Marc Benson, chief technology officer at cloud-based digital signage software provider signagelive, are both members of the OpenSplash steering committee.

“At signagelive we see OpenSplash as an opportunity for vendors, system integrators and most importantly innovative minds to create differentiating and engaging solutions using a solid foundation,” Benson explains. “OpenSplash contains all the core functionality expected of a media player whilst enabling developers to customise and extend virtually any part of the application.

“Although that sounds a bit like ‘techie marketing’, having a high-quality core solution enables new ideas to be delivered quickly and with confidence, knowing that your application is built on a solid foundation that can be connected to any CMS provider. This must be a compelling proposition for anyone looking to build a solution.”

The idea with OpenSplash is that companies will be able to use their content management system and build a quality media player without having to reinvent the wheel. Having a common player platform could also promote standards for within the digital signage industry, which would be highly beneficial, with the added benfit of making it easier for legacy networks to migrate into new, more sophisticated networks.

Neale points out: “One obvious benefit that has emerged when talking to vendors and network operators is that there is a need for standardisation. This is especially apparent when mergers and acquisitions mean that operators end up with running a number of platforms to manage their assets. This is inefficient and unnecessarily difficult to manage successfully.

“Because of the modular structure of OpenSplash, any migration process from one CMS to another would be much easier as there would only need to be an update to an existing OpenSplash player, rather than having to replace the player completely. We heard of a case where the operator had to deal with over ten legacy platforms in one portfolio.”

Interoperability and standardisation are two factors that have brought other industries forward, enabling better collaboration between businesses and reducing development costs.

“OpenSplash is not the first attempt at standardisation within our industry, and I doubt it will be the last,” says Benson. “However, I don’t believe we have yet seen the out-of-home industry fully embrace OpenSplash. I think this can probably be attributed to most vendors having a fear of losing control of the end point, but this fear is unfounded.

“Conversely, many screen manufactures bundle poor-quality software solutions to enable them to sell their panels as the software is free. By bundling OpenSplash, the consumer has choice of CMS to fit their needs – whether they opt for a commercial platform, such as signagelive, or a free platform.”

signagelive has invested heavily into ensuring that as much functionality as possible is available to any unit connecting to its platform, no matter how simple the end device may be. Benson continues: “Later this year we will be releasing our Player API that will enable any media player to connect to the signagelive platform. As part of this initiative we will add an open-source connector for OpenSplash and signagelive, which we hope will drive further innovation.”

Neale concludes: “Because the software is open source and freely available to anyone to use, we don’t know how many or who exactly is using the software out in the field, but we hope that people will give us feedback that we can announce publicly. There have been a number of interesting discussions that we have heard about, and we hope to be able talk about them soon.”

Benson’s parting tip: using Mono ensures that any solutions developed on OpenSplash have the potential to be delivered across multiple platforms, including Windows, Linux, Android and iOS.

First published 23 October 2012 – Output