Digital Signage Today & Tomorrow

EPSIODE 115 | Guest: Daniel Brown, Editor of Digital Signage Today

The digital signage space is facing a period of rapid change that shifts the focus to the audience and the experience, instead of the message and the product. Innovations in workflows and approaches are being augmented by technological advances like holograms, IoT, AR and AI. Sustainability considerations have also come to the forefront of everyone’s minds. And, as always, it’s ultimately about the content you put up on your screens.

  • Learn why it’s all about the user experience today
  • Understand why DEI is important for today’s audiences
  • Hear how academic research is impacting the ways businesses communicate
  • Discover how coopetition is changing the way businesses interact with each other
  • Explore how advances in holograms and mixed reality are impacting many diverse sectors, from branding to healthcare

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Derek DeWitt: As we all know, and we’ve been talking about now for the past few episodes, progress is kind of unavoidable whether you like it or not. As John Guare, the American playwright, wrote in his 1977 play Landscape of the Body, “It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.” And I think that’s quite a nice thought, in fact. A lot of people seem to be trepidatious about what the future may hold. But we here at Digital Signage Done Right and Visix are quite excited about it. Now, I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of things, but there’s good news. I know someone who does, and that is Daniel Brown. He is the editor of Digital Signage Today, one of the industry resources for what is going on in the digital signage and internal communications spaces. And he’s here to talk with me about what might be a-comin’. Hello Mr. Brown. Thank you for joining us today.

Daniel Brown: Hi Derek. Thanks for having me.

Derek DeWitt: Absolutely. Happy to have you. And thank you everyone for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast, and you can follow along with a transcript of the conversation Mr. Brown and I are about to have on the Visix website. Just go to and there it is, plus helpful links.

So, Mr. Brown, again, thanks for coming on the podcast. Like you’re immersed in digital signage, like it’s all over you.

Daniel Brown: Pretty much. I’ll tell you, Derek, even nights and weekends I’ve been studying. I joke with folks and say, I took it as my mission to get my PhD in digital signage, and it has been a nonstop fire hose ever since.

Derek DeWitt: The fire hose of digital signage. I like that. You know, it’s funny because, you know, when Visix started, there really wasn’t much in the way of digital signage and now it’s everywhere.

Daniel Brown: Absolutely. And it’s so funny because, in a sense, it’s everywhere and it’s nowhere. Should we even call it digital signage is a very hot debate as we enter the Internet of Things and the Metaverse, and all the technologies are becoming more and more connected. One expert I chatted with, I love what he said, he’s kind of lobbying for, let’s call it experience engineering. And I thought that was so creative, because it’s way beyond the little PowerPoint that you wheel it on your CRT at the university, right, 20 years ago. It’s….all your senses are engaged.

Derek DeWitt: Hmm. It’s interesting that you mention the word experience because this is something I see cropping up more and more in, you know, in content and the literature and, you know, things like this. Is this idea of, you know, there’s CX and VX and all these different types, of trying to manage the experience for people who are interacting with your brand, interacting with your organization, interacting with your physical facility and the physical spaces. And it really is, it’s like we’re starting to understand it’s more than just here, here’s a little bit of information, go away or, you know, buy my stuff. There’s a whole thing about this. For many years people have talked about, some companies at least have talked about, you know, lifestyle branding. And Nike and some of these other big brands certainly had that. Jeep, I know was one. People who are Jeep owners are like, they’re into Jeeps and they go on trips together and all this stuff. And we’re starting to see that sort of trickle down into everything – corporate hubs, universities, museums, everything.

Daniel Brown: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I saw a wonderful Ted Talk recently where the fella said, look, stop selling products; start selling experiences. And it really reminded me of, oh gosh, this was back in the seventies, there was an entrepreneur and writer, he used to say, how do you make people feel? You know, I don’t care if you’re selling a steak or a car, how do you make them feel? And I think that’s it. That’s the secret of whatever your business is. And there’s so much overlap now between different industries, whether it’s mergers and acquisitions, or the fact that experiences are starting to overlap. What kind of experience are you creating for your (and I hate to use the term end user; I used to work in IT). Treat them as a human being. And that’s the other side that blows my mind. That’s part of why I’m so excited about this industry. The human side is so huge now.

We just recently covered and reviewed Kamales Lardi ‘s wonderful book with Wiley, The Human Side of Digital Transformation, where she shows, look, we’ve got the data now. When you engineer this experience for customers, and also even for your employees as customers, good things happen. The data shows you’ll be more successful across verticals, across categories. How are you making people feel? I say it all day long.

Derek DeWitt: So, when we’re talking about engineering and experience, what are we really talking about? Are we talking about basically just like the feeling of interacting with, you know, the brand or the organization or…? Because that seems rather subjective. So how does one engineer something that people receive as subjective?

Daniel Brown: Well, that’s a great question. We recently covered Valley Bank. We had a piece come out on their digital transformation project. The banking industry is going through some tough challenges right now.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, I know. My personal bank is First Republic. So, yeah, it’s been interesting.

Daniel Brown: You already know, right! And with the Silicon Valley Bank and all this crazy stuff happening, right? And the rise of Neobank. So, you’ve got Apple muscling into the banking sector. It’s like a sci-fi movie from the 1980s or something.

But Valley Bank is still growing after over a hundred years of operation. And so, we reached out ’cause we saw they just had a major project at their Fifth Avenue Manhattan branch, flagship branch. And they leaned heavily into the digital signage and the brand identity across their digital canvas, which that’s another very powerful term that’s cropping up a lot: your digital canvas. It’s not just your sign boards. It’s every digital part of the experience, even walking past your branch. And one of the things they said was a) their current customers have amazing feedback. It’s a beautiful, just aesthetically. But it’s also reassuring folks that hey, we are here to stay. And that was the message, that was like their idea board message when they started the project: we’re here to stay. And it’s a combination of their sort of over a hundred years branding with modern cutting edge technology, DV-led, massive screens, right? They’ve got the wraparound, 90 degree wraparounds, cutting edge. And it kind of reassures customers, hey, you know, there’s lots of changes happening and we’re on top of it, right? But the other thing is it brings in new customers and walk-ins. People who are curious. What is this cool high-tech, beautiful display? It’s advertising services at the point of sale during business hours. People can walk in and talk to a banker and get the service right there that they saw advertised and was interesting to them.

Derek DeWitt: I mean, we used to be able to do this with posters obviously, but it’s just so info dense and info rich to use a screen. That’s it. It’s just like a whole bunch of posters.

Daniel Brown: Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s part of it. You know, historically people have this idea (and this is part of the experience question) that banking is this slow process, and you have to stand in a line and there’s gonna be someone that maybe they’re not very customer friendly or whatever. And no, no, no. The technology blends with the ethos of it’s all about customer service. And chatting with their SVP, who’s organizing this experience, who said, look, our human touch is why we’re thriving, and our human touch is why we’re gonna continue to thrive, we believe. And it’s the combination of we have the cutting edge technology, we have all the new services through your apps and phone, the high security, whatever, but we still have that timeless, fast, warm customer service.

And here’s what he said about the experience that just blew my mind it was so good; you’re gonna have the same experience walking into one of our banks in Florida as our Manhattan Fifth Avenue branch. You’re gonna have all the customer service, and you’re gonna have all this high tech. And I think that’s it right there. A unified, I know what I’m going to get when I walk into your business, whatever it is you’re selling. And I know that the experience is going to be XYZ. And I think that’s part of the point. You’ve gotta unify your experience across your brand for all users.

And one of the aspects of this that I’m so excited about (and Derek, seeing this at the E4 Experience was so exciting for me), a dedicated DEI and accessibility panel that talked about all the different issues that have been overlooked for a while, let’s face it, in our industry. Whether it’s colorblindness, low vision folks, folks with low hearing capabilities, neuro divergence, folks on the spectrum. There’s a powerful segment where one of the speakers talked about his family’s experience raising a child with autism and the different aspects of, you know, digital signage that revolve around that.

And you need to be careful not to hyper stimulate. One example that I tell folks all the time: in my hometown in Ann Arbor, I was driving along the road and I saw this sign (and I’m sure they had some high school intern design this), it was a strobing flashing white letters. It was terrible. It almost gave me a migraine just driving past it. And I was like, that’s part of the experience, that’s part of the accessibility. If you’re giving people headaches and migraines or triggering, God forbid, epileptic seizures through your signage, that’s a negative experience engineering. I’m gonna remember your brand forever in a negative way. So don’t do that, please.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah.

Daniel Brown: And the thing is, you don’t have to sacrifice aesthetics to have that motion. And recently we were chatting with several content experts, ’cause part of Digital Signage Today, we’re trying to tell folks it’s not just the sign, it’s what you put on the sign. It’s what you say, it’s how you say it. And having motion is so important, but it can be aesthetic. And I noticed in some of your recent blog posts and episodes, you’ve mentioned how even with the Ken Burns effect, you can have just a little bit of a panning of an image or one element of the image that’s moving. Well, that’s not garish, that’s not in my face giving me a headache.

And it’s crazy, but interesting, chatting with municipal authorities about regulations on signage, at least in America, they actually have regulations. If you’re by a roadway in some cities, you can’t be too distracting ’cause that could be a public safety issue. So, when you’re getting a permit for a sign, you have to say, okay, well what kind of content are you having? How much flashing is happening? How much motion is happening? If you make your digital canvas aesthetic and accessible, you’re never gonna have to worry about that stuff. So, try to cultivate good taste and good content. And that’s going to keep you in regulations, but it’s also going to draw people in for the experience.

But how do you stand out? Well, you don’t need to use strobing because if you look at Times Square or whatever, there’s so much signal overwhelm, there’s too much happening. How can you possibly stand out there? We chatted with Kevin Bartanian over at KEVANI in L.A., which is a growing signage firm, they’re doing amazing stuff. And he’s hired neuroscientists to do studies. And they literally have driven around L.A., and they’ve had volunteers with the whole setup, right? They’ve got the brain scanner as they’re driving around. And they’re measuring things like recall, and how are you reacting to different types of signage? And one thing they found was location, location, location. You need a sign in a place where it’s not in this overwhelming cacophony. There’s just too much happening. And you also need to be careful about the way you present that sign because if it’s just blaring like all the other ones, it’s gonna be tuned out. Our brain evolved to protect us from too much stimulus. How do I stand out? You need to be different. And that’s where the aesthetics come in. That’s where the content comes in. Make your content unique.

Derek DeWitt: One of the things you mentioned is you’re seeing a rise in this kind of ecosystem mindset. You know, it’s more interconnected, it’s more holistic. What do you mean by that? Like, the signage is not an isolated thing, it is part of this overall experience?

Daniel Brown: Absolutely. I think there’s so many layers here, right? And on one level, you’ve got, I believe, internationally, a business and technology sea change driven by cultural change. And I think Gen Z particularly is driving a lot of ethos change as consumers, and now as they’re coming into the workplace driving businesses. There’s a lot more of this. It was a new term for me, and I was fascinated by it when I got to digital signage, coopetition. Coopetition, it’s cooperative competition. And I think it’s brilliant. It’s like, look, it doesn’t have to be the Mad Men backstabbing, dog eat dog nonsense. There’s plenty of pie for everybody. Everybody can have a piece. And by the way, if we play nicely together, there’s more prosperity for everybody, particular in the digital signage industry. It’s huge. It blew my mind ’cause I’ve been in a lot of different industry; I’ve had a few different careers. And people are nice to each other.

So, I’ve been to several events where they said, look, the reason I’ve been in this industry for 20 years is the people. It’s like a big dysfunctional family. And my gosh, it’s true. Listen, you can be talking to the CEO over at a software firm, and they’re buddies and they play golf with someone at a competing software firm, and will very happily say, look, I think my stuff is the best for XYZ use case. But it sounds like you have ABC use case. You know, his stuff is pretty darn good. So, you know, he’s got some good stuff. So, there’s this idea of a rising tide will raise all boats. We’re all in this together. We all just weathered the most horrific setup. You’ve got pandemic, you’ve got the supply chain issues, you’ve got war in Europe, you’ve got all kinds of stuff happening. As an industry, folks are coming together and saying, look, we can play nicely. Look at the DSF, the Digital Signage Federation. It’s a nonprofit organization. They’ve come together and said, look, let’s set standards of excellence, even competitors in hardware, software integration, you name it. And even things like accessibility. Let’s make our industry as great as it can be because if we work together, we’re all gonna prosper.

And this is something that, again, going back to Kamales Lardi, she’s done incredible work with Alphabet, Google, Facebook, Meta, all these Silicon Valley firms, showing them using this human touch and the coopetition, the ecosystem, treat even your competitors well, because someday they might be collaborating with you. It’s an ethos that’s really spreading and it’s very powerful. And folks are realizing you need to work together. And as the silo is dissolving, and this is something that I believe, and a lot of the folks I talk to believe, digital signage is no longer a silo. There’s so much overlap between categories and verticals. Everything is connected. And very often you’ve got firms that used to be directly competing. Well, now they might be supplying each other with services or components. So, you need to play nicely, basically. Long story short, coopetition is very big.

Derek DeWitt: It’s very interesting. You know, not terribly long ago I spoke to Brian Galante who runs Dimension PR.

Daniel Brown: Oh, I love Brian!

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, you know, Brian. He went to ISE in Barcelona. He was struck by three main things that he saw over and over and over again at that at that show. And that was immersion, collaboration and sustainability. And the collaboration element was very much what you’re talking about. You have a company that, you know, makes this and this and is good at these things. They’re not so good at these other things, but maybe they’d like to, you know, play in that space or touch that space. Well, here’s another company that is good at that. And so, it’s like, what you’re good at, we’re not good at, and vice versa. We’re not gonna buy you, you’re not gonna buy us, but we are gonna collaborate on this one project. And let’s see if we can, you know, work together in such a way that our partnership helps us both. And, of course, helps the customers as well.

Daniel Brown: Well, yeah, I totally agree. And let’s go back to that idea of experience engineering as the core of whatever your business model is, inside or outside digital signage. And it goes back, do you remember “A Miracle on 34th Street”? I mean the original, the OG movie, right, from the 1940s or whatever? Where this mindset is spreading, and you’ve got the department stores will help the customer find what they want at the best price wherever it’s at, even if it’s a competitor. So they’ll say, go across the street, they’ve got this item, we don’t have it in stock, but they have it. Well, the customers are thrilled and delighted because, oh, you actually care about me and you’re making me feel like a person and you’re meeting my needs. You’re not trying to exploit me. You’re trying to meet my needs and solve my problems, which is the whole point of business, or should be.

Well, that mindset is spreading through digital signage as well. And guess what? If I need a player machine and you specialize in cloud-based, and you try to force me to purchase something that’s not gonna work, and I’m finally like, guys, I’ve got this very unique use case, I’ve got this problem with bandwidth, whatever, you’re just trying to exploit me. I’m not gonna use your brand. I don’t like the way you’re treating me. Conversely, if you say, look down the road, I’m sure you’ll probably wanna look into our stuff, but for the moment, here’s the very best example of what unique. And it could be something like, BrightSign has a very good reputation, so we’ll use BrightSign. You know, these BrightSign players are a great hardware option. I personally would prefer to see you use our cloud services, but I understand you have unique needs. So, if I were in your shoes, these are my top options, whatever. Well, I’m gonna remember that. I’m gonna put that in my pocket. I’m gonna remember how your brand made me feel in that moment of experience. And down the road, let’s say I scale up to 25 locations and now I can do cloud-based. Who am I gonna go to? Well, I’m gonna go to the person, the brand, that made me feel good, that was meeting my needs.

And that’s something the data is finally starting to bear out. We’ve got like 20 years of robust data across technology verticals. I’m not receiving any kind of commission; I’m not receiving anything from this. I just love Kamales Lardi’s book and her scholarship. She does this wonderful 20 years of academic, just the research, the data, the numbers, the case studies show good karma, well, whether you believe in it or not, the numbers are there. Your profit margins will go up. Treat people like people, engineer an experience where the needs are met, where you keep it simple, and they’re gonna come back to you again.

And by the way, word of mouth is so important. People are going to speak well of you if they have a good experience. We’ve all seen it. You know, when do people leave a review? It’s when their mind was blown, something was amazing or it’s terrible, right? Those are the two extremes. People usually don’t leave a review unless they feel very strongly about something. And again, it’s not just marketing gurus. The idea of surprise and delight. People say, oh, well, where, what’s the ROI on this? Why should I do things that are beautiful or funny or interesting and brighten someone’s day even if they don’t buy something today? Well, again, what’s the data show? Look at Ryan Reynolds, how he just got acquired, right? Mint Mobile. He had some of the funniest, most low budget ads you’d ever seen in the cellular business. How did he build this company with such a low budget, like almost $0 marketing budget, but viral, hilarious, irreverent commercials.

Derek DeWitt: And he’s famous, which also helps to a certain extent. He’s already got a fan base.

Daniel Brown: The perception of irreverent, humorous sincerity that brightens my day, makes me share it across all my social media ’cause I really laughed, I thought it was a great ad. Well, suddenly people are buying. They remember you. They know you, they like the way you made them feel. That’s the thing. How do you make people feel? So design that experience, stand out.

And make great content. Again, it comes back to content. Make excellent content so that even if I’m not buying you today, I’m gonna remember you, right? And going into the neuroscience, you’re making that hippocampus fire up. That’s where our memory storage happens. Seeing something that is so unique and might be humorous or it’s just different and that fires and it goes into our long-term memory. So next time I need whatever you’re selling, that’s the first thing that comes to my mind. It’s brilliant.

Derek DeWitt: So, you know, my previous conversation with Brian Galante, he also mentioned he saw a lot of holograms or things approaching 3D and holographic technology, as well, at ISE. And I suspect with InfoComm, we’re gonna see probably quite a bit of that as well.

I have to say, I’m a little bit of a hologram skeptic. I’ve never seen one that really added to the experience. You know, it’s like, oh look, it’s kind of 3D-ish if I wear these glasses and stand right here and don’t move. Okay. Like, it just seems a little gimmicky to me. Maybe that’s because it’s a new technology, and so nobody’s figured out a clever way to use it yet. But I don’t know. What’s your feeling on holograms? ‘Cause I think InfoComm is gonna be probably flooded with them.

Daniel Brown: Absolutely. 100%. I’m really happy you asked me about this because I love holograms. I am just a nut about holograms. We kind of started a category on our website of coverage after I started for holograms. And people were like, dude, you’re crazy. What are you doing? Well, they are rising at a, my math friends would like to say, a logarithmic rate. The technology is advancing so fast.

We had a future interview with David Nussbaum, the founder and inventor of the proto holo, HoloPortation device or hologram. And he explained, you know, scientifically we’re still seeking…the holy grail would be an object created from light, like you see in the movies, whether it’s Star Wars, Star Trek, etc., and we’re working towards that. But we have the next best thing. And here’s what I love about it. You talk about engineering experience. We’ve talked to Shawn Frayne of Looking Glass. They’re working on similar related technologies. It’s becoming so realistic you don’t need glasses. You don’t need to wear special VR lenses. It’s there in the display itself.

So, for example, I’ll talk about both ’cause I’m excited and there’s new examples coming out almost every week. The proto hologram is being used by celebrities now to beam around the world, even simultaneously. they have this patented (I don’t even understand all the details – so smart, the engineers), this compression technology to beam 4K, high definition, three-dimensional…. They’re beaming these celebrities to clubs, to events. And it’s like they’re there. And for guests, you don’t need to wear glasses or anything. You see them as you’re walking around this device, they’re on the display. And what’s interesting is, they’ve been doing studies, it makes a part of your brain fire up that only fires up when you’re in the presence of other people. So, one of the huge implications, for example, with pandemic, we had so many lockdowns, there was so much loneliness and isolation. This hologram communication technology is a great way to fire up, on a brain science level, a piece of us that needs human connection.

And this is something that even with the Looking Glass, they recently have had teasers for, I think they’re engineering this 3D AI powered avatar character. And they’re kind of mum about it. We don’t have a ton of details. I’m excited because this is going to be not just advertising, it’s gonna be huge there. This is going to be mental healthcare. This is going to be elder care. If you look at the crazy numbers in terms of folks that are gonna need care in the next few years, it’s astounding. It’s almost like a (I don’t even know what the word is), like, the government’s doing studies on how do we take care of all these folks that are maybe in homes or need care and we don’t have the resources? And that’s part of fueling robotics. Like, we’re gonna need help. Well, this is making that part of your brain fire up. This is something that’s great for dementia and Alzheimer’s. They’re going to eventually, I predict, do tons of research on this. It’s a way to engage someone emotionally as a human being and hopefully forestall some of that decay. This is going to be a huge step in that direction.

In terms of advertising and business, for at least certain use cases, this is firing up every element of that experiential brain in ways that were previously impossible, right? So for The Mandalorian, they had, Disney had this premiere, and they had (I think it was the Looking Glass), they had one of their new displays showing different characters in different vehicles. And no glasses. You didn’t have to wear HoloLenses or whatever. You could literally see from any angle. It was like you were looking through a window and seeing whatever the ship was, Millennium Falcon, or I don’t even remember all the names. H&M, the New York City store, they had a hologram display that went viral, and they were doing fitness classes. And here’s what they did. It was so clever. The people teaching the fitness classes through the hologram were wearing the H&M, their new fitness line. So they’re promoting their line in a viral way. You’ve got people taking all these videos, posting on Twitter and Instagram and so forth. It was brilliant. And it engaged people in a way that was previously impossible because it feels like they’re right here in the room with me. And I think that’s absolutely incredible.

Here’s the other thing. Talking to David Nussbaum about the sustainability side; you don’t have to fly to meetings in Europe or Southeast Asia or Australia. You can be there virtually live, physically present (as far as people can tell); you’re having the same engagement, and there’s no CO2 emissions from the travel. They’re now working with Christie’s, with some of these auction houses. They’re beaming in 4K, three dimensionally, these goods that are being bid upon at different auctions. They don’t have to damage the goods or risk damaging the goods by putting them on a plane or a boat or train. It’s incredible. And again, the CO2 savings are massive.

And that’s what I love. The sustainability push in digital signage as an industry is so huge. It’s unreal. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen. And all of the companies are jumping on board. All of the big names are jumping on board, and I love to see it. And I think holograms, that’s a piece of the puzzle. We’ll eventually get to where you have the Star Wars, Star Trek version where it’s literally, it’s like an object made of light. We’re getting closer. But even in the meantime, for specific use cases, there is nothing like the hologram, and it is exploding.

You’ve already got major brands that are under NDA are currently beta testing, because of the work shortage, 3D avatar characters in stores that can, again, fire up that experiential “I feel like I’m talking to an actual person” for wayfinding, for greeting at the front end of brick and mortars, for basic customer service tasks, you name it. And again, with the rise of ChatGPT and so forth, more and more AI power to answer more and more questions, because they can’t get the labor, they can’t get the workers. And here’s the other thing, they’re freeing up the labor force (if the beta tests go well, which currently they seem to be going very well), you’re freeing up your workers to do more interesting, complicated, creative, human-shaped tasks while you have this 3D avatar out front doing the basic repetitive easy stuff. And even with drive-throughs, QSRs are starting to experiment with the exact same thing.

So, I don’t think that holograms are a silver bullet for every use case, but I think they’re going to become ever more important. And the last one I’m gonna mention really quick is in the medical field, surgeons are starting to experiment with mixed reality. And they just had the first mixed reality hip replacement, and I believe it was Indianapolis a few months ago. And it was a huge news event. It was the first 100% accuracy hip replacement that they’ve ever had because they could see (and in this case, they did have to wear the Microsoft HoloLens too, I think), they could see the bones from the CT scans and from the x-rays while they were installing the medical device. They did not have to guess at the angles of the bones. The surgical outcomes are so much better as a result of this.

Well, extrapolate that. Pretty soon they won’t have to wear those lenses. Pretty soon, this is going to become available for more and more surgeries. Well, we all have seen the statistics on surgeries. They’re not as high as we would like them to be for outcomes and so forth. Imagine 100% accuracy. And this is something that I just sent an item to the Automate (we launched a new automation website), and there’s a company called Neocis that makes surgical robotics. And one of their systems is called the Yomi. And it does dental surgeries with, you know, a hundred percent accuracy. It can do in seconds what it takes a human hours to do. The outcomes are so much better.

So, if you think about it, combining this augmented reality, the artificial intelligence, the surgical robotics, we are entering into this amazing era of medicine where we’re reducing so many human-based mistakes ,and we’re increasing the outcome so much with this technology. I don’t think people realize how big it already is. I don’t think people realize how quickly it’s growing. This is exponential change. This is not linear. It’s not 20 years down the road. It’s happening now.

Derek DeWitt: It’s gonna be very interesting when, you know, we look back, 10, 15 years down the road and, you know, AI has kind of taken off. And like you said, maybe the holograms have become so good that, when we just get used to them. We’ll have telepresence. We’ll a, we’ll be using AR for, you know, just about everything. I mean, we kind of have limited versions of it now, you know. Like I know it’s happening more and more in the United States (and again, Covid was a driver of this), you go into some of the, I guess, more hipstery restaurants and gastro pubs and they don’t have a menu; they have a QR code. And, you know. And if you don’t have a smartphone, okay, yeah, we do have a couple of paper menus that we’ve laminated, and you can handle them, and we’ll wipe them down afterwards. But we don’t have, you know, a hundred of them. We have five of them.

Daniel Brown: Well, yeah. And this goes into experience. It drives me nuts. It, it’s like the prototype of something that could be really cool, but right now it’s really annoying, right? And I’ve done it, too. I’ve sat down and it’s like, I don’t wanna get out my phone. I want to just see what it is. But then when they hand you the greasy menu and it’s got ketchup and it’s really gross. Well, what if we have (and this is where I’m super excited, you talk about emerging technology), why don’t you have epaper?

Well, there’s an epaper revolution. And I don’t scoop myself, we’ve got an upcoming feature on epaper, but it’s becoming bigger and bigger. The technology’s getting better. They’re starting to have high color. They’re starting to speed up the update process, and restaurants are taking notice. It’s very cheap and very sustainable, by the way. It’s way better for the environment. You can just display your menu with live updates as needed. Hey, we’re out of potatoes. Okay, well that’s off the menu. That’s an instant automatic fix. But if you use epaper, it’s using much less resources. It’s using much less energy. And you’re not handing out greasy menus. But you also don’t have to have your mobile device ’cause it’s right there. And it blows my mind. Why aren’t more restaurants doing this? And you’ll see it as you go on (I do a lot of road trips) as you go to little (I don’t know if it’s actually Starbucks; I’m just saying the name Starbucks, you know), if you go get your coffee, you’re gonna see more and more epaper. You, you do a double take, because at first you think it might be, oh, is that a chalk sign? The font looks like chalk. It looks like, no, no, that’s epaper. Well, it’s gotten that good and it’s becoming so affordable.

Here’s the thing: at FIFA in Qatar, they literally adopted epaper for all of the bus stations. And we had an item on this a few months ago. They didn’t have physical bulletin boards; they didn’t have posters. They saved so much waste, and it was so much more sustainable. Well, after FIFA, you’re starting to see all these transit organizations in major cities take notice. And I think it’s San Francisco just recently launched a big epaper push at some of the bus stations, subway systems and so forth. It’s becoming really big.

Now, like with holograms, use the right tool for the right job. That’s what the architects say, right? It’s not a silver bullet for every use case. epaper does not emit light, right? It uses ambient light so you can see the display. So, if you’re in a very dark environment, you’re gonna have to either light it up or you might want a sign that’s LED based. You’re not gonna display video on epaper, okay? You’re not gonna have like a 4K moving display, etc. (at least not yet.) Use the right tool for the right job. But it’s a step in the right direction.

And here’s the thing. Coopetition, we talked about the ecosystem. Well, the epaper folks are really good at a certain use case, making it sustainable, more affordable for people. You don’t have to spend on a QLED or OLED, you can just get your epaper display for your coffee shop. Well, that democratize this technology, by the way, for mom and pop, for small to mediums. But they’re very open about the fact that, hey, this is not for everything, you know. And I was interviewing, I think it was one of their VPs, for those piece, and he said, look, we’re very open about the fact that we are trying to do a specific job and make the world better in this area, make it more sustainable, but we’re not gonna be doing your NFL game, you know, displays with the videos and advertising and so forth. And that’s okay. The other guys do that very, very well. This collaborative ecosystem where different firms are inventing solutions for different problems. And they’re very transparent about the fact that, look, this is what we’re good at. And these other guys that, by the way, we probably partner with because everyone’s getting connected. They’re very good at that other use case, right? And it’s not this, you know, we’re gonna trash talk OLED. We’re gonna trash talk LED. No, no, no. They’re not trash talking anyone. They’re just saying, look, if you’re trying to do X, we’re the best at X. But if you’re trying to do Y, okay, well, those guys are really good at Y.

And here’s the other thing that blows my mind. We’re talking to each other to make each other’s products better and more sustainable and more accessible. And I love to see that. ‘Cause again, we’re all trying to make the digital signage industry better for the end user, for the consumer, and create a better experience. Because if they have a better experience with your signage, they’re gonna think higher of our industry, and then they might think higher of me and vice versa. We’re all in this together, is the mindset.

Derek DeWitt: So, that’s just a taste of some of the things coming down the road. Some things you probably have heard of. We briefly, very, very tangentially mentioned AI in there, but that’s been talked about in previous episodes. Holograms. Okay, I was skeptical and now I am maybe not so skeptical. Maybe all it took was speaking to a hologram enthusiast.

We’re seeing mixed reality and augmented reality stuff. We’re seeing the Internet of Things come along. We’re seeing all of these new technologies emerging that are going to, honestly, define certainly the first half of the 20th century. By the time we get to say the 2050s, this will just all be very commonplace and probably much faster because everything is changing so rapidly.

And we’re also seeing, and honestly, it warms my, you know, born and raised California heart to hear, that at least some companies and organizations are no longer just saying, we have to be dominant. We have to slam down our competitors. No quarter, no one left alive. none of that stuff. Instead, we’re seeing cooperation, understanding our own strengths, understanding our weaknesses, finding people to help plug the gaps. And as the cliche goes, a rising tide raises all boats. And it’s nice. I hope that becomes the defining characteristics of the 21st century when historians look back 100, 200 years down the road.

And so, any time I get a chance to talk to somebody who maybe has a little bit of insight (I’m not gonna use say, prognostication, but, you know, okay, maybe something approaching it because they have an actual in-depth knowledge of what’s happening), it makes me feel like maybe I’m getting a glimpse into the future. And that expert in this particular instance has been Daniel Brown, the editor of Digital Signage Today. Thank you, Mr. Brown. Just fascinating stuff!

Daniel Brown: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody out there for listening. Don’t forget, you can check the transcript with lots and lots of links to many of the things that Mr. Brown talked about, and of course to Digital Signage Today as well, and all of the things that they’re doing. They continue to publish, constantly, new updates in all of these fields and even coming up with more as well. Just go to the Visix website under resources and podcasts.