What’s the next boring, billion-dollar digital market? Digital Signage, according to Cisco, which is scheduled to announce Tuesday its first comprehensive offering for publishing, managing and display of digital-sign content.
Exactly what is digital signage, and how might it become a $2 billion market by 2010, as Cisco predicts? In Cisco’s mind, it’s networked servers, client-type boxes and software for creating and disseminating video and graphics in such places as retail stores, hotel lobbies or other places where analog paper posters might be replaced by sexy plasma screens.
There’s no deep thinking or analysis needed here: clearly, a networked display environment could easily offer simplicity and real-time updating, as well as the ability to incorporate video, graphics and other content-rich media.
“The idea is to create once, and display to a variety of endpoints,” says Thomas Wyatt, director and general manager of Cisco’s digital media management business unit. The product roadmap had been expected since Cisco CEO John Chambers gave digital signage a brief mention at the company’s analyst meetings in December; Cisco also acquired a small digital-signage company in December, citing the market’s “enormous potential.”
Cisco’s first offering in the space isn’t for Mom and Pop businesses, unless you’ve got about $150,000 for a 50-display starter kit. Incorporated into such a bundle would be previously announced products like media management and video portal software and a video encoder.
New to the mix is something Cisco calls the Digital Media Player, a small (7.5 x 5 x 1.5 inches) box that would act as the lightweight client (network computer, anyone?) for a nearby display. At $1,490 per player, one might wonder why you wouldn’t just use a cheap PC instead, but Cisco has answers for questions like that along the lines of security, manageability, low power consumption and upgradable firmware.
“Off-the-shelf PCs might not be powerful enough to do all the video and graphics,” Wyatt says. “It turns out the players are a little more cost-effective.” (Off-the-shelf PCs don’t carry the Cisco brand name, hence that explanation!)
Should you care deeply about such matters, Cisco will surely post soon its 24-slide PowerPoint presentation about Digital Signage, with all sorts of typically helpful network diagrams, product roadmaps, analyst projections and customer success stories. There’s even a partnership with NEC thrown in, since like batteries with toys, displays are not included in Cisco’s list price.
We’d giggle some, but who wants to bet against Cisco becoming the networked digital signage king before long? We learned our own lesson scoffing at that silly wireless stuff and that poor-quality Voice over IP thingy, two other markets where Cisco made early entries. Just call this the first step toward Minority Report-style advertising, and pay more attention when Cisco buys a retina-scanning startup.