Digital signage

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A digital sign, featuring scrolling text, in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

Digital signage is a sub-segment of electronic signage. Digital displays use technologies such as LCD, LED and Projection to display content such as digital images, video, streaming media, web pages, weather data, restaurant menu, or text. They can be found in public spaces, transportation systems, museums, stadiums, retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and corporate buildings etc., to provide wayfinding, exhibitions, marketing and outdoor advertising.


Digital signage is defined as a "remotely managed digital display typically tied in with sales, advertising and marketing" [1] or as "a network of electronic displays that are centrally managed and individually addressable for the display of text, animated or video messages for advertising, information, entertainment and merchandising to targeted audiences." [2]

Role and function[edit]

There are many different uses of digital signage that will allow a business to accomplish several goals. There is no definitive list of potential applications. However, some of the most common applications include:

  • Public information – news, weather, traffic and local (location specific) information, such as building directory with a map, fire exits and traveler information.
  • Internal information - corporate messages, such as health & safety items, news, and so forth.
  • Product information – pricing, photos, raw materials or ingredients, suggested applications and other product information - especially useful in food marketing where signage may include nutritional facts or suggested uses or recipes.
  • Information to enhance the customer service experience - interpretive signage in museums, galleries, zoos, parks and gardens, exhibitions, tourist and cultural attractions.[3]
  • Advertising and Promotion – promoting products or services, may be related to the location of the sign or using the screen's audience reach for general advertising.
  • Brand building – in-store digital sign to promote the brand and build a brand identity.
  • Influencing customer behavior – navigation; directing customers to different areas, increasing the "dwell time" on the store premises, and a wide range of other uses in service of such influence.
  • Influencing product or brand decision-making - Signage at the point of sale designed to influence choice e.g. Signage to help shoppers to choose dresses inside a fashion store[4] or devices that on a computerized shopping trolley helping the customer locate products, check prices, access product information and manage shopping lists.[5]
  • Enhancing customer experience – applications include the reduction of perceived wait time in the waiting areas of restaurants and other retail operations, bank queues, and similar circumstances, as well as demonstrations, such as those of recipes in food stores, among other examples.[6]
  • Navigation – with interactive screens (in the floor, for example, as with "informational footsteps" found in some tourist attractions, museums, and the like) or with other means of "dynamic wayfinding".
  • Reservations – small, interactive screens on walls or desks that allow employees to reserve the space for a limited time and integrate with a room and resource scheduling platform.

Industry overview[edit]

There are currently over 200 different companies worldwide that are marketing digital signage solutions[7] and the number is still consistently growing. With the influx of digital signage providers, the digital signage market is expected to grow upward to $21.92 Billion USD by 2020, with a CAGR of 8.04% during a five-year period; from 2015 to 2020. The reason for the rise is due to the growing demand by companies for the development of digital signage solutions, advertisement displays, and paper wastage reduction.[8] Presently, North America dominates the digital signage market and will be expected to continue dominating the market until 2020, with the US occupying a majority of the market share. The Asia Pacific and European region has shown promising markets, with Germany and UK in Europe, and Japan and South Korea in the Asia Pacific region. These four countries are expected to have the highest rate of growth in the digital signage market by the year 2020.[9]

Digital signage on the side of a building reports stock prices

Industries using digital signage[edit]

Predominant market users of digital signage are restaurants,[10] retailers,[11] office buildings,[12] regional state and local planning authorities, public transport services,[13] and various industries.


Digital signage was used in the restaurant through an interactive menu screen that rotates according to the different promotional offers. Restaurants are able to use digital signage both indoors and outdoors, with the latter needing a form[14] of weather protection depending on the components of the hardware. Outdoor usage of digital signage is most prevalent in drive-through that allows the customer to browse through the entire menu at a glance while also placing their order with an interactive touchscreen.[15] Indoor digital signage is used for the display of menus. Prior to the integration of digital signage, restaurants would have to manually update the cafeteria menu, which is in of itself a full-time job, especially if the menu needs to be updated daily. With digital signage, restaurants do not have to manually update the menu feed, with live menu feed from digital signage solutions.[16] According to a survey conducted by quick-service restaurants and casual restaurant operators, over 20% of restaurant operators experience a 5% sales life after incorporating digital signage in their service sectors.[17]

Shopping malls[edit]

Digital signage is widely used in shopping malls as a form of directory or map display. The multitude of uses digital signage is capable of enables shopping malls with a flexible solution that will fit different needs. Some of the uses of digital signage in shopping malls are wayfinding kiosk, enabling the customer to find their path through an interactive touchscreen. Another usage of digital signage in shopping malls is disseminating relevant information such as the schedule of an ongoing event or campaign.[18] Digital signage may also be used in shopping malls as a form of advertisement. Shopping malls owner will be able to manually control the advertisement or media that will be displayed in the digital signage and will be able to rent the advertising space for an additional source of revenue. With the digital signage in the shopping mall, there are many different opportunities to using the device and attracting shoppers.


Digital signage is frequently used during exhibitions or marketing events to entice the audience and passersby. Digital signage aims to attract crowds to the particular event and enhancing the experience of its visitors by making the experience memorable, in order to create an effective campaign. It is not just exhibitions from other companies that use digital signage, there is even an exhibition dedicated to digital signage; showcasing all of the latest developments in digital signage and key market leaders.[19] Exhibitions are able to use digital signage to create a high-impact branding experience for advertisement purposes in an enclosed environment.[20] A recent campaign promoting the release of The Emoji Movie had utilised a digital signage kiosk to allow guests to interact with various emoji characters from the film via the windows outside and inside of the party during the premiere of "The Emoji Movie" fashion show.


The hospitality industry uses digital signage to display crucial information at a convenient and visible location for all its patron. A digital signage is capable of functioning as a virtual concierge in hotels and as entertainment for conferences during waiting room.[21] Digital signage is also used in hotels as a form of wayfinding, to guide a large group of people for a conference to the correct room. Digital signage is used to provide a simple method to update information that is continuously changing such as expo information.[22]


The cinema industry utilizes digital signage to augment the movie-goer experience. Digital signage is placed in the lobby, concession stands and displays advertisement before the movie begins. This informs customers about other theater offerings and scheduling, increases concession sales and gains other sources of revenue.[23]

Digital content[edit]

Digital content is created easily and flexibly via a display control software. This control software can be a stand-alone dedicated program or an internal integrated hardware. New messages can be created from a creative inventory of audio, video, image, graphics, words and phrases which assembled in different combinations and permutations to yield new messages in real-time.

Digital content displayed on the signage is presented in one of the following formats:

Video clip of a digital sign in Dearborn, MI, USA
  • Text - Scrolling text. Either scrolling text, or text dynamically updated via external Newsfeed source.
  • Images - Scrolling images, usually in the format of digital advertisement posters
  • Video - many display control systems use canned graphics and video, however, custom video can be self-generated or contracted by many sources.
  • Interactive interfaces - Integration of signage with a touch screen, beacons, sensors, RFID technologies, to allow for two-way communications with the users. Interactive digital signage helps to engage users and may also assist advertisers to gain insight into customer behavior.
  • Context-aware interfaces [24] - Integration of signage with cameras, sensors and software to monitor the ambient environment and audience, allowing signage to be updated according to the audience profile, weather conditions or some other relevant external factor.

Display control software[edit]

Since digital signage content may be frequently updated using the control software, and also because of the interactive abilities available through the accompanying employment of real-world interfaces such as embedded touch screens, movement detection and image capture devices which enable these forms of signage to understand who and how users are interacting with them, they are gaining acceptance as an alternative to static signage.

Digital audiovisual (av) content is reproduced on TVs and monitor displays of a digital sign network from at least one media player (usually a small computer unit, but DVD players and other types of media sources may also be used). Various hardware and software options exist, providing a range of different ways to schedule and playback content. These range from simple, non-networked portable media players that can output basic JPG slide shows or loops of MPEG-2 video to complex networks consisting of multiple players and servers that offer control over enterprise-wide or campus-wide displays at many venues from a single location. The former are ideal for small groups of displays that can be updated via USB flash drive, SD card or CD-ROM. Another option is the use of D.A.N. (Digital Advertising Network) players that connect directly to the monitor and to the internet, to a WAN (Wide Area Network), or to a LAN (Local Area Network). This allows the end user the ability to manage multiple D.A.N. players from any location. The end user can create new advertising or edit existing advertisements and then upload changes to the D.A.N. via the internet or other networking options.

Developments in web services have meant the APIs for some digital sign software now allow for customized content management interfaces through which end-users can manage their content from one location, in a way which suits their requirements.

More advanced digital sign software allows content to be automatically created by the media players (computers) and servers on a minute-by-minute basis, combining real-time data, from news to weather, prices, transport schedules, etc., with av content to produce the most up-to-date content.[25]

Personalised digital content[edit]

One specific use of digital signage is for out-of-home advertising in which video content, advertisements, and/or messages are displayed on digital signs with the goal of delivering targeted messages, to specific locations and/or consumers, at specific times. This is often called "digital out of home" (DOOH).[26][27]



Interactive digital signage allows end users to interact with the displayed digital content via touchscreens, body sensors or QR codes via smartphones.[28]

Digital signs can interact with mobile phones using SMS messaging and Bluetooth. SMS can be used to post messages on the displays, while Bluetooth allows users to interact directly with what they see on screen. In addition to mobile interactivity, networks are also using technology that integrates social and location-based media interactivity. This technology enables end users to upload photos and messages to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as well as text messages to the displays.

The widespread use of smartphones led to the development of screen–smart device interaction technologies. These allow smartphone users to interact directly with the digital signage screen, for example, participate in a poll, play a game, or share social network content.

Context-aware digital signage[edit]

As the name suggests, context-aware digital signage leverages a number of technologies such as sensors, cameras, beacons, RFID technologies, software programs and network connectivity including the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor the ambient environment, process information in real time, and deliver highly relevant promotional messages based on an interpretation of environmental cues.[29] Many of the newer context-aware digital signage products are fitted with cameras and gather shopper demographic data by estimating the age, gender and social class of passers-by and use this information to update signage as well as to provide users with back-end analytics and shopper profiles.

Other innovations[edit]

New technologies for digital signage are being developed, such as three-dimensional (3D) screens, with or without 3D glasses (see Anaglyph image and Autostereoscopy), 'holographic displays',[30] water screens and fog screens,[31] and virtual reality (VR).[32]

Markets and applications[edit]

While the term "digital sign" has taken hold throughout most of the world, some companies and organizations prefer to use the terms "narrowcasting", "screen media", "place-based media", "digital merchandising", "digital media networks", "digital out-of-home" or "captive audience networks". The term Digital Signage was first coined in early 1992 when a network of video walls in UK Shopping Centres run by Neil Longuet-Higgins of ProQuip and Centre Network Television was referred to as a digital sign by a security guard who did not understand the term Videowall. Neil Longuet-Higgins from SIS Digital was then the first to use this term to promote the nationwide network of 'Digital Signage'.[citation needed]The Out-of-Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA) defines digital billboards those that “offer static messages that rotate every few seconds with typically six to eight advertisers sharing the same location".[33] Digital signage is evolving so rapidly that even the OAAA definition appears to be outmoded given that interactive digital signage and context-aware digital signage is anything but static.

China currently leads the world in the number of digital sign displays deployed and number of NASDAQ IPOs. Another source for information on digital sign displays and impressions (the number of times a viewer reads/views digital sign), is a report provided by Nielsen, the "4th Screen Network Audience Report". In it Nielsen identifies that digital screens in the "fourth screen" category in the US generated over 237 million monthly exposures to persons 18 years or older. The report identifies Screenvision, NCM, Captivate, GSTV and IndoorDirect as among the companies that are leaders in the fourth screen category. One of the leading digital sign companies in movie theaters is Screenvision, with over 14,400 screens in the US; another leader in the "fourth screen" marketplace is GSTV (Gas Station TV), which reportedly generates over 32 million digital sign impressions every month. Nielsen estimates these 237 million+ exposures translate into more than half (54%) of the adult population being exposed to a place-based video ad during the period measured.[34]

Equipment and network infrastructure[edit]

Digital signage in the Warner Village Cinemas in Taipei
Digital signage in a pharmacy store

Digital signs rely on a variety of hardware to deliver the content. The components of a typical digital sign installation include one or more display screens, one or more media players, and a content management server. Sometimes two or more of these components are present in a single device but typically there is a display screen, a media player, and a content management server that is connected to the media player over a network. One content management server may support multiple media players and one media player may support multiple screens. Stand-alone digital sign devices combine all three functions in one device and no network connection is needed. Digital signage media players run on a variety of operating systems including Windows, Linux, Android and IOS.

LCD and LED displays[edit]

Digital sign displays may be LCD or plasma screens, LED boards, projection screens or other emerging display types like interactive surfaces or organic LED screens (OLEDs). Rapidly dropping prices for large plasma and LCD screens have led to a growing increase in the number of digital sign installations.[35] An array of these displays is known as a video wall.

Digital signage displays use content management systems and digital media distribution systems which can either be run from personal computers and servers or regional/national media hosting providers. In many digital sign applications, content must be regularly updated to ensure that the correct messages are being displayed. This can either be done manually as and when needed, through a scheduling system, using a data feed from a content provider (e.g. Canadian Press, Data Call Technologies, Bloomberg LP, Thomson Reuters, AHN), or an in-house data source.

Whenever the display, media player and content server are located apart there is a need for audio-video wiring between the display and the media player and between the media player and the content server. The connection from media player to display is normally a VGA, DVI, HDMI or Component video connection. Sometimes this signal is distributed over Cat 5 cables using transmitter and receiver baluns allowing for greater distances between display and player and simplified wiring. The connection from media player to the content server is usually a wired Ethernet connection although some installations use wireless Wifi networking.


JPEG images and MPEG4 videos remain the dominant digital content formats for the digital signage industry. For interactive content, HTML5 and Unity3D are widely used due to their popularity among web developers and multimedia designers.

There are a number of technologies which are hoped to improve standardisation and interoperability of the digital signage industry, such as SMIL and POPAI.[citation needed] POPAI has released several digital sign standards[36] to promote "interoperability between different providers". The objective of these standards documents is to establish a foundation of performance and behavior that all digital sign systems can follow.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schaeffler, J., Digital Signage: Software, Networks, Advertising and Displays: A Primer for Understanding the Business, [NAB Executive Technology Briefings], 1st edition, Focal Press, 2013, p. 1
  2. ^ Schaeffler, J., Digital Signage: Software, Networks, Advertising and Displays: A Primer for Understanding the Business, Focal Press, 2013, pp 3-4
  3. ^ Calori, C., Signage and Wayfinding Design: A Complete Guide to Graphic Design Systems, Wiley, 2007, pp 8- 9
  4. ^ "The "Clueless" Closet Of Our Dreams Is Here". 
  5. ^ Marketing Magazine [Australia], 10 September 2011 Online:
  6. ^ Eleftherios AlamanosJ. Joško BrakusCharles Dennis, "How Digital Signage Affects Shoppers’ In-Store Behavior: The Role of the Evoked Experience," in Ideas in Marketing: Finding the New and Polishing the Old, [Developments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science Book Series], 2014, pp 748-751
  7. ^ "List of Digital Signage Companies and Vendors in the design: retail Buyers' Guide". Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  8. ^ ltd, Research and Markets. "Global Digital Signage Market - Forecasts and Trends (2016 - 2021)". Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  9. ^ "Research and Markets: Global Digital Signage Market - Forecasts and Trends Report 2015-2020 Featuring Cisco, HP, LG, 3M, Samsung & Panasonic". Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  10. ^ "DSE14: Dunkin' Donuts serves up digital menu boards". 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  11. ^ "11 great ways to use digital technology in retail stores". Econsultancy. Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  12. ^ "Go Green, Go Save". Retrieved Aug 22, 2017. 
  13. ^ "Digital signage telling Toronto where to go". 2015-07-30. Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  14. ^ Groce, Nia. "Emojis Get a High-Fashion Makeover at Saks Fifth Avenue". Footwear News. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  15. ^ "One display to go please: Digital signage at the drive thru". 2017-08-11. Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  16. ^ "QSRs driving digital menu boards 'like the Ferrari they are'". 2014-03-20. Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  17. ^ "Top 12 benefits of digital menu boards [Infographic]". 2012-05-13. Retrieved 2017-08-22. 
  18. ^ Esker, Fritz. "Making Digital Signage Work in Shopping Malls" (PDF). Digital Signage Today. 
  19. ^ "Why Exhibit at DSE?". Digital Signage Expo. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  20. ^ "How to use digital signage to enhance your event or exhibition". Digital Signage Today. Digital Signage Today. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  21. ^ Spectrio. "Top 5 Uses of Digital Signage in the Hospitality Industry". Retrieved 2017-09-21. 
  22. ^ "Digital Signage in the Hotel Industry". Digital Signage Today. Retrieved 22 September 2017. 
  23. ^ "Rethinking the Cinema Experience with a Digital Signage Network". Broadsign. 2017-09-27. Retrieved 2018-01-09. 
  24. ^ Satoh, I., "A Framework for Context Aware Digital Signage," Active Media Technologies, 7th International Conference Proceedings, AMT 2011, Lanzhou, China, September 7–9, 2011, pp 251-262
  25. ^ John V. Harrison, Anna Andrusiewicz; Enhancing digital advertising using dynamically configurable multimedia, Proceedings of the 2003 IEEE International Conference on Multimedia and Expo, ICME 2003, 6–9 July 2003, Baltimore, MD, USA. IEEE 2003/2004, ISBN 0-7803-7965-9.
  26. ^ "DOOH - Digital Out of Home". ISE Europe. Archived from the original on 2008-12-18. Retrieved 2009-03-19. 
  27. ^ Wertime, Kent; Fenwick, Ian (19 December 2011). "DigiMarketing: The Essential Guide to New Media and Digital Marketing". John Wiley & Sons – via Google Books. 
  28. ^ "Interactive experiences transform Mar Shopping Algarve". AV Magazine. 2017-11-14. Retrieved 2018-02-05. 
  29. ^ "Smart Retail News NEC and Microsoft partner on analytics-based digital signage". 
  30. ^ "Researchers develop a 360-degree holographic display". engadget. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  31. ^ "Fogscreen: projecting images in the air". Gizmag. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  32. ^ "Interactive experiences transform Mar Shopping Algarve". AV Magazine. 2017-11-14. Retrieved 2018-02-05. 
  33. ^ Out-of-Home Advertising Association of America,
  34. ^ Joe Mandese, MediaPost News,April 13,
  35. ^ Nystedt, Dan (2008-08-08). "Time to Put Off Buying LCD TVs and Displays". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  36. ^ "POPAI Digital Signage Content Standards". POPAI. Archived from the original on 2011-03-12. Retrieved 2011-06-18. 

External links[edit]