Ask the Board – December 4, 2017 | JEFF PORTER


Why do you think digital signage is used so much more in Europe, Asia and Australia versus other regions of the world?”

Digital signage is more wide spread in other parts of the world for one simple reason … it’s smaller “bite-sized chunks.” Take Burger King for example. When I was at Scala, we did all 600 Burger Kings in Germany.  You can have lunch with a few franchise holders and get a quick decision.  600 franchisees is not that many when compared to the more than 8,000 locations in the U.S., plus the countless number of franchisees. The decision cycle and capital investment is 10 times more difficult here in the States.

I still remember a member of Scala’s Board of Directors asking me: “Jeff, we’ve got a nice deployment at TESCO in the U.K., when will we have something similar in the U.S.A.?” I said, “I’ve got a nice TESCO-sized deployment with HEB in southern Texas, but I’m not sure about the other 49 and a half states!”

The U.S. market is a “go-big-or-go-home” place, and it costs some serious capital investment to go big.  It is not for the faint of heart. When you compare that to Europe, you have to remember that what you do in the U.K. is a separate project from doing business in France and in Germany because different languages have to be accommodated. It is arguably a lot easier to manage those “bite-sized” deployments on a country-by-country basis. The situation is similar in Asia PAC countries or in Latin America.  The number of decision-makers is far fewer in these instances, and the capital investment is far less than tackling a large project in the U.S. That’s a winning combination for a quick deployment.

One more issue that really slowed down the U.S. market: Back in the late 1990s or early 2000 days, there was a company called PRN. They were based in San Francisco and ran the Walmart in-store TV network. The screens they installed were literally TVs (as in CRTs) as there were no LCDs or plasma screens back then. At the time, I had the opportunity of serving on the POPAI Board of Directors from 2006 to 2012. POPAI is the global trade association for marketing at retail. Also serving on the board was a woman responsible for Disney Home Videos, which are sold by the boatload in Walmart. She told me a story about how Walmart (in their inimitable fashion) twisted her arm to advertise new Disney video releases on the TVs in Walmart.  Of course, PRN and Walmart broke about 9 out of 10 cardinal rules of digital signage back then, but it was very early.  The screens were 12 feet in the air (ceiling mounted) where no one could see them (they should have been installed at eye level).  The video consisted of long-form movie trailers and infomercials with sound, but no one would stand still long enough to watch the whole loop, and no one could even hear the sound in that noisy store.  

This meant the campaigns were ineffective. The woman from Disney confirmed that she said she did NOT SELL ANY MORE DVDs FOR ADVERTISING IN-STORE!  And then, she went on to say, “Therefore, everyone at Disney believes that in-store digital signage does not work.”  Yikes!  Really?  Disney?  Ugh.  The PRN contract eventually came up for renewal. Walmart did not renew. PRN went out of business.  

I had a chance to bid on a new in-store network, but by that time, the damage was done. If Walmart believed that digital signage did not work, why would anyone else do it? PRN basically “torched” the market for digital signage in U.S. retail for quite a while.  I wish it were not so, but it is. Sad, but true.

Time does heal all wounds as they say, and yes, with a new generation of retail visual merchandisers now in place who DON’T REMEMBER the failures of the past, the U.S. market has now had a second chance to get it right. Fortunately, the new suppliers of digital signage networks here are not making the mistakes of days gone by. BTW, the remnants of PRN are now owned by Stratacache, the parent company of Scala!



About Author

Founder & CEO
Porter Digital Signage

Industry Consultants Council

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Send this to a friend