Outdoor signs are extremely important for businesses. They are used to reinforce branding, promote products and services, or advertise sales and promotions on roadside billboards. Businesses have traditionally used static exterior signage made up of printed materials and painted signs. More recently, advances in print technologies have introduced a range of new materials that can be installed virtually anywhere, and many of these signs can be backlit for night viewing.
Out-of-home advertisers have relied on print media for ages, and the technologies around sign making evolved slowly over time. However, the introduction of commercial LED panels was a turning point for outdoor signage. For the first time, billboards and outdoor signs could feature bright colors and real animation. Now, we’re not talking about mechanical systems that rotate billboard content. This was real computer animation, like in the early days of video games. Text could scroll left and right, or dance around. Basic geometric shapes were even possible.
Back then, first generation LED signs were extremely limited. Image quality was quite poor, and you could only get one color image on a black background. Surprisingly, many of these signs are still in use today. They’re often referred to as pixel boards, and at the time they were considered state of the art.
LED panels are here to stay
The technology behind LED panels is constantly improving. The old pixel board technology has given way to fine dot-pitch LED curtains, and the latest generations panels can render images at amazing resolutions. Current generation LED technologies support full color, full motion images, and many panels can be used in daylight, making them suitable for many types of applications.
Older LED panels were adequate when viewed from a distance, but the image quickly deteriorated as you moved closer. In fact, it’s still an issue today with many low-cost panels.
Today’s high-end LED panels can be viewed up close, and still deliver stunning images. It’s why we see a growing number of these panels used inside. Many top of the line panels even compete with traditional video wall displays.
LED panels aren’t the only type of digital displays you can use outdoors. Many commercial and consumer grade TV manufacturers offer a range of weather and tamper proof, high brightness displays. These displays may look like interior LED TVs but they are specially designed for outdoor applications.
Not so long ago, installing a LED display outdoors required big, expensive enclosures. Nowadays, you can buy a weatherproof display that looks almost like a regular TV, and doesn’t require an enclosure. Some even offer “graffiti-proof” glass for added protection.
Using DOOH technologies for business
Digital-out-of-home, or DOOH is the digital version of outdoor advertising. The technology behind DOOH that handles content management and scheduling is the content management system (CMS).
Your typical CMS software will perform all the tasks needed to store, create, schedule and deliver content to a network of media players connected to each outdoor display. The CMS the backbone of the entire signage system and it’s what advertising network operators use to manage their digital billboards and outdoor signs.
Businesses are now using this same technology for their own outdoor displays. You see these displays used in quick service restaurants, public transportation, stadiums, banking and retail.
Outdoor signage for banks
Banks that feature drive-through lanes are replacing their printed signs with outdoor digital signage. Displays are used to inform customers of new services, provide mortgage information and advertise promotions.
Outdoor signage for public transportation
Public transportation has been transitioning to digital media for several years. The reason behind this push to digital is the delivery of time sensitive information to passengers. Train and bus stations use digital signage to inform passengers of arrivals and departure times, on-time / delayed notices, route changes and other important messages. This follows the modernization of signage in airports and other transportation hubs.
Outdoor signage for QSR
Quick service restaurants use outdoor digital signage in their drive through lanes. Displays are mounted in strategic locations to deliver “pre-sell” messages, and advertise high-margin items. Ads change over the course of the day to match menu offerings. Drive through signage has been proven to lift sales and increase profits.
Fuel retailers install outdoor digital signage above pumps and on pylons to increase sales in their convenience stores. Specials are advertised throughout the day and changed regularly without any manual intervention.
Outdoor signage for stadiums
Stadiums have been using outdoor digital signage for years. Displays are installed in and around concession stands, above entrances and in open areas. Content is programmed to follow the events calendar for the year. Displays show a mix of advertising, general information and sports scores.
What are the best software features for outdoor advertising?
There are as many types of digital signage CMS software as there are applications.
So how can you tell which software is the best for your outdoor advertising needs?
Look for software that can operate in “non-standard” display resolutions. LED billboards and other similar signage can’t display standard 16:9 aspect image. If you attempt to send a HD or Full HD image to these devices, there will be some distortion. In many cases, LED billboards require a PC media player and a special video card that can generate a compatible signal. Digital billboards usually require a PC but newer Android media players can display images at the required resolutions.
The digital signage media player software must also be configurable so the playback window can be repositioned to accommodate the digital billboard layout.
Other important features are:
- Media player software that includes a watchdog feature to monitor its operation 24/7. This way, end users are instantly notified if any technical issues come up. Media player operation must be monitored closely, with automated email alerts sent out as required.
- A user interface that is simple to learn and operate by non-technical users. This is important because you want your staff to be productive as quickly as possible. Complicated UIs cost more due to the need for additional training and certification.
- Support for common multimedia file formats such as images, videos, and HTML5. Content should also be stored on the media player’s storage device to ensure content plays if the player is ever disconnected from the network.
- Real-time data support (RSS feeds, Media RSS, XML, etc.). This is so viewers can experience local weather, live news and other data mixed in with other programming.
- A good web-based content design tool that does not require locally installed software. Having a creative capability inside the CMS software is more efficient because end-users can do more using a single tool. There is no need to switch to another software to create content, or perform edits.
- Software that supports rule-based content scheduling. Take for example, tagging. Having the ability to tag players and content, so only authorized content is only shown on matching players is extremely useful. Also, is having the ability to set future content playback and create patterns (content playable first week of every month, or playable on specific days of the week, or specific time periods). With this feature, content can be pre-loaded on the system well in advance of any promotions or events.