Where is Digital Signage Headed?

Mitch Leathers

Like many industries, the digital signage market and A/V industry had a strained relationship with 2020, as international and regional tradeshows were canceled, and revenues were generally down. (Note: some digital signage players were able to hold steady and some did rather well.) Before 2020, most in the industry agreed that improving hardware and lowering costs combined with enhanced processing technology, more effective content management platforms, and more innovative content creators all reinforced upward trends for digital signage.

It certainly stands to reason that those factors are still in place, and as confidence and buying power get back on track, so too will digital signage growth.

Here’s a look at a few areas of growth that feel like sure bets.

Digital Immersive Experiences

The more online our world becomes — and 2020 was a huge boost for online activity in all market sectors — the more difficult it is to capture and retain attention in the physical world. It makes sense, then, that developers, retailers, and designers are looking for innovative ways to attract visitors. To stay competitive, managers of in-person venues will be looking to create more intimate, up-close-and-personal experiences using LED displays.

Salesforce Headquarters lobby

We asked our friends at Fusion CIS, who know a few things about digital experiences, to talk about digital immersive installations and why they’ll likely continue to proliferate.

During the last 5 years we’ve seen a dizzying proliferation of digital “immersive experiences.” The growth is inspired by multiple factors, but at its root is the appeal of ‘the shared experience’ — people of all ages and backgrounds, without needing a smart phone, app, headset, or tablet, can participate. And they love it.

We’re talking about “real” experiences here, rather than, say, “virtual” reality. Any digital installation that surrounds or absorbs the viewer, creating a sensory environment, is an immersive experience. It’s really about scale, and how enveloped you are in the content, so that for a short while the installation becomes your brain’s main source of information and stimulation. It’s the difference between watching tropical ocean waves on TV and actually being on a surfboard amongst the waves — it generates a deep emotional response. And you don’t have to be actually surrounded by displays for the installation to be immersive. A large single display like SNA Displays’ 107’ seamless LED wall in the Salesforce lobby in San Francisco, fills your view, and when Fusion CI Studios’ massive waterfall cascades down the display, you have that distinct ‘immersed’ sensation.

Stateroom of the future

Alternatively, displays on the floor, ceiling, and walls in the windowless Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines “Stateroom of the Future” by Fusion CI Studios, encompasses you in an integrated environment, bathing you in the light, sound, and sights of a tropical star-filled night on the open sea. It transports guests to a new reality, providing a moment of emotional magic that persists in their memory — that’s what creates experiences with high impact.

In the past, the only similar kind of experiences were short-lived projection mapping shows at night or in dark interiors, but the evolving technology of LED displays has revolutionized the scene. Displays are thinner, more flexible, even curved. We clad walls, floors, and ceilings with seamless displays of excellent color, contrast, and brightness specs, enabling extremely rich, realistic, unbroken imagery. The entertainment and hospitality sectors are responding by pursuing ever bigger-scale experiences.

With costs of the technology continuously dropping and quality rising, the boundless technical potential of these digital canvases, and the dramatic impact of unique, compelling content possibilities, we’re seeing art galleries, tradeshows, schools, exercise clubs, spas, even luxury homes realizing the power and impact of immersive experiences.

Film production studios, in particular, have come on strong with the pandemic-driven need for virtual production, enabled by recent improvements in real-time rendering and inspired by successful applications in films like Avatar and Gravity. Actors perform in front of giant LED video walls, appearing to be actually immersed in realistic computer-generated environments that adapt perspective view to match the camera angle. These new production environments have the huge advantage of casting light and reflections of the CG scene onto the actors, allowing real-time in-camera illumination that was previously done via expensive, laborious post-production visual effects.

There’s a burgeoning desire to create high-impact experiences. All these factors suggest that digital immersive experiences will continue to be a big growth area for the digital signage ecosystem. The potential is boundless.

Destination Venues

Margaritaville

Destination entertainment venues are vast mixed-use venues on steroids. Think Disneyland, Margaritaville Resort, and American Dream — all enormous properties designed to provide a broad spectrum of entertainment, amenities, and convenience to keep visitors onsite during their outing or vacation.

Not only are these mega-venues on the rise, but they’re increasingly turning to digital display technologies to offer experiences that visitors enjoy and sponsors value.

American Dream, which has been gradually opening in phases since late 2019, is one of the newest (and largest) destination venues in the world. The three-million-square-foot complex features more than 500 retail stores and restaurants, an ice rink, a water park, an indoor ski slope, mini-golf, and a theme park. A key aspect for the development, both for visitor experience and revenue generation, is the 40,000 square feet of networked LED signage and LCD kiosks installed throughout the property. There are dozens of dynamic LED screens including several large-format exterior displays visible from the three major highways nearby. (American Dream is located just south of MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.)

Nowadays, digital signage is designed into the fabric of these kinds of destination venues. As a result, creative content — including well-designed advertising — can be an essential part of the visitor’s overall experience. And, as the in-person retail experience evolves toward “smart stores,” designers increasingly choose to pair dynamic digital displays with cutting-edge content management to engage visitors during their shopping experiences using attention-grabbing videos, mood-setting content, interactivity, and real-time inventory management.

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Corporate Digital Signage

Given the general effectiveness and aesthetic appeal of the digital canvas (when done right), there’s no doubt that businesses of all sizes will continue to incorporate LED display technology into headquarter lobbies, conference and training centers, and other gathering areas.

Even as companies have expanded their remote-work policies, the desire to create memorable in-person experiences for employees and visitors remains. We’ve already seen that large companies, particularly in the big tech sector, are keen on integrating attention-catching, sometimes iconic digital display features in and around their corporate facilities. And given the display technology’s flexible, dynamic nature and its ability to transform stale, corporate atmospheres into warm and engaging environments, this digital signage trend should remain and even continue to trickle down to businesses that don’t necessarily enjoy Fortune 100 status.

Look for higher-quality, lower-cost, and tighter-pitch LED display technology for interior spaces to further accelerate this track.

Special thanks to Lauren Millar, Executive Creative Director, & Mark Stasiuk, Executive Technical Director, at Fusion CI Studios, for their contributions.


Mitch Leathers is SNA Displays’ senior director of communications and has worked in the LED display industry for more than 15 years.

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