When we think of Times Square in New York, there’s an iconic element that we tune out as background information. Splayed above throngs of tourists and perched on the sides of the buildings along Broadway and 7th Avenue are towering examples of digital signage. There is no Times Square without billboard-sized digital signage, and they advertise all kinds of things, from what Broadway plays are being staged, to new movies, concerts, events, and all manner of brand-name products.
Though in the past these billboards were printed advertisements, the advent of digital signage has paved the way for signage everywhere to be modified minutes after an advertising copy is finalized. While the name can sound vague, digital signage simply refers to whenever a sign on a business or a public place has been upgraded from glass display cases and tarpaulin prints to LCD screens.
Digital signage is also not limited to static billboard ads. Signage everywhere can feature full video ads on the sides of buildings, be seen in the lobbies of office buildings or near the entrances of malls as interactive touchscreen directories, or even be used as digital menu boards in restaurants. Ad hoc digital signage in the form of projectors have also been used to broadcast sports games on the sides of buildings, or to display political images and messages.
Some fast food chains now even use digital menu boards as self-checkout kiosks to supplement manned cashiers. Changes to a food menu can be conceptualized and displayed on the same day. Additionally, instead of having to select one or two food products to display every other panel, digital menu boards can instead show a slideshow of all the items on the menu.
For places where digital signage has been adopted, gone are the midnight shifts when security guards would have to unlock glass displays, remove the current printed advertisement, replace it with a new copy, and then cart off the old posters to storage. All of that has been replaced with the ease of receiving a file through email and displaying those files within minutes using a digital signage player.
Digital signage players are lightweight computers which can be connected to internal networks or even through the internet to digital signage software. If you’ve ever seen a picture on the internet of roadside construction signs displaying blue screens saying “the OS has crashed and has to shut down”, you’ve seen a digital signage player that’s experienced a software error.
In fact, digital signage on its own has advanced in recent years. Instead of a worker having to travel to individual digital signs to plug in a USB stick, the process has been made easy by cloud based digital signage. A digital signage player simply has to be connected to the internet through 5G or WiFi, and owners and operators can change what’s displayed from their offices using digital signage software.
The innovation of digital signage has become so widespread that movies have used them as plot points. Raise your hands if you’ve ever seen a movie where the villain hijacks the digital display in Times Square in New York or the Red Square in Moscow to broadcast their demands. These movies will stand as cultural artifacts signaling that digital signage is here to stay.