IF YOU’VE EVER VISITED a popular tourist destination like Orlando or stopped by a fast food drive-thru, you’ve likely encountered an outdoor digital sign. An indoor staple for many businesses, schools, government agencies, and transportation hubs, digital signs are increasingly finding their way outside too. While connectivity issues and Mother Nature pose some challenges to installation and implementation—think heat and humidity, wind, solar glare, and other environmental factors—the opportunities for IT providers and integrators in outdoor digital signage are significant and growing.
The overall market for digital signage solutions (encompassing hardware, software, and services) is predicted to top $32 billion by 2023, with a CAGR of 7.4 percent from 2017, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. Digital signage veterans assert that the outdoor space is a rapidly expanding part of that growth.
“From the signage market top down, the public display or digital signage market is growing in double digits, and larger displays and screen sizes over 60 inches are leading the way in that growth,” says Alan Brawn, a principal with Brawn Consulting, an audio visual and digital signage consulting, training, and education firm in San Marcos, Calif. According to a digital signage trends report from Samsung, a big player in the digital signage display market, in collaboration with Futuresource and IHS Markit, outdoor signage is predicted to grow faster than all other segments of the market—increasing by 2x from 2018 to 2021.
Chuck Lewis, vice president of business development and sales at Palmer Digital Group, a provider of indoor and outdoor digital kiosks in Aurora, Ill., has similar anecdotal evidence. “Around 2016, my quotes from customers were primarily focused on indoor kiosks,” he says. “It was probably 75 percent indoor and 25 percent outdoor, and that has now flipped to be mostly outdoor.”
The growth in outdoor solutions is driven by several factors, chief among them a dropping cost of entry, according to Jason Ault, COO of Coffman Media, a digital signage solution provider in Dublin, Ohio. In addition to lower hardware prices, “manufacturers are building all-encompassing units,” Ault says. These include the display and an integrated media player within an all-weather enclosure. “You can put it on a pedestal or a wall and it’s ready to go outside, other than creating any other aesthetic needs around it,” he explains.
Digital menu boards are a big contributing factor to the growth of outdoor signage solutions too, Brawn says. Outdoor digital signs are also gaining popularity along highways, and at sporting venues, amusement parks, convention centers, college campuses, outdoor malls, and increasingly, says Lewis, in urban downtowns. Signage near building entrances can provide information about public transit schedules or meeting and event agendas, and also display directories and wayfinding tools. “Outdoor signs are ideal where a venue or facility wants to begin messaging to the audience as soon as they hit the premise,” says Ault.
Local Law and Environmental Challenges
When it comes to planning an outdoor signage project, start by doing your homework on what the local municipality allows, “especially for driver-facing highway signs,” Ault says. Due to their brightness and changing content, numerous regulations dictate what can and can’t be done with signs visible to motorists. “Regulations may obviously be the first fork in the road,” he adds.
Regulations may also govern the most prevalent technical issues with outdoor signage, which are typically environmental factors. Wind load is an example, and different regions of the country have different standards. Lewis says some regions have a maximum wind load of 90 mph, meaning that outdoor signs must be engineered to withstand that force. Other regions, such as Florida, have 160 mph thresholds. When Lewis designs digital solutions, he aims for satisfying 140 mph standards.
“We decided that 140 was a very comfortable fit, even though in many cases it’s really not required,” he says. Setting a standard high has worked well, he adds, given the varying regional codes and their enforcement. Satisfying higher wind load requirements involves more materials, though, and consequently higher costs.