Ngage sees digital signage coming of age

There’s been plenty happening in the digital signage space recently. Prices for screens are coming down, big global players are making big orders and digital-out-of-home is responsible for a lot of the growth in outdoor sector around the world. APN Outdoor just launched the country’s first digital billboards in Auckland. And Ngage is also riding that wave, with a recent roll-out of digital signage across the BP network and some big projects on the go.

Business development director Alan Nicholas says the network now consists of around 1,000 screens around the country, and its oils network, which includes BP, Z and Mobil is the jewel in the crown, as it reaches 80 percent of New Zealanders who drive. 

The outdoor industry has long trumpeted the fact that having messages close to the point purchase affects consumer behaviour. So it’s certainly well suited to the FMCG sector (as an example, the average transaction at BP is $28.53, with a good chunk of that not spent on petrol). And another benefit, he says, is that creative can also be tailored to specific times (like breakfast menus in the morning) and swapped out regularly. In fact, Nicholas says that’s one of the most important considerations for brands because rather than leaving the same message up for four weeks as is typically the case with traditional outdoor, content needs to be refreshed regularly, with different messages and deals displayed. 

Nicholas says outdoor has been hamstrung to some degree because it’s so difficult to plan national campaigns, and billboards just don’t have that national reach. But as its network also includes Pak ‘n Save, The Warehouse, The Koru Club and a few other sites, he says it is truly national and is able to reach those hard to reach places like Southland or Westland. 

He admits the past few years have been tough going. But he feels as though the sector has now reached a tipping point, with the price of the infrastructure coming down enough to make digital signage much more attractive. 

“It’s like getting the first smartphone. They used to be so expensive, so hardly anyone had them. But now you can get one for a couple of hundred bucks.” 

And as the price comes down, usage is increasing and the networks are growing. In the UK digital-out-of-home is growing at about 23 percent a year and he says Alcatel-Lucent predicts it will be worth $13 billion a year soon. 

“More and more companies are investing in developing digital signage. And that means they’re more willing to create content for those screens.”

Obviously a big part of the business is selling ads across its network. And he says it is also looking at ways to make the screens in its network part of the online advertising ecosystem, with ads served up on them as they might be on a website. But through its partnership with Australian retail group TeG, it’s also doing a lot of installation and infrastructure work with the likes of Myer, Bunnings, Coles, Kmart, YUM brands and Subway (it’s hoping to install digital screens that also provide customers with WiFi).

Globally, he says McDonald’s has just ordered 70,000 digital menu panels for its restaurants, so he says that’s an indication of what might lie ahead. And he’s hopeful the New Zealand arms of such businesses will also embrace the trend (he says it’s currently in talks with a telco and a bank in this market about installing digital screens across its retail network).

New Zealand has a long way to go to catch-up with the US, which is particularly advanced with digital signage around stadia (Ngage does have the contract for the Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin). But he says we’re not too far away from the scenario predicted in Minority Report, with facial recognition technology able to offer personalised ads and mobile technology able to send deals direct to devices as you walk past. 

How annoying, many would say. But Nicholas says it will be opt-in. And like digital signage itself, he says it’s a great example of how this technology is “becoming a link between the digital and the physical world”. 

  • Ngage is a part of the Image Centre Group, which also owns StopPress. 

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