Understanding the Costs of Digital Signage

Like any technology deployment or other project – particularly ones that involve Facilities and IT – digital signage will cost money.

Depending on the nature of the project, the deployment may end up replacing, reducing, or avoiding other expenses, perhaps even costing less than previous activities, or even be a revenue generator. Or the signage may have less tangible but still valuable benefits in ways that can’t be measured in ROI.

But either way, the odds are that digital signage won’t be free, so as part of planning to get digital signage and put it to work, understanding what it will cost and why is important. Then you can budget for it, and if appropriate, let any groups or departments who have to help pay for it know how much and why.

Deployments Differ, Erasing Any “Rules of Thumb”

If you’re looking for a quick, simple price estimator for a digital signage network, you’re out of luck – and if someone does offer one, be wary.

“If someone gives a rough rule of thumb estimate they are in for a lot of trouble more often than not,” says Alan C. Brawn, president of Brawn Consulting. “We know the cost of the ‘average’ display, mount and media player.” However, Brawn adds, “You also need to know the type and cost of the software, connectivity, and content, plus the cost for permits, and other variables.”

Even where the basic details are known, each digital signage deployment is different. Not just in the number and size of displays, which is the easiest to quantify, but more significantly, in the mounting requirements, and the amount and type of labor involved to deploy the displays.

And while I’m not including any ongoing costs of content creation and administration – which aren’t necessarily trivial – for purposes of this article, there may still be significant content initialization costs to consider; for example, the databases and maps for “wayfinding” applications.

The per-item costs of the products that go into a digital signage deployment are known up front. Ditto the costs of labor. But until you’ve got a clear picture of what you’re planning to do, you won’t be able to cost it out. Even then, expect changes and surprises as you move from plan to completion.

“You actually never start with the budget process in the beginning of planning a digital signage network,” says Brawn. “You always discuss, argue, and debate, if necessary, the objective(s) of the system and then articulate them clearly, before any budgets get discussed. This creates the roadmap of any digital signage system… and then budgets are considered.”

Categorizing the Costs of Digital Signage

According to Brawn, “The DSEG (Digital Signage Experts Group), which is the organization that certifies people in the digital signage industry, uses The 7 Key Elements to encapsulate what is involved in a digital signage network:

  1. Business
  2. Content
  3. Hardware
  4. Software
  5. Connectivity
  6. Design
  7. Operations

Factors that will help determine the cost, according to Brawn, include;

  • How many displays will there be and where will they be located?
  • Is power and network connectivity already there or will it have to be added?
  • Will there be interactive displays?
  • How many media players will be needed?
  • How often will content need to be refreshed and at what cost?
  • What will the installations costs be?
  • What will the cost of service be?

Digital signage costs can also be categorized as one-time versus on-going or recurring.

Craig Williams, manager of Multi-Media Services at Saint Louis University, in St. Louis, Missouri, says, “From our standpoint, the initial cost of the equipment and preparing the digital signage location is the main cost. The on-going service agreement is not mandatory but something that we exercise and would recommend.”

One-time costs include the initial planning (although this may be revisited or redone, as your organization finds additional locations or reasons for digital signage). This, says David Langbein, Digital Signage Success Manager, Black Box Network Services, “includes identifying locations, and assessing not just power/network requirements, but also what will be involved in installing each displays.”
One-time costs may also include construction permits and the costs for tradespeople, including electricians, carpenters and painters.

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