What will airports need from the pro AV and digital signage community, to fast track new protocols, new needs?

Digital Signage for airports, as well as other public transportation hubs, has been booming throughout this century. But as I write this, air travel has come not to a complete halt but to a crawl, with many wondering where we’ll go from here. As confusing as this spring 2020 disruption is, it won’t last long, in business cycle, or technology cycle terms, so it’s a good time to reflect on what direction this important market for digital signage, displays, and mounting solutions is headed, in the second half of 2020 and beyond. When everyone– including airport designers and tech providers – come out of the hiatus and take flight again, we’ll all be facing new landscapes, and we should learn now about what’s coming.

Airports have been a steady market, and they’ve offered significant revenue potential not just on the hardware side, but also on the content side, as they adopted a hybrid model of showing informational content and sponsored content, i.e. advertising. The latter trend is a part of the larger story of digital signage becoming increasingly attractive to brands and agencies as a new “network”, using that term not in the IT sense but in the media network sense.  These new networks in public places are referred to as DOOH, or Digital Out of Home, and they offer networked digital signage screens in public places that result in placed-based digital networks similar to TV or other broadcast networks.

When you sum up the pieces of the digital signage and display puzzle in airports, we’ve had a synergy where the total is greater than the sum of the parts: the need for flight and terminal information first, as flight schedule information, officially called Flight Information Display Systems (FIDS) are obviously key; then add to that the rise of DOOH networks to expose to a very captive audience – travelers waiting on flights, shopping, eating, and generally tied to one location for hours and open to screen messaging of all kinds; and finally, public safety and security rise each year in importance.

And that synergy had already kicked off a variety of display and digital signage technology trends in airports:

  • More LED, for bigger, higher res, and brighter screens
  • The need for easy access and service for screens, including LED screens and LCD-based video walls. This includes front access to the screen components.
  • Mounting options for screens when flat walls, or in some cases any wall at all, were not available.

And on the content side: In addition to digital advertising– part of that DOOH mix described above– more and more AV and digital signage called on to:

  • Promote compliance with any federal and state statutes related to security, and safety
  • Facilitate the delivery of public safety/security information to more locations, including outdoor areas of the airport
  • Tie in more systems to prevent, deter or halt criminal activity, and facilitate criminal investigations and police actions to safeguard travelers.

So what can we expect to be fast-tracked, in airports, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic? At Premier Mounts, we so often work with the best creative minds in the architectural profession, and we recently became aware of a great analysis of this issue, seen from an architect’s point of view. It’s a great way to frame our approach in the pro AV world, and learn from it. The article can be viewed on the Gensler web site. Gensler, if you’re not familiar with them, is one of the most prestigious, highly awarded, and forward-thinking architectural firms in the world. The article

talks about how design can help airports simultaneously secure their facilities and provide new measures to help protect the traveling public from the spread of viruses and other diseases? As you read through it, have in mind, what role will AV play in that?

To read the article, click here:

So, what can we add, from the AV perspective, to start creating road map to approach new challenges in airport design? Start by looking at the Gensler analysis, where there are several areas where the pro AV community can contribute.

“Use technology to pre-map the passenger experience,” the Gensler article says, to “leverage existing digital technology to pre-map the passenger experience in the style of Disney’s Fast Pass.” While a lot of that will involve smartphone apps, the nature of Airports is that you have a much more diverse population passing through, with many different languages, and with much more security protocols in place, so you can’t rely on everyone using smartphones as their primary platform.

Gensler also says that “Decentralizing passenger processing will be one of the key health and wellness strategies that might be a near-term element of an airport’s flexibility plan, despite the costly and operational challenges associated with this shift.” Well, those costs could be reduced by using smart digital signage to create and funnel people into new zones some of which might need real walls and partitions and some of which could be created with mostly digital tools.

Also on Gensler’s list is:  “Accelerate biometric screening… In fact, we should be exploring how to minimize other touchpoints in the airport experience. Airports can work quickly to accelerate the biometric screening process that some have already begun testing through retinal and facial recognition technologies.” On that last point, facial recognition technology, there is of course a big role for pro AV there. Wherever you have the cameras needed for that, you also need screens for the monitors to view even as the data crunching is done remotely, and screens for the passengers and airport security staff part of the equation.

And there are so many more possible scenarios where more pro AV hardware, software, and services will be needed in airports. It’s clear that all restaurants, from QSR to sit-down, will have different design going forward. In airports as in other venues, that will include more digital signage to remind customers of new safety protocols, more remote or online ordering that could include screens. (And this would be a great time for “haptic” touch screens.

Finally, we predict that the “hybrid model” of airport content, with digital signage showing both informational and sponsored content, will be under more scrutiny. Not in the sense of sponsored content becoming less frequent, but with sponsored content more tailored to the audience as opposed to being just TV content that people see at home or anywhere. In a sense, the hybrid will be even more hybrid: the informational/safety/security content will be more important and so more production values will be applied to make it more compelling. And the sponsored content will contain more sensitivity to safety and security. The bottom line on content: the need for more, better, different content – and ever more large screens to show it.