The total cost of owning and operating a digital signage network goes far beyond the cost of purchasing equipment. Along with the initial capital expenditures for the hardware and software are what we call the costs of deployment (i.e. site preparation, installation costs, network configuration, etc). Once the deployment goes live, there are the operational costs associated with providing power to drive the network and the maintenance to keep it operating properly, what we call total cost of ownership (TCO).
Starting at the beginning
The first component when considering the costs of deployment for a digital signage network includes the capital cost, or the initial investment in displays, media players and associated hardware. Due to the complexity of digital signage projects, arriving at ‘apples-to-apples’ comparisons of pricing, terms and conditions can be frustratingly difficult. More digital signage projects have failed due to poor decisions made by selecting the best ‘sticker price,’ rather than the best overall solution, than for all other reasons combined.
Although many of the concerns associated with TCD for a digital signage installation are applicable to both indoor and outdoor displays, they are particularly important in outdoor installations where the power requirements can be four or five times greater than those of an indoor display. Factors such as weather, temperature and moisture also play a much greater role.
Along with the digital display and media player, an outdoor deployment will require components such as an environmentally sealed chassis to protect the display from the elements and a cooling system.
Setting it up
An additional component of the costs involved in operating a digital signage network is preparation of the deployment site itself. Is it an outdoor installation on the side of a building or near a busy roadway? Before any installation work takes place, the end user will likely need to apply for permits from whatever regulatory body governs such installations. That’s likely to involve legal fees, not to mention the cost of the permits themselves.
After the display owner receives the appropriate approvals, the next step is to prepare the site for installation. Is it an outdoor deployment that will require a foundation to be laid and power to be brought to the site? In many of the outdoor locations power is not readily available and requires significant work and capital investment to pull new power to a site. In many cases road blocks must be set and union labor hired in order to pull the power. When looking at the total deployment costs, it is extremely important to know the required power needed for the hardware you choose to determine if new power is needed. This is a significant cost that is often overlooked by first time display owners.
Once the foundation is laid and power is arranged, the display itself needs to be set up and configured. The communication needs to be configured with the end user’s NOC, software and content need to be loaded, and the entire system needs to be tested for security and performance. Who will do this work, and at what cost? Does it require someone on-site for every display, or can it be done remotely?
The cost of hardware (such as mounting brackets) necessary to install the display will add up quickly. Some solutions, such as LG-MRI’s standard products, include all necessary display hardware while others may require these items to be purchased separately. Always ask if the solution requires mounting brackets or other ancillary hardware? And depending on the situation, additional cables, extenders and other connections may be required.
Over the long-term
Many outdoor displays used for advertising or promotional campaigns are associated with contracts that can be 5, 10 or even 20 years long. As a result, display owners must factor in not only the upfront cost for this equipment but also the typical life-cycle of the equipment before it needs to be refurbished or replaced within the term of the contract. There are, of course, the ongoing costs of providing power to the display.
Not only is that figure influenced by the prevailing rates for power in that specific locale, but design of the display itself can have an effect as well. An outdoor display requires a lot of power in order to provide the necessary brightness for direct sunlight environments, and to provide display cooling, so having a display that’s power efficient is extremely important for ROI.
Although a display owner can occasionally save money on their initial capital outlay by purchasing equipment from small suppliers or unheard-of brands, going that route typically leads to much higher costs down the road. Often, they’ll need to replace a component only to discover that the part needed is unavailable, leading to costly downtime or purchasing a new display all together.
In addition, the level of difficulty in servicing the display may affect operating costs. Some displays incorporate the ability to troubleshoot problems remotely, allowing a problem to be solved without a trip to the display. Monitoring the software is the easy part, but it’s also important to ask solution providers if you can monitor internal hardware components remotely.
Remote diagnostics can help arm service technicians with the information they need to address issues quickly, rather than spend time on-site trying to troubleshoot the problem. The ability to monitor a display remotely also allows the display owner to track display performance and identify components that may need replacement (i.e. a cooling fan is running slower than normal, so a service tech can be notified to change the fan when in the area).
Some features can help to reduce the number of times a technician must visit the display. For example, owners occasionally find themselves paying for a service call, only to have the technician discover that the problem is a popped circuit breaker. LG-MRI’s product line, on the other hand, includes a feature that eliminates the chance of a popped circuit breaker, reducing the need for those costly trips.
Can the display be serviced in its installed position, or will it need to be removed from its mounting? That can spell the difference between a service call costing a few hundred dollars and one costing many thousands of dollars. Most displays need to be uninstalled and sent back to the warehouse in order to fix and troubleshoot any issues. Not only does it cost money to uninstall and reinstall the display, but it also results in lost advertising revenue for however long the display is down.
Having something that is easy to service and isn’t going to take a lot of time when you are dispatching a technician is important. Will it take 30 minutes to service the display, or will it take two or three hours? The cost of those technicians increases significantly the longer they are on-site.
Does the display require periodic maintenance? Many displays incorporate air filters that require regular cleaning, meaning the owner will have to pay for trips to the deployment site simply to clean or replace that filter. LG-MRI’s displays do not require periodic maintenance and don’t incorporate air filters, making those trips unnecessary.
And with the rate at which technology is changing, it’s likely that improvements to existing components will become available. A display incorporating a modular design can allow for components to be easily swapped out for upgraded technology, extending the overall life and effectiveness of the deployment.