What’s coming soon to a screen near you? Answer: AI, interactivity and much, much more. The global digital signage market – encompassing everything from mini order screens at restaurants to outdoor advertising billboards – is about to explode.

Estimated at $18.55bn (£15.1bn) in 2018, it’s forecast to rise to $31.71bn (£25.81bn) by 2025 – a compound annual growth rate of around 8%. Other estimates put it higher.

So why the enthusiastic investment? Let’s take a look behind the screens to see the technological advances in hardware and software that are expected to transform the sector over the next few years, and what they could mean for your brand.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is standard in new technologies these days and digital signage is no exception. Coupled with advances in hardware, it’s allowing brands to analyse their audience and tailor their messages far more effectively – an obvious boon for advertisers.

With digital billboards, such as at shopping centres, equipped with proximity sensors and face-recognition technology, it means that signs can now tell how far away someone is, whether they’re looking at the screen, their gender, age and even their mood. That will allow brands to customise content – which they will draw from a cloud-based network rather than the current go-to of a memory card – that will update in real-time.

And it’s not just big corporations. Many sectors, including campuses and airports, are replacing video walls and projections with digital signage, blurring the distinction between the two.

Customer interactivity

Most important, though, will be the rise in interactivity. In the near future, many of our interactions with service staff will be replaced by touchscreens. In a survey by Digital Signage Today, some 54% of restaurants plan to deploy digital signage to more locations, as do 40% of retailers and 63% of banks. Airports are already using digital kiosks to help passengers find their way around.

Such technology is designed to reduce errors, increase efficiency and speed up the ordering process. It can also enhance the customer experience by including funny videos or even games to play while they wait for their food. Retailers are also joining in, with ‘virtual shelves’ forecast to expand the range of products on show and enabling customers to shop out-of-hours at a ‘virtual shop window’.

Again, AI could be used to decide what content to show to which customer, even recognising that person and making suggestions based on their past purchasing history.

Mobile integration

For brands, another key aspect is the potential for digital signage to smooth the customer’s journey to purchasing their product. That’s where integration comes in.

As mobile technology advances, customers should be able to choose their product and pay for it in one, without the need for cards and cash. That means mobile technology should be complementing, not competing with, digital signage.

Better hardware

Underpinning all these changes are advances in hardware. Improvements in touchscreen technology will drive the move towards interactivity and also make it more intuitive.

Cheaper, more energy efficient and better MicroLED lights will enable bigger screens – especially useful for outdoor advertising. They will enhance the brightness and improve the resolution of large screens, and will be visible from further away.

The next big thing? Rollable screens and 3D holographic displays are both on the cards, presenting new possibilities for forward-thinking brands.

Challenges ahead

So what are the challenges for brands? As ever, no amount of exciting technology will help your brand without excellent content. Brands need to think hard about what they are providing and why, in order to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

Ann McLaughlin is head of sales and marketing at Linney. 

Click here to find out why digital signage is paying dividends.