Published on Friday, August 12, 2022

It offers possibilities but needs some tech, and business savvy.


Most commercial real estate properties sport signage. The more generally public access that happens—shopping centers and malls, hotels, offices, medical buildings, even warehouses—the greater importance signage plays to direct car and vehicle traffic, catch attention, provide warnings, offer information, and motivate people into doing what someone wants them to do (often known as advertising and marketing).

Over the years, digital signage has become more important for a variety of reasons, including an ability to employ multimedia, presumed branding to show a company as forward looking, the ease of changing what is on display, and the attraction of a novelty factor, which is less probably less compelling today given how long the technologies have been in public use.

Their business model has become a niche category for REITs as well as an established venue for ads networks. 

A typical example is provided by Primaris REIT, which recently selected Cineplex Digital Media, part of Canadian movie theater company Cineplex, to “develop, install, and maintain a state-of-the-art digital signage network” across 19 of the company’s managed shopping centers. That will consist of 70 large “double-sided portrait screens for media advertising, mall directories, and maps.”

In another example, One Times Square plans digital signage combined with augmented reality to create a “12-floor, branded AR-VR experience offering brands the added ability to connect with their customers in Times Square through immersive, technology-enabled activations.”

Now providers and integrators are combining the types of digital signage likely familiar to anyone who has walked into a mall in the last five to ten years with other types of technology. Artificial intelligence in the form of machine learning, computer vision and image recognition, and sensors embedded in displays can gather information as well as display it.

For example, a display and software could estimate gender, age, and number of people from analysis of visual images and, on the fly, determine advertising preferences for display at the time. That would likely change when people moved on and others took their place. Or a store display could be designed so that someone from a mobile phone could stand in front of a console and bring up product information, like an oversized immersive digital catalog.

All great and likely useful as a tool to help attract tenants and keep people engaged. But it’s not something easily done. It takes effort, expertise, and money. Someone has to plan and control content. Mistakes and errors when they happen—and they will—are obvious to people, so need immediate attention and repair. Also, while there are ad networks, it’s not clear how much they might bring in, nor whether people in the space might find it obtrusive. And that leaves the idea of displays watching the watchers providing a potential “creep” factor.

This is technology for owners and operators to consider, so long as they do with eyes open.