Toshiba Enters the Digital Signage Fray, Will Basically Do Everything (Including Content)

virtuoso-toshiba-product-1113Last week I attended a press event in Florida held by Toshiba in conjunction with the company’s LEAD 2013 End User conference. This conference is really geared to Toshiba MPS (Managed Printing Services) dealers. In case you are not sure what that is (I wasn’t), MPS dealers are basically the people that sell, service and value-add (by um, changing out toner cartridges, I guess) your office printers that are typically made by Toshiba, of course, as well as Canon, HP, Lexmark, etc. These dealers also sometimes sell security products and network services, but printers — aka “document output devices” — seem to be their main thing. And obviously, they are concerned about the future of their existence, since their main source of revenue comes from… selling printers. The reason I ended up at the event is because Toshiba has set its sights on a new revenue source for these dealers: digital signage.

(Side note: When I told some of the other press guys, who mostly only covered the MPS industry, that I was just there for digital signage and that I covered AV, they said, “Oh, so you are only here for the sexy stuff.” I thought they were kidding – and told them they needed to get out more — but they weren’t really. So yes, if you’re in the business of managed print services, AV is sexy. I digress.)

toshiba-alltheSo if you hear Toshiba is going to start offering digital signage products, you probably think hardware – displays, or maybe players. This is not the case. Toshiba has apparently gotten the memo that manufacturers need to (literally) think outside the box, because it’s going well beyond that – yes, Toshiba’s selling the hardware (although the displays will be spec’d from third-party companies such as NEC Display), but it’s also creating the software and the content, which can be customized, in-house, by Toshiba’s creative team. One astute Toshiba executive said, “If you define yourself as in the print industry, you’re in a declining market. We’re in the business of helping people manage content.”

Toshiba’s digital signage software comes in the form of the Virtuoso, which is a touch display (available in various sizes), stand, integrated PC and customized Windows-based software geared to specific verticals such as hospitality, retail, medical and education. I demo’d this software at the conference, where it was set up for a Tesla car dealership retail setting, in which you could build your own Tesla, as well as in a hospitality application with wayfinding. I only had a few minutes to play with it, but the software was nice – intuitive GUI, attractive layout and design, no technical hiccups that I found.

The Virtuoso comes in several display sizes, starting with a 22” tabletop version and going up to a 70” display with a floor stand. To give you an idea of pricing, the 70” model with 15 hours of customization on the content is priced at about $32,000, with an extremely healthy dealer margin of 30 – 38 percent on that. The pricing is scaled if the end user wants to order multiple displays with the same software on it. There are additional revenue opportunities through maintenance contracts (for both hardware and software), plus additional content developments — billed per hour — and updates. Toshiba did say that the dealer is responsible for “installation,” but there will be third parties available to help if any resellers are “uncomfortable with that.” See a typical sale below:

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This package is basically a single-screen system and clearly couldn’t meet the need for complex digital signage deployments on its own, but Toshiba says it has a solution for that called Experience Manager (powered by ComQi). Since I was unfortunately unable to stick around for the entire conference, I didn’t get to hear more about this would exactly work, but will report back when I know more.

So what does this mean for you, the AV integrator? There are multiple industries eyeing the digital signage market, which they all see as a big, juicy fruit ripe with possibilities – new customers, higher margins, recurring revenue, and just well, untapped money. That includes not just AV dealers and IT firms, but also MPS dealers, everyone in the print sign industry (all print-related trade shows have digital signage now) and in some cases, even the manufacturers themselves. You have a leg up over the print industries because you understand technical challenges and that solving them is the real value-add of a dealer, which manufacturers can’t really replace. You know you can learn the IT and networking side of the technology (though that won’t happen on its own — go get Cisco certified!). So what you really need to learn is how to sell services and not hardware.

The MPS guys DO know how to sell services and contracts. Toshiba said as much, and it felt confident its existing dealers, who really don’t know much about the technology behind digital signage, can SELL this system if Toshiba does the technical heavy lifting. (And I know firsthand what good salesmen they are — our company somehow ended up with a lengthy and apparently ironclad contract for a mediocre Canon printer and the only “services” the dealer offers is mailing us toner cartridges and surly technical support.)

In any case, if you’re an AV dealer, you may want to sign up with Toshiba, which wants to expand its network of dealers for digital signage, and will be happy to have you (I asked). And as for getting into the digital signage market, it looks like it’s only going to get more crowded. Better jump on it now.