Programmatic vs. Manual Digital Signage Programming

programmatic scheduling

Digital signage CMS products are split into 3 camps.  Those who offer manual scheduling, the automated / programmatic software, and products that offer both options.

Talk to any CMS vendor and they will tell you their product is better than the others based on what they sell.  They will either say “software A is bad because it only supports programmatic scheduling”, or “software B is inferior because it doesn’t do it”…

Which one should you pick?

The push towards automation in digital signage stems from a broader trend in global tech.  The popularity of the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI powered devices has brought automation into everyone’s home.  It’s now common to schedule your Twitter postings and let Alexa manage the lights around the house.

The same trend is affecting digital signage. More and more products are adding automation features that are meant to simplify everyday tasks.  In fact, there are few CMS products still on the market that don’t offer some form of automation through rule-based programming.

While it’s true that automation has become essential to modern digital signage advertising, the same cannot be said of all digital signage applications.  For example, your typical “mom & pop” pizza joint doesn’t need a complex algorithm to schedule a menu.  Listening to some CMS vendors, you would think everyone is using algorithms and rule-based logic to trigger content based on external data.  However, it’s not always necessary.

There are still plenty of folks who are are perfectly happy using a playlist and time-based scheduling system.  They just want something that is easy to learn, and simple to use.  I see it in education, retail, corporate communications, and hospitality sectors.  There are small-scale projects being launched in  many corporate departments that have nothing to do with a global enterprise-wide rollout, or public schools and small businesses who have very simple needs and aspirations.  For many, programmatic features add complexity because there aren’t any dedicated staff who have the time or technical background to learn and implement these features.

Why go programmatic?

Programmatic and rule-based content scheduling has its place, otherwise it wouldn’t be so popular.  But the target customer tends to be larger, and more sophisticated.  They are national and global companies that have massive amounts of content and data to sort, update, and publish across vast networks.  They are communicators and advertisers who must rely on automation to deliver fresh content to very large and diverse audiences.

When shopping for a digital signage CMS solution, always consider your current and near-future needs. If you’re a small business or a minor department within a mid-size organization, look for software that is easy to learn and deploy.  If you plan to grow your network soon, make sure the software can also support some form of automation.  There’s less chance to outgrow your solution if it lets you automate repetitive tasks when the need arises.

Alternatively, consider third-party content providers.  They can be a great source of “fresh” material that will keep your viewers looking at your screens without adding to your workload.

Large corporations and global media outlets should only consider products that can be extended and enhanced through automation.  They should look for software that offers APIs (application programming interfaces) or SDKs (software development kits) so  in-house developers can integrate the CMS software into the company’s business systems.

Automation has its place, but it’s important to know when it’s a necessity.  One day, all our software and devices may be integrated into one bit IoT network. Until then, we still need to do some work manually and that’s where the old scheduling grid comes in handy.

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