What is a digital signage content management system? | Some must-have features

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A content management system, or in short CMS, is any software application that allows users to create, edit, and publish content on a digital platform.

All types of content (texts, images, videos) you see on a digital medium have to be processed with the help of computer codes. So how does a user with zero coding knowledge publish their content? That is where the content management system comes into play.

In this blog, you will get answers to:

In the much broader sense, ‘content management system’ is an umbrella term that includes all kinds of applications that allow users to:

But, in this blog, we will restrict our discussion to only digital signage content management systems (CMS).

What is digital signage CMS?

A Digital Signage CMS (Content Management System) is a platform designed for managing and orchestrating content displayed on digital signs and screens. This technology empowers users to create, schedule, and update content from a remote location, streamlining the process of presenting information, advertisements, or messages across diverse displays.

A digital signage setup has two primary components:

  1. The digital signage screen & hardware

  2. The digital signage software

Here are some must-have features that users should look for:

Create, edit, and publish content

The primary function of any content management system for digital signage is that it should allow the users to bring out their contents on the screen. Your CMS dashboard will have an option to ‘Upload’ files (images, videos, etc.) either from the local storage of your computer or from online cloud storage. This is the very least your CMS should allow you to do.

Further, depending on the software service provider that you choose, your CMS can have additional features such as:

  • Applications to design content:

    DIY design tools are now in huge demand. People want to be in more control of what they show on their screens. That is why some of the best digital signage software provide in-built design apps that let users create different types of content for digital signage.

    For example, the Pickcel digital signage software has the integrated Canva design app and the three largest free stock image libraries- Unsplash, Pexel & Pixabay.

    graphical image showing pickcel cms with apps like canva, unsplash, etc.

    Pickcel's digital signage content management system (CMS) dashboard

  • Create Compositions & Playlists:

    When your content is all business, your CMS should let you make the most of screens to display. That means playing multiple media simultaneously in different areas of the same screen.

    Using a digital signage CMS, users can also dictate the sequence in which the contents will play (what image/text/video will play first, what will follow, and how long each media will play).

    graphical representation of different styles of compositions

    A view of different layout templates (for composition creation) of the Pickcel's digital signage CMS software

Play real-time & automated content

image showing content in pickcel software being updated in digital screen in real time

The BBC news app in the Pickcel CMS dashboard

A top-tier digital signage CMS should feature advanced capabilities for broadcasting live content, including news, social media feeds, weather updates, sports, RSS feeds, and virtual meetings. This functionality ensures that your digital signage remains dynamic and up-to-date with real-time information.

Typically, the CMS dashboard will include an integrated app store offering a variety of live-streaming applications.Integrating apps like the BBC News or CNN allows you to display live news headlines, keeping your audience informed with the latest developments. Such real-time content delivery ensures that your screens are always displaying fresh and engaging information.

Schedule content

drag-and-create scheduling interface

The simple drag-and-create scheduling interface of the Pickcel digital signage software

One of the best reasons to use a content management system for your digital signage is the content scheduling feature. Within the CMS dashboard, users can select a specific date or a time range and render the content to auto play at the designated time. With scheduling, the workload gets reduced tenfold. There is also little room for missed deadlines and missed opportunities.

Override scheduled content and play emergency messages

image showing overrided emergency message on scheduled content

This feature is an extra perk that only some of the advanced digital signage software offers. A Quickplay or instant play feature allows the users to override any existing content and play spontaneous, ad-lib content.

An effective digital signage CMS must incorporate advanced emergency alert functionalities, enabling administrators to immediately override scheduled content with critical emergency messages. This capability is crucial for disseminating urgent information, such as evacuation instructions or safety protocols, ensuring that viewers receive timely and reliable guidance during emergencies. For instance, if a fire alarm is triggered, the CMS can automatically replace all regular content with detailed evacuation procedures and safe exit routes, displayed clearly across all screens in the affected areas. This instant override feature not only improves the safety and security of individuals but also ensures that emergency communications are prioritized and effectively conveyed to the audience, thereby maximizing the impact and responsiveness of the digital signage system in critical situations.

In a less grave scenario, retail outlets in a shopping mall can use Quickplay to run extemporary discount offers on days that receive unusually high footfalls.

Manage screen network

graphical representation of digital signage cms managing different content on three different screens

In the context of digital signage, the CMS is also a screen management system. Users can track and monitor display device activities.

Different software brands offer different simple to advanced screen management features. Screen grouping, diverse user role creation, and network report generation are some sophisticated features to look for in your screen content management system.

Let’s assume you are the owner of a large restaurant chain with restaurant outlets in 5 different states: New York, Texas, Colorado, Ohio & Washington. The menu of your restaurant can vary from one location to another. In such a case, making discrete changes in the content can become a tedious job.

But, with an advanced digital signage CMS software, you can group all your screens by location (New York- Group 1, Texas- Group 2, Colorado- Group 3, and so on.) So now, all you have to do is select your desired Screen Group and publish your content to all the displays in that group in one go.

What if I am using a TV instead of a commercial screen? Do I still need a Content Management System?

A content management system (CMS) simplifies the process of turning a TV into digital signage. Both Smart and non-smart TVs can work as digital signage. However, to impart the Smart TV properties to a non-smart or dumb TV, the latter must be first connected to an external media player.

Once a television display configures the internet, the digital signage software application can be downloaded & installed on it. Users can then pair the TV with the content management system (CMS). Using the dashboard, users can publish desired content on the TV screen and manage the activities just like any commercial display.

What are the two types of content management system (CMS) for digital signage?

Like most other software, the digital signage CMS can be hosted either on cloud infrastructure or installed on your private on-premise physical IT infrastructure.

1. Cloud-based digital signage CMS:

With a cloud-based content management system, users can access their dashboard from any geographic location (something like accessing an email). Once the users register themselves, they can generate a set of user IDs and passwords and use them to log into their CMS dashboards.

Most modern digital signage software are hosted on the cloud as it offers win-win flexibility to both the users and the vendors.

Benefits of using cloud-based CMS for digital signage:
  • Remote accessibility
  • Easy scale up or scale down
  • Almost zero chances of losing data
  • Follows a pay-as-you-go model of pricing

Cloud solutions are suitable for: All small to large businesses in any industry.

2. On-premise digital signage CMS:

In this arrangement, the software is deployed on the user’s private network and, a physical IT setup is required. The screen content management system is not remotely accessible.

Benefits of using on-premise CMS for digital signage:
  • Exclusivity and authority
  • Higher scope of customization

On-premise solutions are suitable for: Large corporations having a well-established IT ecosystem.

What are the qualities of a good content management system for digital signage?

1. User-friendly interface

A quality CMS software brand will understand the importance of a user-friendly interface. Not everyone is tech-savvy, and not everyone needs to be. Having an easy-to-navigate software saves time and chances of error.

So how do you gauge if your digital signage software has a user-friendly interface?

A user-friendly software will have all features like:

  • Multi-user login: more than one user can concurrently access the dashboard from different devices.

  • User role modulation: The admin user should have the freedom to set access permissions for secondary users.

  • Flexible screen layouts: Your software should always allow you to create custom screen layouts so that you can fit multiple media in a single screen and optimize the use of the screen space

  • Organized view: One doesn’t have to put effort to recognize a user-friendly software. The very look of the CMS dashboard will do the charm. An easy-to-use application will not have too many buttons scattered everywhere on the dashboard; it will have an organized menu-like structure so that you know exactly what to click to bring about your desired effects.

The best way to understand if a digital signage software is suitable for you is to see a live demo of the product. Most service providers like Pickcel will be more than happy to show you around.

2. Hardware-neutral

It is important that your software be compatible with all types of digital signage hardware and operating systems (OS). If not all, it should, at the very least, support the most popular players like Android, Windows, macOS, Chrome OS, Linux, etc.

Having a hardware-neutral content management system for your digital signage allows a smooth transition to better and advanced hardware at any time without having to change the software.

Pickcel's software is hardware-neutral. It supports most popular systems like Android, Windows, Linux, macOS, LG WebOS, Samsung Tizen, etc. Check out the complete list of supported player hardware here.

3. Content delivery on different platforms

Digital signage doesn’t always mean a large TV-like display; it can include anything from a tiny shelf display to a large video wall, or an interactive kiosk. So, while hunting for digital signage CMS for your business, it’s always better to go for a vendor that offers all kinds of solutions like interactive Interactive digital signage kiosk solution, DOOH solutions, etc.

4. Robust security

Security is a factor that should not be compromised with, under any condition. Ask your solution provider if all communication channels are secured through SSL/https. Check if your data is encrypted during data transfer.

5. Frequent software updates

Software updates should be frequent (and free!). Ask your solution provider if they will charge you for any future software update. If so, you can immediately reject that vendor. Software updates are part of the service— it means the software is improved, and new bugs are fixed to offer a seamless user experience.

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Namrata Chakraborty

Namrata is the content marketer for Pickcel. She enjoys writing and her area of expertise is where art meets science & technology.

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