ANGELES — University of Wisconsin officials wanted to
please notoriously unruly Badgers football fans when
they overhauled the team’s stadium, so they turned to
SunBriteTV, a Los Angeles-area company that pioneered
outdoor television and has kept its market-leading spot
with endless product tinkering.
school paid about $100,000 for 29 high-definition video
displays bright enough to be seen in direct sunlight and
tough enough to withstand Midwestern heat, humidity and
the 55-inch SunBrite screens to Camp Randall Stadium in
Madison, Wis., "allows our fans access to video
they didn’t previously have, which is a critical part
of the game-day experience," said Justin Doherty,
the university’s senior associate athletic director.
recent sale is part of a boom in outdoor digital
displays, a growing industry with more than $1.8 billion
in sales, according to trade publication CE Pro. The
pricey screens have become so popular in public spaces
and private homes that their use has acquired its own
is "in one of the hottest industries, which is
outdoor digital signage," said Cameron E. Hill, who
is interim chief executive as a new owner, SnapAV, takes
products can play back the last touchdown, act as an
electronic concierge or screen a film for guests in the
backyard. They differ from indoor TVs in their picture
clarity and ability to stand up to the elements
screens are designed and made by the company’s 60
employees and can be found in Disneyland and Dodger
Stadium. Major casinos, cruise lines, zoos, parks and
the military are customers.
got its start in 2004, the brainchild of Larry Kaiser,
who had spent decades manufacturing audio-visual
products. His co-founder was an electro-mechanical
engineer named Tom Weaver.
two met at a country club and talked about how tired
they were of watching sports on their indoor TVs on days
when the weather was beautiful, Hill said.
a traditional indoor set into the outdoors didn’t work
well; viewers could barely see the picture because of
the sunlight, and the set had to be rolled back in the
house afterward because even a slight drizzle would
idea was to make a weatherproof, outdoor-rated
television," Hill said, "so that even in the
worst climates, you could watch your sports games
outside. Plus, it would be able to be permanently
usually were homeowners "who might have an outdoor
kitchen, perhaps a swimming pool — everything but an
outdoor TV," Hill said.
the commercial opportunities for outdoor video signage
were soon apparent. In 2006, he said, "the
Cincinnati Reds knocked on our door and said that they
wanted to put digital signage in their stadium."
was first in what would become a crowded and competitive
arena. Others with a global reach and deeper pockets
have been entering the market, such as Samsung
Electronics Co., Sharp Corp., Sony and Panasonic.
head start has been crucial to SunBrite’s success,
along with an emphasis on product innovation and
vigorously seeking patent protection for their
improvements, such as a 2011 airflow system to cool the
LCD panel and allow longer exposure to direct sunlight.
Three years later, SunBrite pushed through another
cooling patent to improve the units’ ability to
operate in extreme heat.
is a private company that doesn’t reveal sales, but
financial data company FactSet pegged the firm’s
annual revenue at nearly $16 million. CE Pro says that
SunBrite holds 57 percent of the residential market for
outdoor televisions, with products that cost between
$1,495 for a 32-inch screen and $8,900 to $9,895 for a
55-inch screen. A new 84-inch 4K ultra-high definition
television hasn’t been priced yet.
STORY CAN END HERE)
was acquired by private equity firm Bunker Hill Capital
in 2011. Along with the new private equity ownership
came demands for more efficiency and higher sales, to
bring a quick return on Bunker Hill’s investment.
things had to change in order to take advantage of the
potential here," said Hill, who joined SunBrite as
CEO in 2012.
was very little sophistication," Hill said.
"Inventory was not identified by location, so you
had people hunting for parts while the assembly line is
waiting, idle, for their arrival."
company also changed the way the video displays were put
parts were assembled one by one," said Jonathan
Dry, SunBrite’s senior mechanical engineer. "Now,
it’s much more modular and there’s never a break in
the assembly process."
the help of cross-training employees, a new supply chain
and better access to inventory, the company
"reduced assembly times by 40 percent," Hill
said. Sales have been growing at 20 percent a year since
he came on as CEO, he said.
from an employee standpoint," Hill added, "we’re
not that far above the number we had when I started, 50
to 56, but we are producing three times as much
were design improvements, including switching from a
plastic to an aluminum casing. Attention to detail was
emphasized, such as weatherproofing parts and making
sure screws and rubber washes fit snugly.
said that his previous work at Nokia, where he was used
to working with small smartphone screens, helped with
were always told that if there was any air inside the
phone, it was a bad design," Dry said. Some new
SunBrite designs allowed for thinner displays because
"we took the air out."
which makes and distributes audio, video and
closed-circuit TV products, expanded into outdoor
television and digital signage with its SunBrite
acquisition in October for an undisclosed sum. "SunBriteTV
is the unquestioned leader," is profitable and
growing fast, John Heyman, CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based
SnapAV, told employees in a memo.
saw a particular advantage: lower prices to make
SunBrite products more competitive.
dealers purchase SunBriteTV products at SnapAV, they
will be direct from the manufacturer," Hill said,
delivering "value and service at significantly