Cisco has bought digital signage company Tivella for an undisclosed sum.

The purchase will let the networking vendor extend its video, image and information distribution system beyond desktops, said the general manager of Cisco's Digital Media Management division, Thomas Wyatt.

Tivella is a private company, founded in 2001, of just 10 employees. They will join Cisco's Emerging Markets Technology Group.

Cisco is branching out in a number of directions, with a particular emphasis on video, executives said this week at the company's analyst conference in San Jose. CEO John Chambers also demonstrated networked electronic signs using technology from Tivella, which has had a partnership with Cisco for several years.

The Cisco Digital Media System, introduced in September, lets enterprises create, schedule and publish content to desktops via the Cisco Video Portal interface. That content could include video on demand for training or live messages to employees.

Through Tivella technology, Cisco can bring that kind of content to monitors and TVs in stores and other public places, Wyatt said. The company's Piccolo Media Players are small, lightweight devices with a wide range of display interfaces for use with different kinds of screens, including analog TVs. No PC is needed and they can be powered via Ethernet, without a local electrical socket. Linked via an IP (Internet Protocol) network, they could display constantly updated messages or video tailored to the place where each is located.

The new technology adds more flexibility to public video displays, which traditionally have been standalone, manually controlled devices, Wyatt said. For example, displays in a store could be used for employee training during off hours and for up-to-date promotions while the store is open. Networked screens, on an IP network that also included surveillance cameras and police and fire radios, could also be used for public safety, he said. For example, they could be used to direct stadium crowds to the nearest exit for evacuation.

Combining the two companies' technology, Cisco will have a suite of products in the near future for remote control and management of displays over IP, Wyatt said.