Beth Warren, Creative Realities

November 14, 2018
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Beth Warren of Creative Realities - or CRI for short - came recommended as a speaker for the DSF's recent Coffee and Controversy event in New York.

We'd never met, and while in New York, I seized the opportunity to meet up with her after the event to talk a lot about digital signage in retail - from her longtime lens as the Senior VP of Experience Planning at CRI.

She comes out of the agency world, so she approaches signage in retail from a different perspective and set of learned experiences and observations. We go fairly deep in our chat into what experience actually means - and what genuinely works in retail, versus some of the trickery and gadgets that get touted as delivering "engagement."

We also get a little into what CRI does, and the many twists and turns of its recent history. The company has evolved, and now positions itself very much as a solutions provider that can take retailers from the need and idea through to lighting up the visuals and measuring the impact. 

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2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

November 7, 2018
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I was in New York last week for the Digital Signage Federation's annual Coffee and Controversy breakfast event - a panel discussion that each year brings together some of the most influential leaders in the digital signage industry.

I'm on the DSF board and my fellow board members drafted me to run the panel - with Chris Riegel of STRATACACHE, Jeff Hastings of Brightsign and Beth Warren of Creative Realities.

There's only so much controversy you can whip up around digital signage, but I tried ... and if anyone in this industry was going to stir up some shit, it was Chris. He didn't disappoint, nor did Jeff or Beth.

The women who ran the AV for the event very kindly generated an audio recording for me. This is about twice the length of a normal 16:9 podcast, but if you didn't have the chance, time or budget to get to New York last week, you can have a listen to what was said.

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Rich Ventura, NEC Display, on ALP

October 31, 2018
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NEC Display has been fairly quietly involved in analytics for a long time now, but it just got very serious and noisy about that capability, with the launch of something called ALP - which is short for Analytics Learning Platform.

It's a retail intelligence program that uses cameras and other sensors, AI, big data, cloud computing and network appliances to give retailers a better sense of what's going on in their stores.

Tied to digital signage, a retail intelligence platform can optimize messaging based on who's in there, how long they're in there, and the historical patterns of what those people tend to buy. The gold for retail operators is understanding conversion ratios - the what really happened stuff when messages were pushed.

There is no shortage of retail intelligence platforms out there, but none that I know of built from the ground up with signage as a core element. I spoke with NEC's Rich Ventura, who drove the project, to talk about ALP's roots, how people in the signage ecosystem plug in, and how it all fits. 

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Rick Wood, CHK America

October 24, 2018
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Rick Wood's company was founded to bring some order and logic to how mass transport systems present information - like routes and schedules - to passengers.

It was a tall order for CHK America - because many or most transport authorities had their own way of doing things, and not that many were particularly good at making it easy and familiar for people to find their way around.

But the company has seen a lot of success, and its best practises have been widely adopted. When people take unfamiliar buses and subways in cities they visit, there's a reasonable chance the information on the signs they see now look familiar and can be readily understood. Ideally, CHK says people should be able to find out what they need in eight seconds.

It's a mindset smart digital signage people have come to understand ... in essence, you have a matter of a few seconds to inform people before they look somewhere else.

All the understanding of how people seek and consume information is now being applied by CHK, through a spinout called ConnectPoint, to digital displays. The company started with big interactive screens, but now the really interesting work is with dynamically-updated, solar-powered e-paper signs at bus stops.

In this week's podcast, I spend a lot of time talking to Wood about how mass transit users find and use information, and how all this translates from static to digital displays.

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Matt Downey, Freshwater Digital

October 17, 2018
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Matt Downey's time in digital signage traces way, way back to the days when Premier Retail Networks was, by far, the big dog in putting screen networks in retail environments.

His time with PRN - working with clients like Walmart - eventually led him into working directly for one of his big grocer clients. Not long after that, he took a leap and started his own company. I'd say it was a big leap, but he started out with a whale client - his current employer.

Many years later, Freshwater Digital is a well established digital signage solutions provider, with double-digit growth every year and a client list that's rich in big companies that's not only local to Grand Rapids, Michigan, but also includes organizations that are much further afield.

Matt and I get into the roots of Freshwater, and lessons learned. We also go pretty deep into a new area he's going after in a big way - e-paper tags and shelf labels.

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Jeffrey Martin, Right Media Solutions

October 10, 2018
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Jeff Martin has been around the digital signage industry for pretty much as long as the industry has existed - running the ops side of some very large retail networks.

He was one of the co-founders of SignStorey, which at its peak ran screen networks in a wide range of groceries across the United States in the early to mid-2000s. That company was acquired in 2007 by CBS, which turned into Outfront. It was a BIG deal at the time, with CBS paying more than $71 million for a digital signage company ... 11 years ago.

In 2011, Martin went out on his own and got ahead of a trend towards managed services and solutions, founding what is marketed as Right Media Solutions. Based in New England, the company runs the digital signage networks for multiple clients, across all 50 states.

I had a great chat about the old days of digital signage, particularly in grocery stores. We talk about what worked then and what works now.

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Peter Livesey, Esprit Digital

October 3, 2018
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Anyone with technical chops who uses a subway system to get around would understand that those are seriously challenging environments to put in sensitive display technology - and the UK display technology company Esprit Digital effectively got its start in digital signage doing just that.

If you have been in the signage market for a few years, or if you have used the subway systems in big cities like London, you'll know about the synchronized digital posters in many of the escalator sections. The most well-known are those in the London Underground, which were put in by Esprit many years ago and are still working.

The company, based north of London, has built out its business from everything it learned about heat and airborne grime and ruggedization, and has since developed products for shopping mall concourses, sidewalk ad posters and all kinds of other challenging scenarios.

I spoke with CEO Peter Livesey about the roots of the company, which go back to really low-rez LED signs for retail, and how the company has gone full-circle and added fine pitch indoor and outdoor LED screens to its product line. 

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Mark Bennett, MicroGigantic

September 26, 2018
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In an industry that has, for years, had people endlessly blabbering away about how Content Is King - my God that's clever! - it's amazing to me how I can count the number of pure-play digital signage creative shops on one hand.

MicroGigantic is one of those rare shops - a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based boutique agency that does visual storytelling for brands - whether that's retail or corporate.

The company's roots are with one of the biggest brands in the Twin Cities - the mass merchandising retailer Target. Mark Bennett managed the Media Production group at Target - and a big part of that was feeding the many screens sprinkled around the huge stores.

It was a great gig, Bennett says, but he got the seven-year itch to go out on his own, and started MicroGigantic knowing there wasn't a lot of competition for what he wanted to do.

His team does retail, but the real growth these days is for work in areas like corporate - with companies looking to make visual statements about what they do, and what they're about.

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Hongwei Liu, Mappedin

September 18, 2018
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Wayfinding is one of those core technologies that make consumer lives better and easier - helping people locate where they want and need to go in places like shopping malls, airports, health care facilities and higher ed campuses.

There are numerous software companies that include wayfinding capabilities in their platforms, but only a handful that have been laser-focused just on delivering that solution. One of the most successful ones is Mappedin.

The company started as a sideline for some students at the University of Waterloo, which most observers would call the top computing school in Canada. Hongwei Liu and his buddies thought they could solve a problem for students finding their way around the sprawling Waterloo campus, and then at a local mall and a casino a couple of hours up the highway.

There was enough there for Liu to quit school in his second year. Just a few years later, he's running a company with 60 employees, some big outside investors, and clients across North America and globally.

I spoke with Liu about Mappedin's roots, what works and doesn't, and how the big moment came when serious research showed good wayfinding can mean millions of dollars in incremental sales for shopping malls and their tenants.

 

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From The Archive: Michael Schneider On Experiential Digital Design

September 12, 2018
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No new podcast this week ... sorry.

I had two postponed interviews last week, combined with a short work week and then me spending two of those four days in a succession of airplanes getting to and from a client. I'm kinda remote now, and so are they.

I have two chats scheduled for Thursday, and more in the hopper. I'm also happy to get suggestions on people/companies I should be making subjects of an episode, so send your suggestions along.

That stated, it's an archive week. Enjoy this podcast chat from late 2016 with Michael Schneider, who was with the experiential design firm ESI Design at the time, but sent me a note last week to say he's joined the NYC office of the big, global architecture and design firm Gensler, as Creative Technology Director – Hardware.

He's left a great firm, but gone to another great one. Smart, soft-spoken guy, involved with some phenomenal projects.

Henrik Andersson, Instore Screen

September 5, 2018
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Retail is one of the most-chased vertical markets in all of digital signage, but if you ask people who really know this tech, but also really know retail, they'll tell you they've rarely seen it done well, or right.

I tend to agree, and sometimes its not the whiz-bang flashy stuff that makes a difference, but the more pedestrian stuff that does the whole right message/right time thing.

A company called Instore Screen has been chasing retail for many years, and has learned what's needed and works, and developed a product that specifically fits the retailer and consumer brand ask. It does screens that fit the sightlines, limited space and operating realities of grocery, drug and mass merchandise. The high-resolution screens enable the kind of full-motion, eye-grabbing content that drives impulse purchases.

The company's core product is custom-manufactured, pixel-dense LCD screens that fit easily into things like grocery aisle endcaps. Based in Hong Kong, Instore Screen has some top tier customers like Whole Foods, which is using end-cap screens in its new-build stores to explain products and drive sales.

I spoke with Henrik Andersson, the founder and CEO of the 15-year-old company. We get into the technology, shopping dynamics and the argument for LCD over LED as shelf-edge displays.

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Refik Anadol, On Digital Data Sculptures

August 29, 2018
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If finding a free half-hour to talk is any indication, Refik Anadol is one busy, popular guy right now. That likely owes a lot to the mind-blowing data visualization work he's been doing lately in public spaces.

He's a Turkish-born digital media artist who now has a busy studio in Los Angeles doing what he calls parametric data sculptures for public art spaces.

If you have been in downtown San Francisco, you may have seen a big LED video wall in the lobby of a Salesforce tower that seems to have a corner glass window with live expanding foam - or something. It looks real, but it's just three-dimensional digital art, driven by data.

More recently, he's done several sync'd up visualizations on the LED walls of an expanded section of Charlotte, North Carolina's airport. What's happening on the screens there is all based on real-time data from airport operations. So what you see on the screens is shaped by things like luggage-handling systems.

Kinda crazy.

I caught up with Anadol recently at his LA studio, to get a sense of what he and his team does, and we have a broader discussion about visualized data.

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Pierre Gendron, Stingray Media

August 22, 2018
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tingray Digital Media Group is one the world's biggest providers of multi-platform music services, with 11,000 commercial clients in 156 countries.

The Montreal company's core business is piped-in music channels for commercial and residential, but it also has a growing operation in digital experiences for retail - like flashy screen networks in big Canadian sporting goods stores.

That side of the business is led by Pierre Gendron, a former pro hockey player who found his way into digital signage doing an early version of it for company golf tournaments around Quebec. That company evolved and developed into Groupe Viva, which was then acquired in 2015 by Stingray.

Now part of a much larger organization, Gendron talks in this chat about what Stingray offers and how it intends to grow. One of those ways is through acquisition, and we get into why Stingray recently bought Toronto-based NovraMedia, which gives the company a big national bank customer and a stronger digital signage foothold in English Canada and beyond.

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Kyle Pilot, iGotcha

August 15, 2018
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I was in Montreal recently and had a chance to visit the offices of iGotcha, a digital signage and experiential media solutions company that has very quietly built up a nice book of business since launching in 2005.

Working out of an old warehouse building overlooking the historic Lachine Canal, iGotcha works with everyone from banks and a lottery corporation to Cirque du Soleil.

I caught up with Kyle Pilot, one of the co-founders and the longtime CTO. He now runs the company with business partners Greg Adelstein and Hadrien Bessou.

In this chat, we get into what they do, who they work with, and get on a fairly lengthy riff about the merits of technology like System on Chip displays.

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David Anderson, Mimo Monitors

July 25, 2018
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When it comes to displays in digital signage, just about all the attention goes to screens that have steadily grown bigger, skinnier and brighter.

Not a lot of attention or time has been spent on small screens - but there's a real and growing market demand for displays in places like retail that don't eat up all the merchandising space and better suit the store environment.

While the vast majority of display manufacturers have been fighting it out based on large displays, Mimo Monitors has, since 2008, been focused on small displays. The company's sweet spot is a 10-inch tablet-sized screen that will actually survive in commercial environments, unlike consumer tablets.

I had a brief chat with Mimo's President, David Anderson, at InfoComm last month, and we followed that up the other day with a proper podcast chat. Among the things you'll hear about: what that name is all about.

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Gordon Feller, Meeting Of The Minds (Smart Cities)

July 18, 2018
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I can't say I've been all the enthralled by what I've seen so far with smart cities initiatives that involve digital out of home media companies. For the most part, they're just digital posters with some wifi and maybe some sensors tossed in so the things can be called "smart."

Those things exist to run ads, and the "smart" thing is largely a veneer to get the ad concession, and for city governments to get free stuff that purports to make their burg seem somehow innovative.

BUT ... there's a lot of potential there, and when you talk to someone who spends all his time thinking about and working on smart city initiatives, you learn there are some good things happening not only with broader smart initiatives, but also with efforts that DO involve media companies.

I wrote a mildly snarky piece recently about this stuff, and Gordon Feller sent me a note suggesting I have a look at a report he did for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. He's a longtime Silicon Valley tech exec and founder of Meeting Of The Minds, a non-profit public-private partnership that's all about creating smarter cities.

We had a frank talk about what's happened to date, where it really works, and what he sees as the vast potential for smart cities that work with media companies and digital signage technologies.

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Nick Fearnley, Signstix

July 11, 2018
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I am guilty of thinking about SignStix as yet another smallish digital signage CMS company scratching out a living with low-cost subscriptions and equally low-cost Android stick players.

Based in Yorkshire, England, SignStix is a lot more than that. The company is indeed small, but doing some stuff that is a little bit mind-blowing. It does digital signage, but for some significant clients it is doing a lot of back-of-the-house data-mining and aggregation for communications that go beyond screens.

What I found really interesting is learning from CEO Nick Fearnley how the company is using the intelligence on system on chip "smart" displays to do things like manage and aggregate geo-fencing data from trucks moving in and out of a retailer's loading docks. It's stuff that would much more normally be done by full PCs, and it is completely counter to the suggestion still out there that these smart displays aren't all that bright.

Fearnley and I chatted at the back of one of the halls at InfoComm, last month in Las Vegas. You'll enjoy the chat, and particularly  his Yorkshire accent.

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Art Stavenka, Kino-Mo

July 4, 2018
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I've been to a few trade shows now where the fast-spinning LED light sticks - marketed as Hypervsn - attract big crowds and have a lot of people whipping out their phone cameras. The technology definitely creates buzz, so I wanted to know more about the technology and the company behind it.

 

It uses the phenomena of persistence of vision to create motion visuals that have dimension to them - a sort of hologram.

When these things were one-off blades - like wall fans - I saw no real commercial opportunity. But Kino-mo, the London, UK company behind Hypervsn, has now figured out a way to sync multiple units and create very large motion displays. That changes things.

I spoke with company co-founder Art Stavenka at InfoComm, and asked him some fairly pointed questions about reliability of devices that are furiously spinning all day long. Digital signage ops people don't like moving parts, and this has a lot of them.

It's a relatively short chat, by the normal standards of this podcast, but worth a listen if you've seen this tech and want to learn more.

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Greg Topel, Tanvas

June 27, 2018
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Imagine if you could feel what you see on a touchscreen. If, for example, you could unzip a zipper by drawing your finger down a screen and experiencing that familiar sensation.

That's the premise behind a Chicago startup called Tanvas, that is using haptics technology to enable users of interactive screens to have genuine touch added to their experiences when using touch technology.

As Greg Topel, the company's CEO puts it, smartphones have conditioned billions of people to experience information with flat, lifeless pieces of glass. His Tanvas team argues that's all wrong, and that the sense of touch is critical to real world interactions.

We all order stuff online and wish we could somehow get a sense of things, like the different thread counts of cotton sheets. Using a simple touch overlay on screens, equipped with tech from Tanvas, that would be possible.

I sat down with Topel at InfoComm in Las Vegas, and he explained the roots of the company, commercial plans and most importantly, how this stuff works.

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Brett Jones, Lightform

June 20, 2018
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One of the most interesting companies I saw recently at InfoComm in Las Vegas was Lightform, a San Francisco start-up that is making the once dark art of projection mapping available to just about everyone.

It wasn't that long ago that projection mapping was all about very ambitious, very complicated, very expensive projects that only a handful of companies had the chops to pull off.

Now we have a company with a $700 device and related software that makes it possible for just about anyone to do small-scale projection mapping on things like a merchandising display or a wedding cake.

Lightform calls this Projected Augmented Reality - the idea that AR is not something that needs to be seen though the lens of a smartphone.

I spoke with CEO and co-founder Brett Jones, and we did our best to describe to listeners what we were seeing as we walked around the booth.

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