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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Jonathan Gudai, Adomni

June 13, 2018
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A Las Vegas startup called Adomni represents the latest effort through the years to roll up digital OOH networks with the idea of making media buying and execution easy.

Many have tried, few have succeeded, but here's what's different about Adomni. First, they're primarily going after outdoor billboards, and they're not trying to be THE buying and selling solution. You go through Adomni online to buy the unsold inventory on these screens, and almost any media inventory has unsold inventory.

It's also different because the founders looked at the marketplace and what was already out there, thought about the user base, and came up with a user experience that's about as visually friendly and dead simple as AirBnB. Instead of renting a basement apartment for a few days, a small business owner might rent time slots on some boards along a freeway near their main store.

I spoke with one of the founders, Jonathan Gudai, over Skype from his office down near McCarron Airport.

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Arie Stavchansky, Dataclay

May 31, 2018
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Anyone who works with creative teams knows there is no such thing as a content fairy. Video spots don't magically appear in inboxes overnight. Somebody had to design and render that video, and that work, frankly, takes a while.

So it's a little freaky to talk to a company that can do 1,000s of good-looking, customized videos in a matter of hours. But that's what Dataclay is all about.

The little company operating out of Austin, Texas has written the software and services that can mass-produce data-driven videos at pretty much the click of a mouse. And these aren't crappy, simplistic videos no one would want anyway. They come out of Adobe After Effects, full After Effects templates, and a plug-in written by Dataclay.

Imagine a national realtor being able to mass-produce a piece of video for every listing that comes into its databases - photos, details, the whole nine yards. Imagine a theme park spitting out videos instead of 8 by 10s that families can buy when they leave a ride or the park. Imagine a custom highlights video of every runner in a marathon ... kinda like this ...

I spoke with company founder Arie Stavchansky about how the platform he built brings automation and industrial-scale video production to digital signage, advertising and marketing.

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Mitch Goss, Zero-In

May 30, 2018
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There are lots of companies out there that call themselves turnkey digital signage solutions providers, but far fewer who can do so with straight faces.

A company called Zero-In has been doing just that for the last decade, and has developed a nice book of business doing the whole nine yards of signage work - from creative to deployment and ongoing operational management.

The New York company's customers include everyone from big banks and retailers to Shake Shack - the burger and shakes chain started just steps away from where Zero-In now has its main office in the Flatiron district.

I spoke with company founder Mitch Goss about the challenges and opportunities of building and running networks for clients.

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Sheldon Silverman, Smartbomb Media

May 23, 2018
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If you deal with companies over in Europe, you've probably been carpet-bombed lately by email requests to update your subscription settings for things like product announcements.

That all owes to something called GPDR, the General Data Protection Regulation that goes into effect in the European Union at the end of this week.

You can count me in as someone who barely has the acronyms correct, never mind a grip on what it means. The short story is that it is a law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union, and it also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

So if you are in digital signage or digital out of home, in particular, you should care about this. GDPR is a problem for a lot of digital media companies, but an opportunity for those that use anonymous data, like a lot of place-based media operators.

Sheldon Silverman, the CEO of Chicago-based SmartBomb Media Group, has his head around all this. So I asked Silverman, who also heads the Digital Signage Federation's Global Digital OOH Council, if we could do a podcast to fill the rest of us in. Get a pen and paper. This is worth taking notes ...

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Matt Gibbs, UPshow

May 16, 2018
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A whole bunch of startups have through the years, tried to crack the restaurant and bar business with a digital out of home advertising model that saw them put in screens and media players, hoping to claw back the costs, and more, through advertising.

And a whole bunch of them - most of them, in fact, have failed. Advertising is hard.

So I was intrigued by a three-year-old Chicago company called UPshow that is doing user-generated content and digital signage in bars, and making a go of it on a subscription basis - with no third-party advertising. At least for now.

The bar owners - from small ones all the way up to chains like TGI Fridays and Hooters - actually pay money month to month for the service. The owner/operators like that UPshow's content is fresh, and human moderated, and that customers are engaged. They also like that it is selling more drinks and specials, and generating return business.

I spoke with Matt Gibbs, the company's CMO, and one of its co-founders.

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Alan Brawn, Brawn Consulting

May 9, 2018
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One hell of a lot of the people involved in some way with the digital signage business - as a vendor or end-user - have spent a day or more learning the fundamentals from Alan Brawn.

With his son Jonathan, Alan runs a small San Diego-based consulting firm that has been heavily focused for the last many years on education. By his count, some 40,000 people have attended sessions that help people understand what and what not to do, and what Alan calls the seven key elements of digital signage.

Alan could be retired, and he lives in a part of the U.S. where people dream of retiring, but he loves what he does.

This is a chat I've been meaning to do since I started the podcast, and I was very happy I finally got my act together and made it happen.

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Jason Bier, Federation For Internet Alerts

May 2, 2018
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One of the time-honored lines used in digital signage and digital out of home media is how the technology gets the right messages to the right people at the right times.

That's all had to do with marketing and advertising, but a non-profit called the Federation for Internet Alerts has a mission to get crucial alerts in front of the right people at the right times and places to save lives and rescue kids.

Based on years of volunteer work from top coders, pro bono support from agencies and web services, and some grants here and there, the organization is sending critical alerts across North America that warn people about imminent threats like tornadoes, and more insidious threats like bad air.

Almost 1.5 million alerts have been processed since the platform started, and while most of that has been for web and mobile, now the organization is talking to digital out of home media companies about how its alerts could be on big digital screens that are everywhere, and always connected.

I spoke recently with the organizations founder and volunteer CEO, Jason Bier.

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Mark Stross, ANC

April 24, 2018
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ANC got its start about 20 years ago as a rotational signage company that primarily serviced the pro sports business, and through the years, ANC has grown into a big tech services provider that's been putting in the visual systems for many arenas and stadiums.

If you see a big center-hung set of LED boards over an NBA or Division 1 basketball court, or a giant replay board at a ballpark, there's a decent chance ANC is behind it.

More recently the company has found itself getting into digital out of home media, creating the same kinds of visual spectacle you might see in live sports, but instead in public areas or mass transportation hubs. A lot more than a conventional AV systems integrator, ANC is doing a ton of R&D and using product that will do things like light up the whole 360-degree view of an area with sync'd content. You might think, "Well that's not all that new," but ANC's CTO Mark Stross explains why what he's cooked up is different.

I spoke with Stross recently about the idea of taking the spectacle and energy of live events into this new kind of arena of public squares and rail stations, and how he's constantly trying to push possibilities.

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