David Labuskes, AVIXA

September 20, 2017
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I was in the Washington, DC area last week for what turned out to be the rebranding of Infocomm as AVIXA - a loose acronym for the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association.

The trade association had invited me, and a pile of other trade journalists, for a press conference and follow-ups about … something. They wouldn’t say what and had us signing NDAs promising we wouldn’t spill the beans ahead of time.

It’s a lot more than just a name change for Infocomm, which will still be the name of the big annual trade show and versions of it in other countries. The new AVIXA branding reflects much deeper thinking by the InfoComm board and executive team, which is run by CEO David Labuskes.

On the tail end of a crazy-busy launch day, and in the middle of a cocktail party, I managed to grab Labuskes for a chat, to find out what AVIXA is all about, and what it  means for people and companies in the digital signage industry.

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Peter Fahlman, Telemetry

September 13, 2017
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A lot of companies run by creatives and software developers have found their way into the digital signage business on the backs of projects they delivered, but I wouldn’t really see that happening with a company that’s all about online payments.

That’s exactly, though, the back story on Telemetry, a Vancouver, BC start-up that grew out of a need by the sister company to visualize all the data they were generating from transactions. The software team looked around the marketplace for applications that would do the job, and when they concluded what was out there didn’t fit, they wrote their own.

With home-grown digital dashboards around the office showing the team what was going on in the business, CEO Peter Fahlman and his colleagues concluded what they had was a great tool - but also something they could productize … without really even knowing what digital signage was all about.

Now Telemetry is a full, cloud-based digital signage CMS, tightly tied in with Google’s Chrome services. Enabling real-time dashboards is, to me, the particularly interesting aspect of what the company does, but Fahlman tells me in this conversation that they’re more than just live pie charts and graphs.

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David Douglas-Beveridge, SmartContent.TV

September 6, 2017
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If you spend any time clicking around the internet, you are very quickly going to bump into a website that is using a slider - a piece of browser functionality that shifts text, images and video in and out of a web page.

The most heavily used slider out there comes from a German company called Themepunch, and that little coding shop has spun off a new company and product called SmartContent.TV.

The company’s digital signage platform is built directly off the Revolution Slider that’s been licensed some 4 million times for WordPress websites - allowing everyone from expert WordPress developers to total newbies to build and launch animated, dynamic digital signage shows for very little money. If you want a sense of what sliders can do, visit the website, it has multiple sliders on the landing page.

SmartContent just came out of beta and is now marketing a solution that runs on $60 Amazon FireSticks and costs about $15 a month to use,.

In this episode, I have a chat with David Douglas-Beveridge, co-founder of SmartContent, to talk about the roots of the product, how it’s used, and where it’s going.

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Zach Klima, WaitTime

August 30, 2017
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If your digital signage screens are there to make something faster, better or easier for the people who are looking at them, you are doing good things.

That’s the idea behind a Detroit start-up called WaitTime - a digital signage and smartphone app solution that uses cameras and artificial intelligence software to give  people at sports and entertainment venues mission critical information like which washroom lineups are shortest, and where to go to get intermission beer and drinks quickly.

The data that comes out of those camera feeds and software inform game and concert-goers where lines are shortest, which is great for fans - but also for venue operators. The screens load-balance lines and reduced the number of times people abandon lines at concessions. That means more sales.

CEO and founder Zach Klima says the systems tend to pay for themselves at arena and stadiums in less than a year.

In our chat, we talk about the roots of the platform, how it works, who’s backing it, and how it can play nicely with the digital signage companies who already service the sports and entertainment venue market.

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Florian Kall, LightnTec

August 22, 2017
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LED billboards and signs are now commonplace, and not just in Times Square and other landmark locations in big cities.

But putting in LED has its challenges. Cost is the obvious one, but there are other issues, like the engineering needed to ensure a structure can handle all the weight involved with typical LED boards.

They’re a lot thinner and lighter than they used to be, but with all the metalwork, plastic and wiring, they still result in big, heavy walls.

So I was intrigued by a self-funded start-up out Germany, called LightnTec, that has developed technology that does LED on thin, lightweight plastic rolls of film. It’s light enough to just put up like a vinyl banner on some scaffolding or hang off a wall - without worrying about the weight.

LG showed a transparent LED film at a couple of trade shows this year, so if you were around, you might have a rough idea of what’s up here. But that was low-rez and one color  of light - white. What LightnTec is developing is the full RGB range of millions of colors, and it does full motion video.

I spoke recently with CEO Florian Kall about this Made In Germany technology.

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Curt Thornton, Provision

August 15, 2017
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Hologram is up there with artificial intelligence as one of the most abused terms in tech these days - with all kinds of stuff being labelled as holograms when they’re nothing more than reflections or projections. 

Provision has been marketing what it calls 3D holographic media for a bunch of years, and while purists might argue it’s not fully a hologram, it’s a lot closer to holograms than most stuff. Walk into a drug store chain and you might see a kiosk with a motion media piece floating in front of a coupon kiosk, visually and physically detached from any display device.

It’s eye candy. It’s wow factor. But it’s also media that’s making a difference, because they draw eyeballs and pull people over to machines that might otherwise get ignored. They put these things in and coupon redemption rates in the stores went from 1 to 2 percent to 17 percent - across multiple brands, and in the case of the drug store chain, across 500 stores.

I talk to Provision founder and CEO Curt Thornton about his company, the technology and where things are going, including big national rollouts and life-sized 3D holograms.

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Kristin Russell, Arrow Intelligent Systems

August 8, 2017
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Kristin Russell jokes about Arrow being a massive company few people even know about - with $24 billion in annual sales and some 18,000 people walking around with Arrow on their business cards, in 90 countries.

She runs Arrow Intelligent Systems, which does everything from design engineering and integration services to global logistics. One of the key areas for the business unit is digital signage, and while Arrow has been on the edges of the industry for years, it got a lot more involved when it acquired Seneca Data a couple of years ago. The company picked up a tech firm highly respected in the industry for its media players and video wall servers.

We met recently at Seneca’s offices in Syracuse, NY, and got into a lot of things in our chat.

Russell talks about how Arrow is very different from traditional distribution companies, and how the company mantra is to be thinking and working on ideas that are five years out and real.

We get into her background as CIO for the state of Colorado. Among her accomplishments in that gig was attracting Arrow to Denver, with no sense she’d end up there, running a large division with its own P&L.

We also talk about her being a Global President of a fast-growing company, in an industry that is still overwhelmingly male.

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Hacking Dangers In Digital Signage, with Gary Feather, CTO, Nanolumens

August 2, 2017
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I’m changing up the podcast a little bit this week.

I have my own rule that I want to talk to a bunch of other companies first before I talk to one a second time.

I’ve also made this podcast about people and not issues.

But this week I am talking to Gary Feather, CTO of the display company NanoLumens, even though I spoke with his boss Rick Cope last summer.

Here’s why. Feather is running a webinar next week on security, and the steps he thinks any substantial digital signage operator out there should be taking to ensure their screens and systems are not compromised by hackers.

The risk is not just about keeping some teenagers from getting naughty movies up on the screens in a store, though that’s definitely not good. It’s also about ensuring the connected media players driving screens are not the side door access into private and mission critical systems within businesses. Target’s big hack three years ago came in through the HVAC systems.

It’s an important subject, and we spend this podcast previewing a little of what he plans to talk about August 8th.

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No New Episode This Week

July 25, 2017

An interview fell through, and there was no time for a Plan B.

But ... one interview is recorded and another one planned July 26th, so fresh material is on the way for next week!

In the meantime, there are 65 episodes in the archive. If you've not heard them all, this is as good a time as any. If you have, have a second listen to a favourite.

Michael Higgins, Harris School Solutions

July 19, 2017
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Public schools would seem like a natural fit for digital signage because of all the communications that circulate, all the time, in K-12 schools.

A software company that’s focused on the education market - Harris School Solutions - recently announced a product that’s an interesting blend of digital signage and smartphone apps. It’s designed to communicate what’s on the menu in school lunchrooms, and get feedback from students and their parents about whether they like the food getting loaded on cafeteria trays.

In this episode, I talk to Michael Higgins about EZSchoolLunch, and about the challenges of developing digital signage software solutions, selling them into bureaucracies and dealing with the long lead times of schools and school districts.

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Robin Carlisle, Framestore Labs

July 12, 2017
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Robin Carlisle is Global Head of Creative for Framestore Labs, a UK-based creative technology shop that specializes in making beautiful and cinematic real-time visuals.

Labs is part of a larger company that has been doing amazing visuals for years. For example, that’s Framestore’s work in movies like Gravity, which somehow imagineers what happens when satellite debris takes out a space station.

Carlisle’s company is involved in all kinds of projects, and recently, has done work that falls squarely in the digital signage and interactive signage buckets. That includes work done for the London Stock Exchange, Morgan Stanley and Ford.

We connected by Skype, with Carlisle joined by the company’s production head Jonny Dixon, just in case the questions got too deep into the technical weeds. They didn’t.

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Steve Rickless, Tripleplay

July 5, 2017
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Steve Rickless, one of the founders of the UK firm Tripleplay, believes likes a lot of people that technology is converging, and thinks his company is in a good spot because it has already converged its technology.

The company started in IP television for the corporate market, but by 2008 was doing a blended hardware and software solution that did IPTV and digital signage off the same user experience, and running off the same boxes.

While start-ups have been trying to adapt low-cost Android set-top as signage players, with mixed results, Tripleplay has for years been using the kinds of commercial-grade set-top boxes you’ve seen behind hotel TVs as digital signage players. They're not necessarily small or pretty, but they just work and work.

From the perspective of Rickless, Tripleplay's CEO, the way forward is one solution doing many things for enterprise customers. He doesn't see that great a future for companies with silo'd technologies that just do one thing.

We spoke recently at InfoComm about the company’s roots, the size of business these days, and where things are heading. The chat was on the show floor, so there’s lots going on in the background.

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Meric Adriansen, D3

June 27, 2017
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I find, more and more, that some of the more successful companies in this business are a bit like stealth submarines. They run silent and deep, and you don’t hear much about them or see them around.

That would apply pretty nicely to D3, a New York company that is in the LED display business. D3 started outside in New York’s Times Square - with some iconic LED boards. Now the company is indoors, with narrow pixel pitch displays in some premium retailers. I’d say who, but that will get the company in trouble with certain publicity-wary clients. Suffice to say, you’d reply, “Oh really …”

D3 is also doing corporate, including a job it CAN talk about - the amazing 13K lobby of the new Netflix offices in Los Angeles.

I saw D3 recently at InfoComm, and asked why the company just had a teeny booth and no LED displays, when it was surrounded by less successful companies with massive displays.

The management team did that because LEDs are already becoming a commodity, D3 Co-Founder and Managing Partner Meric Adriansen told me. The real secret is in the video processing and software and, of course, the idea and the content. It’s also, of course, waaaay cheaper to pull off, and easier for set-up and teardown.

Adriansen and I went to the back of a noisy InfoComm hall to chat, and you can hopefully hear us over the guys who decided to tear down some nearby scaffolding right after we started.

Sigh.

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James Fine, Telecine

June 21, 2017
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James Fine has been around the digital signage ecosystem since the earliest days. He founded Telecine in the mid-80s to do high-end video production for the corporate sector. By the mid-90s, he was getting into signage, putting networked screens in Quebec casinos.

We talk about the early days of the business - like spending $25,000 for 62-inch plasma displays for a retail job. That’s $25K PER display.

Things have changed, and both the industry and his business have grown. Telecine now does a turnkey solutions service for a variety of clients, and the work has won awards - notably for the great data-driven signage you’ll see if you visit a Bloomberg office.

Fine and Telecine are from Montreal, and one of the things we get into in this chat is why there are so many great creative shops coming out of that city.

We spoke last week at InfoComm.

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Eric Henry, Tightrope Media Systems

June 14, 2017
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Tightrope Media Systems has been around the digital signage business for 20 years, and if you’ve heard of the company, there’s a decent chance you thought, like me, that the Minneapolis company was a broadcast software firm that also did a signage CMS.

Turns out it was the other way around, and Tightope started as a digital signage software company doing digital menu boards on old CRT screens for schools. The big driver was coming up with a dumbed-down application that people with more important things to do around a school could use.

That early platform seemed to have another likely home with community broadcasters, which is how Tightrope found its way into that side of the business. These days, it’s about 50:50 digital signage and broadcast.

Tightrope is in Orlando this week for InfoComm, and the big thing the team is showing off is an integration that turns $150 Apple TV boxes into managed digital signage players. It’s something that’s only really been possible in the last few months, and Tightrope President Eric Henry fills me in on how that happened, and the broader story of the company.

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Rick Mills, Creative Realities (CRI)

June 6, 2017
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If you have followed the digital signage business for a few years, you have probably seen stories about the financial tailspins of a set of companies that eventually got blended together as Creative Realities, or CRI for short. Sitting in the cheap seats watching it all go down, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking, Well, this won’t end well.

Then the company merged with another company, ConeXus World. Which had me thinking, Who? And then, Why???

Turns out there was a master plan here, started years earlier. Rick Mills, the CEO at ConeXus, had long had roll-up plans in the digital signage business, and picking up CRI was his first, but not his only move.

He brought some structure to the business, calmed things down, including clients, and in the last couple of quarters, brought a company that had been hemorrhaging red ink into the black.

Now he’s aggressively hiring people, looking to expand, and planning to acquire some smaller competitors to become one of the big boys in the digital signage solutions business.

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Susie Opare-Abetia, Wovenmedia

May 31, 2017
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I had a great chat recently with Susie Opare-Abetia, the CEO and Founder of Wovenmedia. Her company does all the heavy-lifting work to connect digital signage and place-based networks with video from major content producers like TV networks, movie studios and pro sports.

If you are in a big US retailer or in a health care environment that has screens, there’s a decent chance at least some of the material you’re seeing was aggregated, rights-cleared, QA’d and distributed by her now seven-year-old San Francisco company.

We get into a lot of things in this episode, from how the service got started and how it works for network operators, to what kind of material works with audiences and what doesn’t.

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David Mou, Pilot TV

May 23, 2017
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I was introduced to Taiwan’s Pilot TV and the company’s product evangelist David Mou by some of the folks who invited me over to Beijing recently for a speech at InfoComm China. Mou wanted to tell me about his company and thought it would make good podcast material.

I tried to dodge that, because I’m about as excited by digital out of home ad networks in c-stores as I am about traffic jams and Jane Austen movies. Soooo many ad networks like that have failed.

But he’s a persistent guy, and when we met at that Beijing trade show, he rattled off what was going on, and pretty quickly convinced me this was not another no-hoper “built it and the advertisers will come” screen network.

These guys are heavily into analytics and proving to packaged goods and other brands that this is a medium that works, and they already have 8,000 screens running in Taiwan and beyond.

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Rodolfo Saccoman, AdMobilize

May 16, 2017
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There’s nothing all that new about digital signage networks using video analytics to get some sense of what’s happening with audiences near screens, but AdMobilize is not just another company peddling the same old stuff.

I spoke with CEO and Founder Rodolfo Saccoman about a product and service he says rolls up a wide range of different measurement technologies under one simple, harmonized platform.

Saccoman comes out of the IT side of the hospitality industry and he totally gets the importance of customer service and experience. He also understands buzz, and the insatiable appetite out there for cutting costs. That may explain, in part, why the company’s AdBeacon measurement device runs off the extremely buzz-worthy Raspberry Pi board.

We get into a lot of things in our chat - including how he thinks computer vision and artificial intelligence will work in the future in digital signage and digital out of home.

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Lee Summers, Reflect

May 9, 2017
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Lee Summers is only a few months into his job as CEO of Reflect, but neither the industry or the company were unfamiliar when he took over at the company’s Dallas head office earlier this year. In an unusual twist, he’d been on the other side of the table, as one of Reflect’s highest profile clients.

Summers came out of the retail agency business and actually got his start as a creative, but in recent years he’d been the digital innovation guy looking at how to kit out the mammoth Nebraska Furniture Mart in Dallas.

As the saying goes, they do things big in Texas, and this store is a monstrous 600,000 square feet, or about four Ikeas tied together. He was also in charge of the vast multi-tenant retail space around the store.

We get into that project, but talk more broadly about the challenges and opportunities of being a CMS software and services company squarely focused on retail, when bricks and mortar stores are under siege from online.

We also talk about Ad Logic, an advertising and targeting platform that was built for a client and is now being extended for any retailer that can’t find what it wants from ad platforms which are almost all built with online - not stores - in mind.

35 minutes flew by.

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