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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Megan Dutta, Women Of Digital Signage

April 17, 2018
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Megan Dutta and Andrea Varrone have been longtime friends in AV circles, and spoken often about putting together an organization that represented the interests and aspirations of woman in this industry.

They finally saw time open up last summer and started organizing what turned into Women of Digital Signage. The group had its first gathering - a breakfast at Digital Signage Expo - and it went over so well extra tables had to be added.

Though only around since right after the new year, the breakfast attracted almost 100 women and the group already has some 200 members.

Sometimes these kinds of things have a lot of energy at the start, but never really come together. But this isn't one of those times. They have a board, website, social media feeds, an active blog and on and on. This is a going concern.

Dutta and I have been trying and failing to get a call together for weeks, but we finally pulled it off. In this podcast, we talk about the thinking behind the group, its aspirations and how to get involved.

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Jenn Vail, E Ink

April 11, 2018
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E-paper has been around for 20-plus years and it has gradually been improving to a point that it makes operating, commercial and visual sense for digital signage applications.

There are companies like Slovenia's Visionect that do a really nice job of making small black and white displays look beautiful for applications that vary from meeting room signs and hotel reception greeters to solar-powered transit schedule signs. That company, and many others, use E Ink technology.

E Ink spun out of MIT's famed Media Lab more than 20 years ago and is the best known and most successful company in the e-paper field. If you have a Kindle e-reader, you are using Link technology.

The company is now based in Taiwan but a lot of R&D still comes out of the Boston area. They had a big stand recently at DSE - including new four-color large format displays. They looked really nice, though if you didn't know how the tech works you'd swear these screens were having 10-second seizures as they changed content. The refresh rate is still slow and something less than elegant.

I spoke with Jenn Vail, Director of Business & Marketing Strategy, about the past, present and future of e-paper.

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Reece Kurtenbach, Daktronics

April 3, 2018
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Reece Kurtenbach now runs Daktronics, the company started by his father and a university colleague 50 years ago - and has grown up seeing it evolve from electronic voting systems from state politicians to the maker behind some of the biggest and most iconic LED display boards on the planet.

That's Daktronics' tech, for example, creating a huge halo over the amazing new Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta.

We've been trying to make a podcast chat work by Skype - and we had more issues with Skype and Skype for Business getting along - so the opportunity came up last week to have a chat right on the show floor at DSE in Las Vegas.

Kurtenbach talks about the roots of the company, and how the abrupt onslaught of competition in his business is nothing new. We also get into the thinking behind the acquisition of Adflow, a digital signage software shop just up the road from me but way far away from South Dakota, where Daktronics is based.

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Stan Richter, SignageOS

March 28, 2018
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One of the big challenges on the technology side of digital signage is keeping up with all of the emerging hardware and software options on the market.

It used to be a reasonably simple case of developing software in one OS or another and getting it running on a PC. But now there are Android players, Chrome devices, set-top boxes and a variety of so-called smart displays from different manufacturers, most of them different from one maker to the next.

It's a bit of a mess - particularly if you have a content management system and clients asking constantly if the platform works with this or that.

Stan Richter and his company SignageOS saw all of that, and have launched what's being called a unification platform that makes it easy to get a CMS and its player running on multiple kinds of devices. SignageOS sits in the middle and also handles the management and maintenance of the various devices.

The service is white-labelled, and the idea is for software companies to subscribe to SignageOS and build that functionality and cost into their own licensing fees. The company, based in Prague, just launched a month ago, and have 30 NDAs going with software firms. They've got people at DSE today, way at the back of the hall, and eager to talk to potential North American partners.

CEO Stan Richter, who I first met at ISE, filled me in recently.

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Bruce van Zyl, Sellr/Bev TV

March 21, 2018
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Booze is a complicated thing to buy. All the product categories look pretty much the same, so people revert to price, top of mind awareness or labels and names that catch their eye.

One of the ways to improve that situation is by putting digital right into the aisles of liquor stores, where people poke around trying to figure out what they'll like and should buy. A company up in the north Atlanta tech suburbs, called Sellr, is rolling out BevTV displays in stores, with the aim of helping consumers make more informed choices about buying wine, beer and liquor - and hopefully influence buying decisions.

The company got its start in retail hardware, but has transitioned fully into software and content - building up a massive 165,000 item library of curated information about booze that's tied to universal price codes. They make that interactive content available on commercial-grade tablets they install, on their nickel, at eye-level in participating stores.

I talk in this podcast with company president Bruce van Zyl about BevTV's experiences to date, and its plans to have 1,000 units running by this summer.

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Guy Tonti, Unified Brand

March 11, 2018
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Auto dealerships have always been an environment well suited to digital signage. There are a lot of things to talk about and sell, and a lot of interest and buying comes down to things like the visual and emotional appeal of the vehicles.

Guy Tonti's company, Unified Brand, spends a lot of its time working with dealerships developing what amounts to custom television channels that are tuned to the dealer environment. Based in Phoenix, the company has carved out a nice, steadily growing niche in the sector, bolstered by work it also does with other locations and regional businesses.

The channels, using digital signage tech, are revenue-producing, customer-centric content plays that are used as an alternative to the TVs you'll still find in many, many auto dealer service area lounges. That idea doesn't work all that well, as competitors' ads might run on a broadcast channel, and U.S. politics is getting so polarized just running CNN or Fox News on a waiting room TV may stir up arguments and complaints.

Intensely local digital signage is an interesting departure for Tonti, who joined and then bought the company after years working with networking giant Cisco, where he was director of worldwide practices for emerging technologies.

Tonti and I caught up in Phoenix, spending time talking about Unified Brand and touching a little bit on his brush with fame, when he was a four-day champ on Jeopardy. He can't be THAT bright, because hey, he's in digital signage.

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Paul Weatherhead, AV Junction

March 7, 2018
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Paul Weatherhead was working for a systems integrator in Toronto, spending a lot of time trying to find and hire freelance pro AV contractors to do work for him on remote jobs.

Like a lot of people in his position, he started thinking there had to be a better way. The difference is that he did something about it - starting a new multi-national marketplace that connects integrators and solutions providers with freelance AV people who work gig to gig.

The set-up bears similarities to ride share services like Uber, and lodging ones like AirBnB. AV Junction sits in the middle - helping connect parties and facilitating things like payments.

The company is still early stage, but already has hundreds of contracting companies and freelancers in the system, covering some 25 countries.

I spoke with Weatherhead about how all this works, and how he gets past the challenges of vetting service providers and ensuring he's not setting up integrators with a bunch of knuckleheads.

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Bryan Crotaz, Silver Curve

February 28, 2018
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The top prize at the Digital Signage Awards that were announced and handed out recently in Amsterdam was a project to modernize the display system at the cradle of cricket - Lord's Cricket Ground in London.

The project was pulled together by a small London consultancy called Silver Curve, which is run by one of the brightest minds in digital signage, Bryan Crotaz.

Bryan had been telling me about the project for more than a year, but he was only recently in a position to make some noise about it.

In our conversation, we talk about the effort to modernize and greatly simplify the display control system on the ancient grounds, and how he used very technologies like HTML5 and Raspberry Pi to make it all happen.

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Joaquim Lopes Jr., 4YouSee

February 21, 2018
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I have traded emails with Joaquim Lopes for at least couple of years now, and he has been telling me about his company 4YouSee and its efforts providing software and services to the Latin American digital signage market.

He was at Integrated Systems Europe in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, and when we finally met in person, I suggested we grab a quiet spot and do a podcast chat.

The company is based in Brazil but also does work in other countries. We had a good chat about the marketplace, and his company's products and services, including an interesting creative tool.

I picked up a whopper of a bug at or after ISE, so my voice on this intro probably sounds a bit rough. My edit guy is also on holiday, so I am hacking this episode together myself. Back to more polished work next time.

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Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

February 14, 2018
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Trade show managers like to attend other trade shows to see what's going and how things are done, as well chat up exhibitors who might also want to hang a shingle at that trade show manager's own event.

So it was no surprise last week to find Andre Varrone - who runs Digital Signage Expo - walking the maze that is Integrated Systems Europe.

Her own show is coming up in just a few weeks, so we agreed to sit down and talk about why she was at ISE, but more to the point, what digital signage people will see at the end of March at DSE.

We found a place up above the crowd, which worked pretty well until near the end, when someone starts singing. Stupid me thought interviewing above the audio area, around happy hours, was clever.

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Jaffer Haider, Poster My Wall

February 7, 2018
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There's no question that making a proper investment in creative is essential to successful digital signage networks, but there's also no question that a lot of small businesses don't have the budget for full motion graphic design work, or wouldn't even know who to ask to do that work.

A few companies have popped up in recent years offering versions of template tools that allow small business people to produce videos for their signs without having any motion graphic design skills. It's fair to say none of them have really caught fire, though at least one is still around. Sixteen:Nine readers may remember my own crack at this, called Spotomate.

PosterMyWall is a Silicon Valley company that has, for several years now, offered online tools that let people build the creative files to make print posters, and digital versions for big social media channels like Facebook.

Now the company has taken the same toolset and made it possible for users to build simple but polished videos from templates, and download them for all of $15. I got the rundown on the product, which was introduced a few weeks ago, from Jaffer Haider, the company's CEO.

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Jason Barak, D3

January 31, 2018
00:0000:00

16:9 just released a Special Report called The Total Guide To Fine Pitch LED. It’s a big, 70 page look at the display technology, coming at it from all kinds of angles.

The free report (you can download it here) came together, in part, because of sponsors - like the major one, custom LED design firm D3. They not only contributed to the report, but two of their main guys went along with me when I went to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China in November to get a deep look into the companies and technologies.

They go over there a lot, and knew who I should talk to and what I should see. To their everlasting credit, the tour was in no way about them. George Pappas and Jason Barak just wanted to ensure I got a good look, and that I made the most of my limited time over there. Shenzhen is vast and bewildering, so that help was incredibly valuable. Stupid me thought I could get 4 or 5 meetings in per day, but I had no idea about Shenzhen traffic or the sheer geographic scale of the place.

Jason runs the business development, client-facing side of D3, and in the wake of the report coming out, I wanted to catch back up with him to talk about what’s going on in fine pitch LED, which is a LOT.

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Lisa Moore and Hugh Turvey, OOHscreen

January 24, 2018
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Hospital and clinic rooms are rarely places people like hanging around, and digital signage has long been seen as a way to distract and entertain patients, and their family or friends.

A London-based solutions provider called OOHScreen has a very different take on what digital signage should look like and do in those places. Instead of ads for cold remedies and wireless providers, they work with health care trusts in the U.K. to put in screens that are focused on beautiful visuals that ease anxiety and take peoples' minds off why they're even in those waiting rooms. At an oncology clinic that has the set-up, 98% of patients strongly agreed that the screens improved the waiting area environment.

The company's principals used their backgrounds in art and communications to come up with a turnkey service that puts the screens in place, and keeps them fresh with things like custom-developed visuals shot in the surrounding countryside.

I spoke with Hugh Turvey and Lisa Moore about what they do, and why it works.

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Sakchin Bessette, Moment Factory

January 17, 2018
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Fantastic creative is at the heart of any great digital signage project, and when I am asked to rattle off the names of creative shops capable of doing top-level work, Moment Factory is automatically in there.

The Montreal-based creative technology group has evolved from a small collective doing VJing and just, basically, have a fun doing cool stuff, to arguably being the premier multimedia shop on the planet for jobs that involve big screens and projection mapping.

Moment's people projection-mapped the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. That's their work in the LAX International Terminal. And at Singapore's Changi Airport. Moment Factory did the reasonably modest, but awesome, ceiling display in Oakley's flagship store in New York.

Moment does digital signage, but they also do live shows on cruise ships, light up bridges and even design multi-purpose media systems for stadiums.

Saky Bessette, Moment's creative director and one of the founders, was kind enough to take a few minutes from his crazy work days to talk about a company that now has 250 people and offices all over the world, and the thinking behind all that great work.

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Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

January 10, 2018
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Integrated Systems Europe is now just a matter of weeks away, with the doors to the massive pro AV trade show in Amsterdam set to open on February 6th.

The show has broken attendance records in recent years, and it looks very much like the 2018 number will exceed last year's count of 73,000-plus.

ISE covers off a lot of different technologies, but of the 1,200 or so exhibitors this year, more than a third of them list digital signage as one of their product or service categories. That vendor count is twice the number of vendors who set up at DSE.

I managed to get ISE's managing director Mike Blackman to slow down for a half-hour to talk about why ISE keeps growing, who attends, and what's new and different for 2018.

We spoke by Skype, and unfortunately, the connection is a little chunky in spots. But it's still worth a listen if you are going or want to know more about the show.

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Dan Garner, Xibo

January 3, 2018
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By far the busiest post on the Sixteen:Nine blog is one that lists the many options out there for free, kinda sorta free, or free to start with digital signage CMS software.

One of the oldest - and among the few that are legitimately free - is Xibo, an open source digital signage solution that started as a student project in the UK many years ago.

It's still around and has grown up and dramatically evolved. Xibo is still open source and still fundamentally free, but a company has developed around it to provide supporting services - things like hosting and technical help. The open source Xibo code in its early days was definitely stuff only propellor-heads could make any sense of and use, but Xibo now has friendly installers and easy user interfaces - making it a product anyone can easily work with.

I spoke by Skype with Dan Garner, the student who first developed Xibo in Brighton, England, back in 2004. He now runs the supporting company, Spring Signage.

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