High Coghill-Smith, ONELAN

April 25, 2017
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ONELAN has been around the digital signage market for many, many years, but the company is far better known on its UK home turf, and in other parts of the world, than it is in North America.

That’s changing, as ONELAN starts to build into the US and Canada with a really well respected software and hardware solution, as well as what Hugh Coghill-Smith calls the wrap. That’s the company’s managed services piece.

Coghill-Smith, ONELAN’s longtime sales and marketing director, sat down with me at ISE back in February to talk about the company’s past and present, how they work with jumbo clients like Dubai Duty Free, and the big spike ONELAN is seeing in the meeting room signs market.

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Martin Romanowski, SmartSign

April 18, 2017
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Martin Romanowski is the CEO of the Swedish CMS software firm Smartsign, which has been providing a digital signage solution all the way back into the late 1990s. His company is best known in Europe, and it has offices in eight countries and users in more than 30.

Romanowski and I chatted at ISE in Amsterdam, where his crew had a large booth. One of the big messages was about Smartsign’s ease of use. He agreed easy is an over-used pitch in this business, but when his guys talk about it, he says they really mean it.

Romanowski gets into how the company is seeing great year on year growth, and why the heck there are so many digital signage software companies based in Sweden and Norway.

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Ke-Quang Nguyen-Phuc, Quividi

April 12, 2017
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A lot of companies have come in and out of video analytics for digital signage, but the one constant has been Quividi - a French company with an anonymous pattern detection product a lot of people will tell you is the gold standard for this tech.

I sat with CEO Ke-Quang Nguyen-Phuc during a break at ISE a few weeks ago, and got the rundown on the company and what’s going on with this technology, now and in the future. We talk about the distinction between face recognition and face detection, and what the technology can do for network operators and brands.

We also get into the insights delivered by audience analytics, including how long people really look at screens, and what screens generate the least attention. It's a little technical here and there, but you'll learn stuff.

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Jerome Moeri, Navori

April 5, 2017
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I’ve known Jerome Moeri, the CEO of Navori, for more than a decade, but we’ve never had much of a chance to have a good long chat. That changed at ISE a few weeks ago, when we slotted half an hour to talk about how the Swiss software company got started and where it is going.

Jerome’s a soft-spoken guy, but if you lean in to listen, the story is quite interesting. Navori’s been around for 20 years and the company’s first backers were LVMH, the luxury goods conglomerate that has brands like Louis Vuitton. We get into how the company got started and has grown, and how it now has well in excess of 100,000 software licenses out in the field, including 25,000 on one network in the Middle East.

Jerome talks about the five keys to good software, including a good explanation of native signage players versus web-based ones.

We also talk about Navori’s plans, which include possibly buying some competitors.

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Burr Smith, BroadSign

March 29, 2017
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Burr Smith is the CEO of BroadSign, arguably the most successful CMS software company when it comes to advertising-based networks. His Montreal-based company has contracts with many of the top digital out of home ad networks in North America and Europe.

Things are really good around BroadSign these days. Staff numbers are growing, a New York office just opened and the company has a big party tonight on the Vegas strip.

But it hasn’t always been like this. Smith not only runs the company. He owns it, and steered it through a really rough patch in which the company ran into money troubles when the recession hit in 2008 and 9. That ultimately led to BroadSign filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Smith talks candidly about that period, and how he and a loyal core group scratched their way through and out of that. He also talks about where things are at now, and why his company has broadened into a supply side platform for programmatic advertising.

We spoke a few weeks ago at ISE in Amsterdam.

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Luis Villafane, Maler

March 21, 2017
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Luis Villafane have been email pen pals for years, but I only met him in person for the first time last month in Amsterdam, at ISE. It was a treat, because the guy not only knows the signage business in and out, but is blunt and funny as hell.

If you are a regular 16:9 reader you will remember some of his frank and funny guest posts, like a plea to vendors and service providers to Have The Cojones To Admit And Share Mistakes.

He runs Maler, a digital signage service provider based in A Coruna, on the northwest tip of Spain. Maler is all about managing digital signage networks, and a small team runs some very big networks, like KFC in the UK. Maler recently signed on as the sponsor of the companion 16:9 podcast, called Projects. But that's not why we're talking. He was on my "gotta talk to" list months ago.

In our chat, we talk about how the company got started, what they do, what's genuinely important when it comes to running stable networks, and what makes Luis crazy.

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Francesco Ziliani, SpinetiX

March 15, 2017
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SpinetiX has been on the digital signage scene for more than a decade now, and if you are in the business, you may know them as the Swiss guys who market a really nice little aluminum-clad, solid state playback box. They had that 10 years ago, when a lot of signage networks were still going in with desktop PCs.

What always stumped me was the price - which seemed really high. But in talking to the guys for the last couple of years I came to understand a couple of things - the boxes come with a slick software platform installed and included in the price, and the things last and last. There are SpinetiX boxes that were installed in 2007 that are still happily doing their thing 10 years later.

In a world of $45 Raspberry Pis and $100 Android boxes, a $700 box will seem high. But Spinetix says a really good Total Cost Of Ownership number realized when an operator starts thinking in terms of four, five and even 10 years of operation. Amortize a box and software over five years and it gets pretty affordable.

I met with CEO Francesco Ziliani to talk about his company, when we were both at Integrated Systems Europe a few weeks ago. It was a bit of a cliche, but he brought along chocolate because at trade shows, that's often also known as lunch.

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Jose Avalos, Intel

March 8, 2017
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Jose Avalos has been leading Intel’s digital signage practise since 2009 - evangelizing for the use of Intel chipsets and related technologies for the devices that play back content. When he got started, he says Intel was inside about 10 percent of the boxes used in digital signage. Now it’s more like 75 percent, he says. So from that measure, it worked.

But since 2009, smartphones and then smart TVs really bubbled up, and Intel has seen low cost ARM processors being touted and used inside set top boxes and sticks and smart displays as media players - cutting out the need for Intel CPUs.

In our chat, we talk about Intel’s role in this sector, the implications of ARM processors and system on chip displays, and what they’re doing about it. We also get into Intel’s dabbling in the software side of the business, and talk about IOT.

Jose’s a talker, but I did get a few words in here and there. Enjoy.

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Dan Dawson, Grand Visual

March 1, 2017
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The production and creative technology firm Grand Visual does some of the most interesting data-driven creative work you'll find in the digital signage and digital out of home industry, so I was really happy to learn co-founder Dan Dawson was available at ISE to chat for a few minutes.

Dawson is the Chief Creative Technology Officer at the London-based company, which has been around for more than a decade and works with some of the world's biggest brands - including Pepsi, Google, McDonald's and Virgin - on technology-driven media campaigns. You may remember things like the Green Giant showing up via augmented reality at Grand Central Station or flying saucers and aliens seen invading London through the lens of bus stop digital screens.

We get into a lot of things in our chat - the creative process, the technology, strategy, what works and what is just buzz. We talk about programmatic content and media targeting, and we get into how data is a really powerful tool for marketing and messaging.

 If you touch on creative, listen and learn from a master.

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Chris Riegel, Stratacache

February 22, 2017
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I have been trying to get Chris Riegel for an in-person interview for almost a year, but the CEO and sole owner of STRATACACHE has been a busy guy in recent months, expanding his business organically, but also through acquisitions of competitors like Scala and Real Digital Media.

We couldn’t make it happen when he was on one of his frequent trips through Toronto, but we managed to carve out time in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, at the ISE trade show.

Riegel gets into a lot of things in this podcast - notably how his company got to north of $500 million in sales in 2016 and how he plans to double that within a couple of years. We also talk about how he got started and how he manages a high-growth company that now has some 400 people, but is very much centered around him.

This is a seriously smart, ambitious guy. He's also a smart-ass and doesn't bother using much of a filter when it comes to things like talking about companies he sees as the real enemy in this business.

Here's a snippet of our talk, with me asking who he sees as the competition ...

Riegel: I would say without sounding crass or arrogant about it, the companies that we regard as competitors are the guys who really understand marketing and marketing in retail, so you take, potentially, an Adobe who understands that market, specifically. In sector, I don't really see much competition there. Really for two reasons. One, this kind of deep retail practice that we built around PRN, the expertise that we have there, is really unique in the industry. Number two, when we go into provide solutions to customers, we'll go into very large retailers. We're building that network, financing that network and doing a managed service over the course of 3 years, 5 years … there's not a competitor in the space that will do type of financial models that we will.

Me: So you're carrying the paper on the hardware?

Riegel: We carry the paper on the hardware, the service, everything.

Me: Okay.

Riegel: A retailer has the pockets, but little dinosaur arms, so they won't reach into those deep pockets. We call it the T-Rex problem.

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Mike Tippets, Hughes Media Solutions

February 15, 2017
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Hughes is one of those big billion-dollar tech companies that have found their way into digital signage in recent years. Most of them come in making noise and exited quietly. But Hughes has stuck around.

This week I’m chatting with Mike Tippets, who is Hughes Global Media Solutions Group, working out of Utah but pretty tightly tied to the Hughes mothership based outside Washington, DC. Hughes fates back to the days of Howard Hughes, but is now owned by EchoStar, a global satellite services company.

We have a good chat about a bunch of things - from the roots of the company as Helius, what Mike and his team have learned about big growth areas like corporate communications, and how Hughes goes to market as much more than satellite guys who also have some software.

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ISE 2017 Bonus Episode

February 13, 2017
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This is a bonus edition. I did a pile of sit-down interviews last week in Amsterdam with different execs for full-length podcasts, and you will hear those over the next several weeks. I also did some stand-ups that are already live, with four already up. These are the other four.

I normally get these things properly sound-engineered but in the interests of speed to market, I did these ones myself - so apologies if the sound and levels are a little dodgy. And there's no music.

The interviews are with RED-V from Italy, Interactivescape from Germany, AirportLabs from Romania and NodeArk from Sweden.

There will still be a regular episode up on Wednesday, with Mike Tippets of Hughes.

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Special Episode: Chats From ISE 2017’s Exhibit Halls

February 7, 2017
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This is a special edition of 16:9 Podcasts - interviews recorded in and around the RAI Amsterdam at Integrated Systems Europe this week in Amsterdam.

I am doing a bunch of sit-down podcast recordings this week in and around the giant pro AV show, to be streamed in the coming weeks, but I also wanted to grab some quick interviews about things I see in my travels around the many exhibit halls here.

On this episode, you will hear from a series of companies, large and small, including Sony, Sharp, NodeArk and Condeco. These interviews were recorded today and I am posting this as I wait for the press room happy hour to start.

Oh, it has! Yay. 

I'm heading back home this weekend, and next week's podcast will be the normal format.

Also, look for a new 16:9 Projects Podcast, with Michael Tutton, coming this Friday.

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Sean Keathley, Adrenaline

February 1, 2017
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This week, we’re talking experience design with Sean Keathley, the president of Adrenaline, an Atlanta-based company that’s in the business of coming up with the strategy, the content and technologies to make spaces like banks, stores and hospitals really work.

Sean talks about the process involved in putting together a successful project, and he made me happy when he said projects they do start out by asking and getting answered from clients one big question: "Why?"

We get into some of the work the company has done with clients like eTrade and New Balance, and also explore how and where digital display technology works, or doesn’t.

We did this by Skype and we were both fighting raging head colds, which will explain some scratchy voices. Enjoy.

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Paul Vincent, Flexitive

January 25, 2017
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There’s been a lot of talk about how HTML5 is the future of digital signage content, and Paul Vincent knows more about that than just about anyone out there. He’s the founder and CEO of Flexitive, an online tool for building advertising and content using everything HTML5 brings to the table.

I first bumped into Paul three years ago at a tech trade show in Toronto. Since then, the product has evolved and matured, but it sums up like this: For something like $70 a month, content designers can use Flexitive to generate dozens of fully responsive ads and presentations - with motion, transitions and even video. You can produce a spot once, and the system will auto-generate different versions in different shapes and resolutions.

The system is mainly used for online advertising, but there’s no reason why it can’t be used for digital signage - and some companies in this business already do.

Flexitive is based in Toronto, but you’ll hear more than a trace of Kiwi in Paul. He’s originally from New Zealand.

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Special Episode - NRF 2017

January 17, 2017
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This is a special edition of the 16:9 Podcast - special because the format’s a little different and because I’m turning this around too quickly to get it polished up by the guy who sound engineers these things.

So no music. Maybe a bit more background noise. The levels are anything but level. But it'll do, in terms of timeliness versus studio quality.

I was just in New York the last couple of days, attending the National Retail Federation’s big trade show. I wanted to pass on some impressions from the show, but also run a couple of shorter interviews I managed to grab on the floor.

I’ll start with an interview I did with Ken Goldberg, the CEO of Real Digital Media. The well known industry executive was wearing a Stratacache shirt and had a Scala exhibitor badge hanging around his neck, so it was a little bit weird to see.

We talked about the news, just last week, that his company was acquired by Stratacache, on the heels of another software rival, Scala, also being acquired.

After that, you’ll hear an interview with Sam Vise of Unefi, a Toronto company that was at NRF showing an interesting product and service that’s built off off 20 years of providing print visuals for the retail industry, and now also does digital signage, off the same platform.

Finally, I’ll pass on some thoughts about NRF.

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Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

January 11, 2017
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Integrated Systems Europe is coming up at the start of next month in Amsterdam, and Mike Blackman is the guy who has built ISE up to be the largest pro AV show on the planet. It’s also the biggest digital signage show in terms of footprint and exhibitors, though signage is just one element of the event.

Any show that’s just weeks out is in crazy-busy mode, but Mike took some time recently to talk about the show’s roots, how it’s grown and how it works.

We talk about what to expect this year, how to plan out a visit, and how to navigate and survive a show that will likely pull more than 65,000 people and span across 14 buildings.

The good news, if you are now thinking about going, is that there are still hotel rooms available and there’s a lot of different ways to get to Amsterdam.

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Rich Ventura, NEC Display Solutions

January 4, 2017
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Rich Ventura now has the launch codes and the secret handshake instructions to act as the 2017 chairman of the Digital Signage Federation. He’s been active in the organization for several years, and has big plans for the year ahead.

He’ll go into that in the latter half of this podcast episode, but we spend the first part of it talking about his role as Vice President of Business Development and Solutions at NEC Display Solutions.

We talk about how NEC operates and what makes it different, newish technologies like Raspberry Pi, the overall state of the flat panel industry, the emergence of direct view LED and a pile of other topics.

We also talk about what the signage industry, and particularly the display side of it, looks like in 2017 and beyond.

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Jacob Horwitz, Installation & Service Technologies (IST)

December 21, 2016
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Deployment is a huge part of any substantial digital signage project, but it’s not a side of the business that gets a lot of attention.

Jacob Horwitz started, runs and owns one of the biggest pure-play digital signage deployment companies out there - INSTALLATION & SERVICE TECHNOLOGIES, or IST. The company is based out of Kansas City, and has quietly done many of the larger digital menu board deployments in the US to date.

In fact, it was a massive job for Burger King that switched the focus for IST from doing point of sales work, to digital signage. Horwitz hasn’t looked back since.

We spoke recently via Skype.

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Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

December 14, 2016
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Digital Signage Expo is coming up in late March in Las Vegas. It will be the 14th version of the big trade show and conference.

I sat down with DSE Show Director Andrea Varrone when she was up in Toronto last week, to run through what people should expect to see in 2017 at and around the show..

We talked about a lot of things - like what’s new and different about the upcoming show, and how the event is doing. Varrone talks about the mighty challenge of trying to grow the attendee base when more than half of it is brand new with each passing year. She has to, as she says, keep refilling the attendee bucket.

We get into some of the exhibitor rules that have made some companies cranky, and also touch on the future of a couple of spin-off shows aimed at education and corporate communications, which didn’t exactly draw mobs last month in Chicago.

If you’re a regular at DSE, or thinking about it for 2017, you’ll want to have a listen.

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